Building the Back Office into a Front Runner

By Jeff Bellinger

About Jeff Bellinger, Better Business Planning:

Jeff was the owner of Better Business Planning, an insurance agency specializing in employee benefits solutions.

Building the Back Office into a Front Runner

I graduated college with a degree in industrial engineering, specializing in factory automation. After college, I worked with minicomputers for the software company my father spun out of Better Business Planning (BPP), the employee benefits specialty company he and a partner founded in 1977.

Back at that time, quotes were developed manually from multiple rate cards and a census analysis. When a tech-savvy friend told my father he could automate the process with a computer program, they collaborated to create software that rated employee benefits for small groups. It became a real competitive advantage.

As benefits programs and regulations became more complex, brokers without the infrastructure to service clients properly found themselves at a disadvantage. Having a technology-driven infrastructure to service accounts created operational and technical strength, propelling BBP’s growth and specialization.

While the technology helped drive growth, it came with its own demands. Preferring to focus on building the insurance business and incorporating other offerings and capabilities companies wanted, such as retirement planning and pre-tax administration, my dad decided to sell it off.

When I joined BBP in 1993, my operational strengths and computer technology experience freed my dad to focus on building the sales force to scale our growth.

When my brother Chris subsequently joined the agency, he moved us beyond simple flexible savings account (FSA) administration into more complex health reimbursement arrangement (HRA) administration. Our sales team then coupled the HRA capability with a high deductible plan, giving clients a new way to combat rising healthcare costs. Underpinned by our technology capabilities, we grew these administrative service offerings locally then took them national to other agents so they could compete in their markets.

As benefits programs and benefits administration became more complex after the passage of the Affordable Care Act, we found ourselves at an odd disadvantage. Not only had the pace and scale of technology accelerated, our competitors were selling to brokers with big P&C divisions. We were losing benefits business because companies were increasingly opting for an “all-in-one” brokerage firm.

We created a P&C division, but quickly realized that it is not the same business as employee benefits. We also saw that getting in step with the pace of technology change would require a significant investment at a time when my brother and I realized that we needed a succession plan for the business.

Ensuring what we built would last long into the future, and that our clients would be in good hands when we eventually exited, meant finding a partner who could broaden our ability to compete without losing the specialization that built our success.

Over the years, we had been approached by many brokers about selling, but never saw a compelling fit. When we met the M&A team at Risk Strategies, however, things clicked.

Insurance, risk, and liability can be dry. We are all highly skilled and professional, but like to have fun. In discussing possibilities with the Risk Strategies team, it was clear they were cut from the same cloth. We saw an organization and a culture that felt like a great match for both our clients and employees. It’s a cultural mix that many claim to have but, on closer inspection, don’t actually possess. With Risk Strategies, it was there from the very first call.

In addition to finding a great cultural fit and a specialist with the tools, resources and market access to bring new services to our clients and get us back on a competitive footing, we also gained the operational support systems – from HR and IT to accounting and more, that could free us up to focus on the things we do best to grow the business.

We also saw that we would be a valued part of Risk Strategies. Our service administration skills and knowledge are increasingly important to winning, growing and retaining business, and as part of Risk Strategies we can scale them more effectively.

Becoming part of Risk Strategies felt like finding a sure path forward for our business and people.