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John Helms

The following is a summary of our interview with John Helms. Listen to the episode to hear the whole thing.

John Helms of John Helms & Associates is leader in the health insurance advisor community and has served as past president of the Golden Gate Association of Health Underwriters.

On the DNA of John Helms & Associates:

I call myself a health insurance broker. 80% of our revenue comes from health insurance. The rest is dental, group disability insurance, vision, or group life. Our typical client has 10 employees.


Favorite part about what you do?

I really believe in what I do. You’re dealing with peoples’ health and money. A lot of clients go through serious situations that can be a health issue or a financial issue. It’s a very deep business because you’re dealing with people in the most important part of their life, and we sell something we hope people don’t have to use. It can be taxing and hard; everybody hates health insurance. It’s deep on a personal level because you’re helping people in a fundamental way.

Common client mistakes:

Not buying disability insurance. Employers will get group health insurance then go right to dental insurance because it’s the more popular thing. But being trained in finance, I understand that insurance is there to pay for things you can’t budget for. A long-term disability specifically is exactly one of those things. It’s a common mistake that people skip over.

On plan design:

If you’re a civil engineer, you’re competing with the government for your employees and if they have a full benefit package you have to make it look similar to that. If you’re a startup company you’re competing for employees. The art of setting up a plan is trying to keep the cost down as much as possible, and sometimes you have to mimic a richer plan, and you can do that maybe by offering a silver instead of a platinum. Also group di is a good thing because the cost tends to be low, and that leaves the executive able to purchase an individual disability or life plan so the employer doesn’t have to buy a significant amount of coverage up front.

On the future of the ACA:

The smaller and startup firms are being ignored right now, and it’s a great opportunity because a lot of that market is not getting a high level of service. Another thing is that things are becoming more political which makes things more volatile. It’s anybody’s game right now because, I was going to say there’s a lot going on but really, there’s very little going on--they can’t agree on anything. So the industry is going to suffer particularly in the individual family plan marketplace. That is unstable right now, so if you see rate increases or doctors leaving plans it’s going to happen first with the individual marketplace. I’d like to see that change.

Explain the role of NAHU?

I was a latecomer to NAHU and I have been paying a guilt that comes out of that. As I became more established in the business, I wanted to give something back to the industry. There are very few organizations that do what we do. We wouldn’t have a job if NAHU didn’t exist. I get a lot out of it personally: it allows me to get out amongst my peers, plus a very high level professional education. The further up the food chain I go, the fewer sources of good information there are to learn about what I do. This is why I work with you, Max, because I need to have a network of people around me--I don’t do it all myself. I have staff people that carry the weight of a lot of what we do and, frankly, make me look good. And there are a lot of people outside of this office that I work with (general agents including DI + LTC) not just because they have all the products but because we get a great level of service and it allows me as a small firm to compete with large firms because I’m never at a competitive disadvantage. It gives us a chance to talk to our sponsors, too. There are so many great people who are a part of that organization.

Opportunities or challenges you’re looking forward to?

When I got out of GGAHU I threw myself into the business.  We updated our CMS to a sophisticated platform--we’re trying to build up how we communicate with people. Now we’re getting heavily into social marketing, videos, and this is my first attempt at a podcast, which is quite a bit of fun actually. We’re trying to build up our tactical tools for talking to people. The linear approach to marketing is getting harder and harder; when you talk to people directly (“Hey, can we get you a quote on health insurance?”), that’s a difficult thing to crack into. We’re trying to be clever--the internet, social marketing, the decision-making process is different. So now we’re taking an ABM approach. Half of the insured population in the Bay Area is now covered by Kaiser, but DI and dental are great door openers. We try to pick up that portion of the business, then turn around and grab the other portion through a broker of record letter. It’s an incredibly long-term strategy.

What are criteria & strategies when implementing Group LTD plan?

A lot of the time, people aren’t even aware of DI. The under-10-lives groups are horribly underserviced. So we try to contact people and make them aware of that, talking with them--we do consultative selling, and every client’s different. We end up doing what the client wants to do. A typical group DI plan covers up to $6000 of coverage and that’s it. But we have many clients who are making $200-400k salaries so they need to expand and get a personal policy. And that opens up the door to the personal market.

What would you have done differently if just starting out?

My son is a very smart man; throughout college he did internships in the industry he plans to work. Number one is look at opportunities for internships--try to get in with and around successful people. Whether it’s working in an agency where there are other brokers you can learn from, joining NAHU, or learning from more senior agents. That way you don’t learn by mistakes. Also, working with general agents like DI + LTC and get around a network of professionals. You don’t have to know everything in this business. By having a network of people around you who are not only technically competent, but are polished at dealing with people, and  are people you trust, it allows you to thrive in a market where you just don’t have to do everything.

What do you want your clients to say to themselves after working with you?

One of the things I love about this business is that the relationships with clients get better over time. Sooner or later someone gets sick, and it tests the relationship. It’s not just the product but it’s your service and your staff’s service. By working with people, they trust you more and more over time, and you develop strong working relationships, which is incredibly satisfying. We always want people to think better of us after a problem. We deal with peoples interests at heart and with integrity.