Mark Bridges is a third-generation insurance agent, following in the footsteps of his father and his grandfather before him.
Like his predecessors, Bridges started out primarily on the P&C side of things -- until about three years ago, when he decided to begin moving into the group benefits business.
While he's found success with this approach in recent years, Bridges, a producer with the Amarillo, TX-based Edmond, Deaton & Stephens Insurance Agency, admits that this evolution wasn't as simple as he originally thought.
"One of the things I naively thought was, we've got this stable full of commercial clients, we've got great relationships with them, and we can walk in and say, 'We now sell benefits,' and they will practically give us their business," he said. "While I found having those commercial clients gave us a good foot in the door, the selling was still just as hard as it would have been selling to a brand-new prospect we didn't have a relationship with."
Thankfully, Bridges' hard work has paid off, and he now counts group health as roughly half of his current business.
Ultimately, he enjoys providing solutions to his clients -- and the current market certainly has given him the opportunity to do plenty of problem-solving.
Q: How were you able to overcome this initial challenge of proving yourself on the benefits side?
Mark Bridges: Some of the ways I had to overcome challenges and prove to them I knew what I was doing was just good old fashioned selling -- I came and called on them one year, and called on them the next, and just kept after it persistence wise.
One of the other things I did was I quickly recognized I needed to bring along some hired guns with me, so to speak, that had been in the business and had more gray hair on their head than I had. I had a relationship from my Fort Worth days with a guy that owned a company that did cafeteria plan administration, and he was out of Oklahoma City -- Jerry Edwards, and his company is Precision Administrators. Jerry's one of the most knowledgeable people I know of in the health insurance industry. He also happens to be one of the best salespeople and relationship builders I've ever met. He's been a lot of the reasons I've been able to write some of the business I've written. The reason for this is he's a real out-of-the-box thinker. We've done some really neat things with both large and small clients in putting in health reimbursement arrangements.
Q: What other challenges have you had to overcome in your business?
MB: One of the challenges right now is for the last 18 months, the big topic in the news has been health care reform. It seems like I followed it very closely for three to six months and finally gave up and thought, this changes every day. So a big challenge for the better part of last year was having clients ask me, "How is this going to affect me?" It was humbling to say, "I don't know -- I don't think anybody knows right now." Even with the law in effect, I think we're still in limbo about how it will affect us. But I'm not pessimistic in the sense that I believe this is the beginning of the end for the industry. If anything, I think it's going to force us to get a little more out of the box in how we approach health insurance going forward.
Q: What's next for you?
MB: I think what's next for me is I enjoy the benefits sale -- I think if I could build a practice that that's all I did within our agency and was able to hire other agents that built the practice up, that's what I would love to do.
One thing is I'm involved with a group of a couple of other agents in our firm that are actively acquiring other agencies, and as we do, many of those agencies we buy are just like we were -- primarily a P&C shop and may have 2 percent of their revenue coming from benefits. So I'd like to duplicate what I've done here in other agencies, doing benefits business.