“Two-thousand four-hundred and nine.” Not only can Dr. Carolyn McClanahan, CFP, recall precisely how many pages are in her copy of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, she claims to have read each one of them.

What motivated McClanahan, founder of Life Planning Partners in Jacksonville, Fla., to plow through the controversial healthcare reform law cover to cover? The same thing that drove Carol Skorupan-McNeill, CPA, PFS, CFP, an advisor with Ameriprise Financial in Middleton, Wisc., to make a point of attending “just about every Affordable Care Act conference and webinar that’s gone on since May of last year,” and that prompted David M. Anthony, CFP, RMA, to augment his wealth management and finance expertise by securing a license to sell health insurance.

What McClanahan, Skorupan-McNeill and Anthony, principal at Anthony Capital in Broomfield, Colo., share is a professed drive to help their clients make sense of the complex, unpredictable, and sometimes consternating health insurance landscape created by federal policies such as the ACA.

As time-consuming as it has been for each to build their ACA expertise, as tedious as reading a couple thousand pages of legalese or enduring hour upon hour of PowerPoint presentations about the new healthcare law may seem at times, the three advisors are unanimous in the conviction that their investment will provide a solid return, not only for their clients, but also for themselves and their practices. For in the process of helping people evaluate their health insurance choices in a way few other advisors can, they’re not only building trust and strengthening relationships, they’re differentiating themselves competitively and creating opportunities to generate new business.

“A good financial advisor does a certain amount of paying it forward,” says Skorupan-McNeill. And as the following profiles illustrate, paying it forward can pay off.

 

dDr. ACA

ER doc turned financial planner McClanahan may well be one of the few financial professionals — indeed, one of the few human beings outside government circles — to have read the entire text of the ACA, let alone to actually own a copy of the statute.

McClanahan, whose niche practice focuses on insurance, estate, tax and investment planning for about 75 clients, roughly two-thirds of whom are physicians, says she dove headlong into educating herself on the law “because it’s important for me to understand what the health insurance landscape is for my clients.”

As busy as she has been helping clients and their families make health insurance choices in the Obamacare era, she’s spent even more time advising her physician clients — many of whom are small business owners themselves — on how best to deal with the new law. It’s all part of the holistic planning services she offers clients, by whom she’s compensated on a retainer (fee) basis.

That healthcare work with clients “really pays itself forward,” she says. “We want to be a firm that other firms want to emulate, and part of that is doing something that comes from the right place.”

The extra strategic traction that her ACA expertise provides isn’t lost on McClanahan either. That expertise is helping define and differentiate her and her 10-year-old firm. “It’s good for planners to grow their business by developing some kind of niche for themselves,” she observes. “In our case, it’s healthcare. Clients see me in the press all the time talking about this stuff, which helps build our credibility and reputation. Between the word-of-mouth we get from the media and from clients, and the constant incidental marketing that provides, we don’t need to do any formal marketing, and we still have an eight-month-long client waiting list.”

From a networking and referral standpoint, the many speaking engagements that have resulted from being well versed in the ACA haven’t hurt either, she says. “I get invitations to speak all the time — some paid, some unpaid — from professional groups, business groups, and other organizations.”

Being an expert in the field brings extra responsibility, including an obligation to keep abreast of ongoing healthcare policy developments so she can keep her clients and her audiences informed. To do so, she relies on resources such as the Kaiser Family Foundation (www.kff.org) and Health Affairs (healthaffairs.org) websites, and of course, the Federal Register, where she can sate her appetite for legalese.

 

sRegistered rep with a wrinkle

David Anthony, a registered investment advisor representative, says he decided to immerse himself in the arcana of federal healthcare policy “to make life easier for my clients,” most of whom are baby boomers headed toward retirement or seniors who have already arrived there.

But he also acknowledges that the discussions he has with clients about the new healthcare system, along with Medicare, provide “a great bridge to talk [with clients] about money management, and products like fixed index annuities and long term care insurance. It has also opened up opportunities to hire additional agents underneath me who specialize in Medicare supplements, long term care insurance, stuff like that.”

Anthony’s healthcare expertise — he’s licensed to sell health insurance in Colorado, while also holding certified financial planner and retirement management analyst designations — makes him unique among registered reps. And that, he says, is by design. “Most investment advisors won’t touch healthcare with a 10-foot pole. But I went out and got licensed on the health insurance side so I could help people manage what likely will be their largest expense in retirement: healthcare.”

Even before the ACA came along, Anthony had begun carving out a niche as a wealth manager with healthcare expertise, having established a separate independent insurance venture, side by side quotes.com, LLC, to complement his investment management practice. Today, according to Anthony, that entity handles life insurance, LTCI, Medicare supplements, disability and annuities for many of his investment management clients.

Having the wherewithal to engage in a healthcare dialogue to explain the nuances of the ACA, Medicare, etc., resounds with clients, he says. “It complements my fiduciary responsibility as a CFP and positions me as a comprehensive advisor. Clients like it because it’s much simpler for them. They don’t have to meet with three different people. They can meet with one.

“I love it when a salesperson has done his homework and has information on all the widgets out there, and can show me a side-by-side comparison,” he adds. “In my fiduciary role, I can talk about [health insurance] plans, then refer a person to the insurance side. Of course, full disclosure with clients becomes very important when you do that.”

Anthony says he relies on the continuing education courses he’s required to take as a CFP and health insurance agent to keep up with the latest on healthcare policy and health insurance plan offerings. Because that’s what it takes to continue making life easier for his clients.

 

sThe educator

Carol Skorupan-McNeill quickly dismisses the idea of charging a fee to attend the seminars she has been offering lately to help clients, prospects and others to navigate the post-ACA health insurance system.

As tempting as she admits it is to try to recoup some of the time and money she has sunk into getting educated on the law and its impact on the families and small business owners who comprise the bulk of her client base, the Wisconsin-based financial advisor for Ameriprise says she is content writing off that time and money as a “loss leader,” believing the Obamacare expertise that is proving so valuable to clients now may ultimately benefit her bottom line later.

“This is a big pocketbook issue for my individual clients, and small business owners feel they have been completely blindsided by the Affordable Care Act,” she explains. “They’re all wondering where to go for help, and that’s why I took it upon myself to learn everything I could about [the law]. Eventually I hope to find a way to make some money from the expertise I have developed. But that’s not the reason I did it.”

For now, Skorupan-McNeill, whose practice focuses on financial planning, estate planning and accounting (via her separate CPA practice, Strategic Advantage Solutions), welcomes the goodwill — and referrals — that come with helping clients find their way under the ACA. She’s doing so through one-on-one meetings and via seminars and webcasts she’s been holding since last fall. Those events include Ameriprise-branded luncheon and dinner seminars that cover ACA-related costs, benefits, tax implications, and penalties, along with classroom-style ACA enrollment workshops offered through Strategic Advantage Solutions that are designed for tax preparers, accountants and other professionals, along with small business owners, clients, and prospects. 

“It’s mostly about trying to educate people on what their choices are” under the Affordable Care Act, she says.

The response from event attendees thus far has been “very positive,” she adds. “They are pleased someone has taken the time to learn this stuff and help them understand it.”

Those events are helping to strengthen existing relationships with clients and other professionals as well as to forge new ones. And Skorupan-McNeill says she “absolutely” expects those relationships eventually will yield new business. In the meantime, she’ll continue to be a mainstay on the ACA seminar circuit.