When Sandra Anderson, Office Manager of Vermont Brokerage Services, says that her firm truly cares about placing their clients with the best coverage for them, you believe her. Perhaps it’s because Ms. Anderson, a native of Boston, has been in Vermont long enough to assimilate into the culture of genuine niceness that Vermonters are known for. But beyond just being nice, Vermont Brokerage Services’ dedication to helping their customers also makes firm business sense.
The following is the transcript of an interview with Ms. Anderson about her views on why personalized service is here to stay and which carrier technologies are best.
Q. In addition to offering group health, life, disability and retirement financial products, some of your brokers are also assisting clients with enrollment and helping with HR issues such as COBRA applications. How does that affect your relationship with your clients?
Ms. Anderson: Our clients like to work with us because they get personal attention from their brokers. We even help represent them when dealing with carriers in the event of a claims or billing issue. As a result, we retain a lot of clients and keep longstanding client relationships.
Q. How do you process commissions?
Ms. Anderson: We receive monthly statements from the carrier, and then we enter the information into our in-house system to calculate our brokers’ commissions. Processing the statements can be difficult because each carrier’s commission statements are different. Some carriers don’t list all the information we need in a convenient place; for example, the broker’s name won’t be listed in the same place as the policy information, so it takes us more time to sift through the paperwork to find the information we need.
Q. Which carriers are the easiest to work with in this regard?
Ms. Anderson: Blue Cross Blue Shield of Vermont’s commission statements are the best. When we’re entering information into our system to pay our agents, all the information we need is right in front of us so it’s easy to enter in quickly. However, most carriers are making strides in this area as they update their technologies.
Q. How do you use technology in your business?
Ms. Anderson: Our in-house system helps us enter and track all our carrier’s commissions, as well as our payments to our brokers. Some carriers have online sites where we can login on behalf of a client to help manage their enrollments. It would be great to see more carriers using similar technology.
Q. What technology challenges do you face?
Ms. Anderson: It’s difficult for Vermont Brokerage Services to stay up to date on our clients’ policies. If there have been changes in our clients’ accounts that we didn’t know about, it’s usually not until we get the commission statement that we find out. Even then, there’s no way for us to verify the changes are correct; we just have to trust the carrier. It would be great to be able to go online to access this information.
Q. What is the current state of your business?
Ms. Anderson: Commissions and bonuses seem to be dropping among nearly all the carriers we write for. Some carriers offer incentives to clients to write directly with them instead of going through a broker. However, when this happens clients are usually not aware of the type of agreement they are entering into, and are usually disappointed.
Our clients come to us saying, why isn’t our COBRA being managed anymore? It’s because they’re working directly with the carrier.
Carriers are just too large to give groups the personal attention they want. That’s the difference a broker can make. We represent our clients’ interests and are the conduit to the carrier to make sure everything’s fair and everyone’s happy.