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An Interview with Derek Winn of BBG

Derek Winn is the 2020 BenefitsPRO Broker of the Year and Director of Sales and Senior Consultant for Business Benefits Group (BBG). I’ve had the pleasure of talking with Derek about healthcare purchasing, innovation, teaching, learning, and new models. Derek has a talent for storytelling, analogies, and likes classic pickup trucks. BBG is also our first client to subscribe to our innovative healthcare benefits benchmarking tool.

We’re so glad to have the Olavi Group's benchmarking tool at our disposal. With this tool, we can easily help a business to compare their plans to various market segments with just a few clicks. It’s a far cleaner process that everyone, regardless of experience, can easily navigate.


Q: One’s one surprising lesson you’ve learned in your career?

This is a tough one. In short, it would be the value of not only learning, but also teaching.

I find that I am more creative (whether presenting solutions to clients, writing articles/blogs, etc) when fueled by the consumption of other content, especially content outside of the healthcare and health insurance.

I also realized how real the protégé effect actually is. In my prior life, I was an AP U.S. History teacher, and teaching the content always helped me to learn it better. I always felt bad for the early morning classes, because the afternoons always saw a better act. 

Analogies are one of my talents – and from what I’ve been told – are always helpful in assisting others to understand complex topics. Outside content and the responsibility of training others have helped me grow, and that should be a takeaway for others if they aren’t growing, or mentoring others.  


Q: What books are you reading right now?

I’ve been a slacker at reading for most of 2020.  Earlier this year I read Eat Their Lunch, by Anthony Iannarino. It’s a great read for anyone that is working to specialize in the art of competitive displacement (e.g., brokers) or anyone else in a similar industry. I’ve spent a lot more time digging into podcasts and audiobooks (I still drive a lot) as a way to try to keep up to date on all of the changes.


Q: What makes your approach at BBG unique?

In a word: drive.

When I first landed at BBG 10 years ago, what I thought made BBG unique then is totally different from what it is today.  In 2010, I left the carrier world (Unum) as the realities of the ACA were coming to the forefront. The brokers I called on then were getting ready to walk away from the business – primarily because they saw their market evaporating with ACA. I knew there would still be a tremendous need, and at the time, many were working to drive “value” through added client benefits.

Fast-forward from there and the market is still thriving, we continued to evolve, and even start to challenge the thought process and practices – while bringing new levels of value to clients. 

We benefit from a great mix of talent.  We have folks who are young, with others who are young-at-heart but have plenty of experience to draw from.  We also have some folks who grew-up in the industry, with plenty of others who didn’t have industry experience, but bring fresh ideas and concepts that we all grow from. 

The approach we take today draws on all of these items, and more.  The industry itself has created a set of rules by which many businesses still play by.  We remain attractive to those that wish to play in the sandbox itself, but also attractive for those who yearn for something different since they haven’t seen the results that others in the industry have promised.


Q: What’s the most rational way for an employer to evaluate a broker?

Many businesses play by the same rules that the industry has taught them over the past twenty years, and we have the RFP questionnaires to prove itThese employers still evaluate brokers based on a checklist of “value added services.”  We have since chosen to be highly selective when responding to checklist buyers.

Instead, employers should focus on value as opposed to value-added

Sometimes these are the same businesses that have been taught (erroneously) that benefit costs will vary from broker to broker.  While this is partially true, it is not to the extent that many believe, and rather ties back to the compensation that many brokers choose to pay themselves (using the client’s money).

 We’ve helped employers to again realize value with several approaches.

1. When a prospective client asks about “our rates,” we provide our pre-established fee structures, which can be made available in several modes and formats.  Not only can a client compensate us directly, but we offer models based on per employee per month (PEPM), flat-fee, or performance based.  The rationale is that broker fees are a numerator, not a denominator in this process.

2. Some businesses will choose to lead with a formal RFP process, which has questions  about us but little about them. For these groups, we provide a standard outline (a proposal) built around the top 20 most frequently asked RFP questions.  We also include the questions they should be asking, but are often overlooked. This has been far more productive than responding to every RFP – despite the fact that some may not continue the conversation. 

3. We have also helped other prospective clients change their approach by coaching them on the process of creating a “solution-based proposal.”  In this process, competing brokers are invited to examine the prospect, learn more, and create recommendations to solve the problems at hand.

This does require more effort by the prospect, however going back to the initial question, this is the way a business should be evaluating a broker – based on the value they are able to create, rather than the value they are able to add.


Q: You’ve recently begun to license a benefits benchmarking tool? Tell us about it and how it helps your office.

We’re so glad to have the benchmarking tool at our disposal. With this tool, we can easily help a business to compare their plans to various market segments with just a few clicks. It’s a far cleaner process that everyone, regardless of experience, can easily navigate.

Thus far, we have used outputs for presentations to both clients and prospects, but we’ve also used this for live demo’s when talking with a client or prospective client on the fly. We have already saved a ton of time in conducting these exercises. With all of the data at our fingertips, we can create a clean graphic for presentations in less than three minutes.

The added value to clients is the ability to understand where they fall, while also getting a view of the range of where others in their market segment fall as well. Many benchmarks focus simply on medians and means – whereas this tool focuses on percentile groups, which lends far more perspective than your traditional benchmark report.


Q: What other tools or data feeds is nobody using but should?

I’d really like to see the industry reach a point where we receive real-time notifications regarding admissions, ER visits, and more. Much of the data that we have to work with is lagging, in which case there is little that can be done.  It is more of an accounting of the situation than it is a AAR (after action report) than it is a SITREP (situation report). 

A real-time feedback loop on ongoing health conditions would be a great leap forward for managing the care of patients. 


Q: What do you think the next 3-5 yrs holds for the employer-sponsored insurance market?

My advice: “buckle up.”  The next 3-5 years will be interesting. If you look at the cast and crew of the Biden administration, you will see many familiar faces. We should expect to see varying degrees of change coming from legislation in the new year. The actual impact/result is unknown, but no one should be surprised to hear that Bidencare is an expansion of Obamacare in many areas.

COVID will also continue to create a ripple effect, which at this point is beyond the horizon.  The workplace has seen much change in the past 8 months, and I have doubts that we’ll ever go back to the “old ways” of doing things but that’s not all that bad. In order to stay ahead of the various ricochet effects of COVID-19, Employers should continue to stay ahead of the curve when it comes to healthcare literacy, financial literacy, and more.

I do forecast a continued expansion of alternative financing solutions for group health care, however I expect many to continue to maintain conservative moves into 2021, before considering more radical changes into 2022. Time will tell, but employers should prepare for many eventualities starting now.


Q: What’s one view you have about healthcare that stands out from the crowd?

My general belief is that a benefits program should provide a sense of relief, not angst, however that’s likely the most common way to describe the way we buy and sell healthcare today. Health insurance and healthcare have both grown increasingly confusing, difficult to navigate, and expensive over the years – to the point that we need to start to ask “where’s the benefit?” 

I do believe that we will start to see a new generation of employers that opt-out of the traditional benefit offerings to instead provide tangible items and experiences that are far more equitable than today’s practices of healthcare, dental care, and more. Before the pandemic, I saw a future of health plans being replaced by a new electric vehicle every 3-5 years, or autonomous shuttles picking folks up for work. I guess I’ll have to rethink that after 2020.

Edited for clarity. Emphasis is mine. Disclosures: my personal healthcare coverage is a $5,000 deductible cost-sharing plan (non-ACA compliant). Healthcare investments: Cigna, Fitbit (pending deal close by Google), IPOC (Clover Health SPAC), HealthEquity.

Photo by Maranda Vandergriff on Unsplash

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