On the Mic with Mike: The Hartford’s John Puglisi Shares Thoughts on Massachusetts PFML, Technology, and More

With the introduction of Paid Family Medical Leave in Massachusetts, along with mergers, acquisitions, and the launch of robust software to help brokers manage it all, 2019 was an exciting year in statutory employee benefits and group ancillary products.

At the close of 2019, DBL Center President and CEO Michael Cohen sat down the John Puglisi, sales rep for The Hartford, to talk about what to expect in 2020.  Be sure to watch the video, because our summary doesn’t catch every amazing moment.

Michael Cohen: What do you feel has changed the most in our industry since you started?
John Puglisi: One of the biggest changes is the introduction of technology. You’ve been ahead of the curve on that.

Voluntary worksite benefits are exploding right now. The right employers have less money to pay, so everybody wants critical illness, accident, hospital. But nobody has the resources to handle enrollments, so all of a sudden you have enrollment companies, technology vendors, and all this new stuff that you have to learn so you can re-enroll customers.

We were just talking about how you and I feel very comfortable standing in front of a group of people doing an enrollment meeting and walking away with 40% participation just on the basis of being able to tell the story in an entertaining way. Right now, everybody’s so focused on technology and having it be easily outsourced by an entire enrollment platform, resource, HRIS, etc. That’s been a huge change.

Cohen: Speak to me about what’s going on in Massachusetts.
Puglisi: What’s interesting about PFML in Massachusetts is the disability component to it, also. We’re dealing in statutory space, with New Jersey, New York, and Massachusetts now joining the roster of states that are adding PFL. But they’re also adding a disability component to it.

Cohen: Which state do you favor? Most people are more excited about Massachusetts than New Jersey.
Puglisi: Okay, so Massachusetts is not a large part of my market because I deal mostly in central western NY except for you guys, who I insisted on [keeping] when I moved out of your area. So, I’ve heard the Massachusetts process is building with the Hartford.

Cohen: We’re growing in Massachusetts, as well. We have a group business there, we have LTD and life, and dental… I think Massachusetts is unique for a lot of brokers because they don’t understand if there’s no underlying statutory plan, How’s it gonna work? It’s almost being underwritten like STD. But there’s been a lot of changes. It’s been exciting. Someone once asked me would you ever want to sell health insurance? How do you feel about that?
Puglisi: Personally, I would not. There are very narrow players in the field, as far as carriers are concerned. Business is always bouncing from one of the four carriers every year. It sounds like a really intense business.

Cohen: How is it going with the AETNA merger? The takeover?
Puglisi: The Hartford purchased AETNA’s group ancillary block.

Cohen: That seems like a seamless transition.
Puglisi: The acquisition of CNA back in 2011 prepared Hartford. A lot of learning went on to make the AETNA transition much smoother. We’ve adapted. wWe’ve taken the best of their system, combined it with ours, and created a whole new Web portal that’s state of the art.

Cohen: So it’s all integrated, one system?
Puglisi: We’re converting the in-force business over to the AETNA system now. All new business effective January 1, 2019, started on the Hartford Ability Platform.

Cohen: If a broker of mine has the Broker Dashboard system and they want to look up both AETNA and Hartford business, they can go in now through my Broker Dashboard, go to the carrier portal, and they can see all their business all in one?
Puglisi: Right. It’s a very robust portal. [There are] 400 different kinds of reports, which is a huge advantage. [There is] a lot more self-service capability, which seems to be the direction it’s going. But one of the ways the system has helped us–the same way your system has helped you–is the ability to persist and retain. Once you continue adding lines onto that site, customers tend to stick. And the system provides such good functionality, people are inclined to stay. That, I think, is what you’ve built with the Broker Dashboard.


NY DBL Insurance Brokers: Are Your Clients Ready for Tax Time?

DBL Center brokers can make tax time easier for their customers

Happy New Year! As we get back to the grind after the holiday season, NY DBL insurance brokers may have taxes on their mind – as do their customers.

Tax forms, including W-2 forms and third-party Sick Pay statements, are due to employees by January 31, 2020 for benefits received and services selected for the 2019 tax year.

DBL Center brokers, including those who write their business with the carrier ShelterPoint, can give their NY DBL insurance clients a helping hand in prepping for the 2019 tax season.

DBL Center brokers can access information about benefits and payouts for their customers, in real time, on the Broker Dashboard. If you are new to DBL Center as a result of ShelterPoint’s acquisition of AmTrust Wesco, our Broker Dashboard is one of the many advantages you’ll gain working with us.

Here are a few tips and things you should know about the forms your clients will need in relation to NY DBL insurance and Paid Family Leave (PFL), courtesy of top-rated carrier ShelterPoint.

1. Advise your clients to ensure their information is up to date with their carrier.
All information on file, including mailing address, contact name, the legal name of the business, and the Tax Identification Number (TIN) should be accurate and current. Incorrect information can lead to delays in receiving forms or filing taxes. It’s easy to update information with a quick phone call to the carrier or by creating an online account.

2.  Remind your clients to look for their Informational Third Party Sick Pay statements prior to generating W-2 forms.

Any NY DBL insurance benefits received by your clients’ employees is reported on Third Party Sick Pay statements mailed out by the carrier quarterly. Companies should receive their annual Third Party Sick Pay statement from their carrier by mid-January. ShelterPoint mails these statements the week of January 6, 2020. The statements summarize benefit payments made and taxes withheld. Employers then report that information on employee W-2 forms.

3. Advise your ShelterPoint customers to be aware of forms mailed directly to employees.
Customers who use ShelterPoint’s FICA Remittance Service should be aware that employees will receive a separate W-2 form from ShelterPoint showing the total benefits received for the 2019 tax year. Employers will still receive a Third Party Sick Pay statement and brokers can also view the details in the Broker Dashboard. Employers should not double report the information received on W-2 forms they prepare. 

Similarly, employees who received PFL benefits totaling $600 or more in 2019 will receive Form 1099-MISC from ShelterPoint Life before January 31. These benefits are not reported on W-2 forms and are considered taxable non-wage income.

Businesses who use W-2 Preparatory Services from ShelterPoint should look for their employees’ W-2 forms to be mailed directly to the employer for review. It is the employers’ responsibility to file and distribute the tax forms before the January 31 deadline.

Moving into a Strong New Year with DBL Center and Our Top-Rated NY DBL Insurance Carriers

“The DBL Center family has grown rapidly as a result of ShelterPoint’s acquisition of AmTrust Wesco,” says DBL Center President and CEO Michael Cohen. “We are excited about the opportunities our relationship with ShelterPoint brings our brokers and their customers. From our proprietary Broker Dashboard to services that help brokers grow their book of business, we are moving forward in 2020 prepared to meet the challenges of an ever-changing NY DBL insurance market.”

Legal Disclaimer: This content is for informational purposes only. DBL Center does not provide tax advice. Readers should consult with a tax professional with any questions.


On the Mic with Mike: Personal Connections with The Hartford’s John Puglisi

Personal connections hold the insurance industry together – especially when it comes to Northeast statutory insurance. The theme arises time and again in our videos and Rep Roundtable discussions.

“I don’t ever feel like there’s a strong competition [between our carrier reps] to do well, because we know we will all succeed anyway,” says DBL Center CEO and President Michael Cohen. “It’s easy because it’s such a seamless relationship.”

The DBL Center’s annual Christmas party, held in the Founder’s Room VIP area of the famed Paramount Theater in Huntington Village, exemplifies this point. Employees from multiple carriers, colleagues, family, and friends gather every December to reminisce about the past year and celebrate The DBL Center’s bright future.

Directly before the 2019 party, John Puglisi, sales representative for The Hartford, met up with Michael Cohen and The DBL Center’s camera crew for the latest Rep Roundtable installment.

Reinforcing the theme of personal connections, Puglisi traces his friendship with Michael Cohen and, before that, his relationship with DBL Center Founder David Cohen.

In this must-see video, John and Michael discuss Bill Cosby, retention in the insurance industry, and the secret to more successful enrollment meetings.

Be sure to watch to the end because there are poignant moments you won’t find in our synopsis below.

Michael Cohen: Isn’t it funny that we’re recording this video here at the Paramount Theater, given our mutual love for comedy. Do you remember who we saw last time we were here together?
John: Yes. Last time we were here we saw Bill Cosby.

Mike: A lot of things have changed… Bill’s in jail… The end of Dr. Huxtable. And a lot has changed in our industry, as well. We were with your wife and my father. How did you meet us?
John: I’ve been thinking about this, actually. You were with another rep, and that other rep was leaving The Hartford. It’s as simple as that. I met your dad because we had classes in the city that your father participated in. That’s where I met Dave.

Mike: I remember you and my dad immediately hit it off. And it was funny because the connection has always been the comedy. Dave would always tell the-one liners. And your passion has always been in entertainment. You have an interesting past there. Tell us about it?  
John: I’ve done theater. I’ve done singing. I vocalized Sinatra acts. Performing was where I came from. It’s interesting – a lot of guys in this industry tend to come from athletics. They’re sports guys. You’re one of the guys I know who came from comedy, which was always a passion of mine.

Mike: Our backgrounds in comedy and entertainment enhance the enrollment meeting, which is half the battle.
John: Yes! When you’re presenting your case [directly] to the client, it’s very easy to be compelling. If you can do that in an entertaining way, with vitality and humor, I think you close a ton of business.

Mike: The turnover rate was so high when I first got into the business, and it’s gotten even worse. I feel like that revolving door hurts you. A big part of my success has been that my staff has been there a long time. There’s a long tenure.

The shortest person is three years, because we’ve made a lot of changes in the past three years. I’m starting to grow the business. Aside from that, it’s 10 years, 20, 30, 34.

And people have this common denominator of comfort when they know you’re not going anywhere.
John: What your father started, and what you’ve done, is that over the time I’ve worked with you guys, since 2010, you guys are a family.

I walk through the door and see Annette Sperandio and I think, “That’s my daughter in 20 years.” She’s just like her.

Have you ever had an experience where you meet somebody and you’re immediately comfortable with them because they remind you of somebody else? That’s the way I was with Annette. And Lisa reminds me of a younger aunt of mine.

Your dad – it would be five minutes of him with a Number 2 pencil doing Euclidian mathematic, and then 2 minutes of the most raucous jokes you could tell.

Mike: The last time you and I were here at the Paramount it was with my father. Is there anything you want to add? Memories of him?
John: Dave’s passing was – and continues to be — just a great shock. He’s a guy that I miss regularly, in the way that I miss my parents.

Obviously, as you get older, you lose people. It’s part of life. He represents somebody whose loss hurt when it happened, and I continue to feel his loss.

There were conversations Dave and I had, where he would make suggestions. I would ask him for career advice. I would ask him for mentoring. I remember very clearly – I get goosebumps thinking about it – he looked at me and he said, “I want you to think about this because you’re better than what you’re doing.” I absolutely remember him saying those words to me. You’re better than what you’re doing.

Mike: And that’s why you’re here. We love working with you and we love the Hartford. We consider you family, too.



Top Wholesale Insurance Broker: 7 Advantages of Working with The DBL Center

If you’re shopping around for a wholesale insurance broker for your statutory disability benefits and ancillary employee benefits — or if you’re already working with DBL Center — you may wonder what makes us different from other general agencies.

Brokers gain a number of advantages working with The DBL Center for DBL and PFL coverage in New York, TDB coverage in New Jersey, TDI in Hawaii, and other statutory benefits across the country.

In this season where we celebrate the 12 days of Christmas and the eight days of Hanukkah, let’s look at seven reasons why you’ll love DBL Center.

1. Create Happier Customers
 
DBL Center can backdate policies more than a year, helping your clients avoid hefty fines or coverage gaps. Best of all, we do not charge for this process.
 
2. Earn Higher Commissions

You can earn more when you write your NYS DBL policies and NJ TDB with DBL Center as your wholesale insurance broker.

Our sub producing brokers receive Flat 22.5% commission directly from all our DBL carriers for risks between 1 and 50 lives. And you’ll have opportunities to earn even more when you bundle ancillary benefits for your customers.

In addition to our industry-high commissions, DBL Center hosts happy hour networking events to show our appreciation to our top brokers. We also provide cross-marketing opportunities, including the chance to appear on our highly regarded video series, On the Mic with Mike, or to be spotlighted as a top broker on our industry blog.

3. Build Trust and Support Your Brand with our White Label Service

DBL Center is a white-label wholesale insurance broker, which means your name goes on every application. We do the work; you get the credit and collect the commissions.

Having your name on every application proves you own your brokerage, which is important to build trust with your clients. It also helps build your brand, so that you are top of mind for your customers. We know many of our brokers sell other types of insurance, and your clients should think of you for any of their personal or business insurance needs.

4. Earn More Money Selling Ancillary Benefits

In addition to our role as a top wholesale insurance broker for DBL and TDB across the northeast, we also specialize in ancillary benefits, including Group Life AD&D, LTD, Dental and Vision coverage.

We will manage the marketing and account management for these niche products for you, enabling you to expand your book of business with clients who already know and trust your company.

You can even save your customers money while increasing your commissions by bundling ancillary benefits with statutory disability insurance.

5. Gain Important Business Insights with our Broker Dashboard

Since its launch, our broker dashboard has helped our clients gain crucial business insights that help them retain customers and earn more commissions. As DBL Center Founder David Cohen used to say, “It’s not what you earn, it’s what you keep.”

We’ve taken his philosophy and merged it with the latest technology to provide our brokers with an overview of all their accounts, commission history, and access plan documents. As a DBL center customer, you’ll be able to see clients who did not renew, clients who are pending cancellation, and clients who are paid, as well as how much you’ve earned from each customer.

This powerful tool aids in retaining customers, which will increase your bottom line with less work.

6. Save Time by Binding DBL Applications Conveniently Online

DBL Center has always been on the cutting edge of technology as a wholesale insurance broker. Even before we launched our state-of-the-art Broker Dashboard, we made it easy for brokers to bind DBL applications online.

Simply visit our “Get a Quick Quote” page to bind your applications under 50 lives online.

7. Relax with Unmatched, White Glove Customer Service

Since its founding in 1976, DBL Center has believed in providing top-notch customer service for its brokers. David Cohen modeled DBL Center’s expert, personalized service and family atmosphere after the service at the boutique hotels he loved to stay in while traveling. (For those who wonder, that is what the image on our home page represents.)

Having the DBL Center team by your side is like having a luxury hotel concierge at your service. We are not just a wholesale insurance broker. We are a general agency that acts as your full-service back office for your statutory disability needs, as well as ancillary benefits.

From our personalized service to your custom Broker Dashboard, DBL Center has the people, connections, and the technology to meet your needs as your wholesale insurance broker into 2020 and beyond.


Rep Roundtable, Part 3: Insurance Pros Talk about How They Fell Into the Business and More

“No one gets into the insurance business because they want to,” says DBL Center President and CEO Michael Cohen in his trademark tongue-in-cheek fashion.

Cohen had aspirations of being an entertainment attorney and then honed his craft of writing and producing while attending Boston University, which led him to performing stand-up comedy. He now combines all these talents, and more, as the leader of the largest niche insurance wholesaler in the Northeast.

Mike’s father, DBL Center Founder David Cohen, was driving to his dental school interview at Stony Brook University when he got into a car accident with a life insurance representative, who coerced him into joining Canada Life as a salesman instead of going into dentistry.

Simon Klarides, one of ShelterPoint’s most familiar faces, thought he was applying for a job as a financial trader when he wound up in the Claims department at Prudential. A

And Louis Ortiz of Principal Financial Group turned down a job as a morning anchor at an ABC affiliate to work in insurance. He says, in part three of our Rep Roundtable, that when he realized what was in front of him, he was scared to life about what he was about to take on.

While all three men in this edition of our Rep Roundtable reminisce about “roads not taken,” none regret entering the insurance industry. The work merges their talents for entertainment, sales, and—perhaps most importantly—finding the stories amidst the data.

“If you like working with people, and you like the educational process, the solving-the-problem process, I think it’s a great business,” Klarides says.

Work-Life Balance in the Mobile Age

At the 3:30 mark of the video, Cohen, Klarides and Ortiz talk about the effects of mobile technology on work/life balance and the growth of the insurance industry. Like so many professionals today, they find it hard to shut down when they leave the office due to always-on mobile technology.

And although sales have increased with more ways than ever to connect with potential customers, they haven’t grown at the rate you may expect. In fact, Klarides attributes growth to the sale of ancillary benefits to statutory DBL customers. “That’s where a lot of our business has grown over the years – getting our brokers to shift gears and teach their clients about a new product – dental, vision.”

Ortiz adds that technology, such as DBL Center’s proprietary Broker Dashboard comes into play to increase efficiencies and workflow, giving brokers 24/7 access to the data that affects their business.

“You can access the broker dashboard from so many multiple points: laptop, desktop computer, your phone. Having that access facilitates positive change because you’re having these fluid, real-time conversations. It just helps you to have a better business discussion when you’re trying to grow your book of business.”

“The data tells a story,” Cohen agrees. “I say the biggest goal, and what the Broker Dashboard really highlights, is retention. At the end of the day, it’s not what you earn, it’s what you keep.”

View more…

For more wisdom from Cohen, Klarides, and Ortiz, make sure to watch the video to the end. Cheers!

Missed Rep Roundtable Parts 1 and 2? Watch them here! And subscribe to our YouTube channel to see all our videos as they go live.



Rep Roundtable: Friendly Competition

Camaraderie and friendship drives success for DBL Center’s brokers and carriers

With countless DBL brokers in the New York tri-state area and several carriers for statutory benefits, there is tremendous competition for accounts. But that doesn’t stop top insurance reps on both the broker and carrier sides from becoming friends. Part 2 of DBL Center’s first-ever Rep Roundtable focuses on the spirit of friendly competition that drives the industry and sustains friendships.

We share some excerpts below, but you’ll have to watch the whole video to get all the goodies from ShelterPoint’s Director of Business Development Simon Klarides, Senior Sales Representative at Principal Financial Group Louis Ortiz, and DBL Center’s Michael Cohen.

4th Quarter Camaraderie

After talking about how the three insurance professionals met, the Rep Roundtable conversation shifted to the camaraderie and mutual respect that permeates the industry.

“We want to win all day long. But there’s enough meat on the bone where we can all eat,” Ortiz says. “It’s just a matter of being respectful and courteous to each other.”

Klarides adds, “At the end of the day, you don’t do anything to hurt each other. You do everything to support each other. You compete, but you don’t go over the line.”

This spirit of friendly competition is particularly evident at the DBL Center’s annual holiday party, now going on year three at The Founder’s Room VIP section of the famed Paramount in Huntington. Not only is it a great place for the DBL Center family to catch up with the people they haven’t seen in like an hour, Cohen says, but it’s the place for people who compete throughout the rest of the year to eat, drink, and be merry.

“Even though my brokers and carriers are all competing, they’re all friendly and work well with one another,” Cohen says.  

Changes in the Insurance Industry

The relationship-building that is so strong in the tri-state area insurance market hasn’t changed in the 45+ years since DBL Center was founded.  But virtually everything else about the industry has evolved dramatically.

“Like my father told me before he passed away, more has changed in 15 years than in my first 30 in the business,” Cohen says.

Listing just some of the changes, including Zurich exiting the market, the introduction of Paid Family Leave, and, most recently, AmTrust Wesco exiting the DBL market, Cohen points out that DBL Center is well-positioned to face the future of insurance in New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts, where Paid Family Medical Leave was recently introduced.

Note: Make sure to read last week’s post to learn more about AmTrust Wesco leaving the DBL market and watch Part 1 of our Rep Roundtable.

Nickels and Dimes Make Dollars

This fall, as DBL Center is prepared to shift statutory DBL policies with PFL riders from AmTrust Wesco to ShelterPoint, Cohen and Klarides agree that DBL Center’s state-of-the-art technology has made all the difference. It will be a smooth transition for brokers to write their DBL policies with ShelterPoint, and they will also gain the benefit of the DBL Center’s free Broker Dashboard.

While DBL Center introduced the Broker Dashboard technology less than a year ago, it was decades in the making. The Broker Dashboard exists as the culmination of Founder David Cohen’s emphasis on doing the math, tracking the numbers, and showing brokers exactly what they can expect from each deal. Cohen often espoused, “Nickels, dimes, and quarters make dollars.”

The Broker Dashboard brings David’s philosophy to life on the screen for brokers. But years before there was a Broker Dashboard, there was David Cohen with his calculator, pad, pen, and general ledger.

“Dave always had a calculator and a pad and a pen at every meeting,” Klarides recalls. “You knew you were having a good discussion with Dave when he started working the keys.”

“We talk about data,” Klarides continues. “That’s what you’re doing, Mike, with your Broker Dashboard. You’re telling brokers what they have, and where they want to get. There are a lot of brokers who do not line-item the DBL cases. Now you’re aggregating that data for them. And when they realize what they have, they realize it’s a pretty nice block.”

Share the Laughs and Lessons Here

Find out more about the camaraderie, technology, and people that make DBL Center a top insurance wholesaler in the New York Tri-state area for more than 45 years in Part 2 of our Rep Roundtable here.


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ShelterPoint Steps in For AmTrust Wesco in Statutory DBL and PFL Market

Founded in 1972, ShelterPoint Life, formerly First Rehabilitation Life, has provided businesses in New York with statutory DBL and enriched DBL coverage for decades. ShelterPoint’s Director of Business Development Simon Klarides notes that the book is predominantly small group business of under 100 lives. The insurance carrier also provides ancillary benefits including dental, vision, and life insurance, to these organizations.

Over the past 11 years, ShelterPoint has gone through a name change and extensive growth, standing at the leading edge of DBL and PFL coverage in New York. ShelterPoint remains a top-rated insurance carrier because of the company’s ability to stay one step ahead of change, and to be there to take advantage of opportunities as they arise.

Introducing… The Rep Roundtable

In a new video feature from DBL Center, The Rep Roundtable, our own Michael Cohen and ShelterPoint’s Simon Klarides talk about how they partnered when Zurich exited the statutory market seven years ago, which represented one such opportunity for ShelterPoint and DBL Center.

“I was at my desk in Great Neck, Long Island, at the time, and I got the call from [DBL Center’s] Eugene [Puleo],” Klarides recalls. “And Eugene said, “’You’re never going to believe this.’”

In an early morning meeting, Michael Cohen, his father and DBL Center Founder David Cohen, Puleo, and Klarides, along with ShelterPoint CEO Richard White, plotted a course of action that would enable ShelterPoint to take the lion’s share of Zurich’s business for statutory, which included both under and over 50 Lives.

DBL Center was tasked with transferring 6000 policies, worth over $8.8 million in premium. However, with the deal coming as it did at the time of Hurricane Sandy, property & casualty brokers in New York had larger concerns. DBL Center President Michael Cohen turned this obstacle into an opportunity.

Most of the brokers permitted DBL Center to not just write the policy, but to enrich their DBL coverage at the time of the transfer to offset the minimum premiums, which makes even more sense now that PFL has become a law.

Hear the whole story from Simon and Michael starting at timestamp 3:44 in the video. You’ll also see Louis Ortiz, senior sales representative for Principal Financial Group, weigh in on changes to the industry, which we’ll cover in a future blog post.

AmTrust Wesco Exits Statutory Market in New York

Now, almost seven years to the day that Zurich exited the statutory DBL market, Wesco, a member of the AmTrust Financial Services Group, announced its exit from statutory DBL and PFL in New York.

AmTrust Wesco, however, agreed to allow ShelterPoint Life Insurance Company (Shelter Point Life) the opportunity to offer their brokers coverage to fulfill the need for New York statutory short-term disability (DBL) and Paid Family Leave (PFL).

As a result, the DBL Center replaced the DBL / PFL policies for all its brokers’ impacted clients with Shelter Point Life, effective January 1, 2020. DBL Center took this step to protect business owners from non-compliance with the State of New York’s statutory disability and PFL benefit requirements.

The transition will be much smoother than it was for brokers shopping their former Zurich policies seven years ago. DBL Center, like ShelterPoint insurance, has been growing incrementally over the past decade and is positioned to assist with all statutory DBL and PFL, enriched DBL and ancillary benefits policies.

As an added benefit, brokers will gain free access to DBL Center’s proprietary Broker Dashboard, which enables brokers to view all active cases and receive monthly reminders for cases that are pending non-pay status.

The Rep Roundtable video, where Cohen and Klarides recap Zurich’s exit, was produced weeks before AmTrust Wesco announced its exit from the statutory DBL market. Sometimes, history repeats itself in unusual ways.

Let’s just hope there are no hurricanes on the horizon for the tri-state area this time. DBL Center brokers, at least, with the support of A+ rated carrier ShelterPoint, can count on clear skies ahead.



On the Mic with Mike: DBL Center’s Annette Sperandio Reflects on What’s Important in Life and Business

DBL Center’s Ancillary Benefits Account Manager Annette Sperandio joined the company three years ago, at the start of a tremendous growth phase. In part one of this two-part interview, Annette and DBL Center President Michael Cohen discussed the company’s past and present.

This week, in Part 2, they talk about the future of the company and how, although DBL Center continues to change and grow rapidly, the company’s ethics and vision remain consistent, strong, and in line with founder David Cohen’s beliefs and philosophies.   

Keep reading to discover Annette’s passion, her favorite word, and her pet peeve. Then, watch the video to find out what Annette would be doing if she wasn’t working at DBL Center, and the one place she considers “home.”

Michael Cohen: From your point of view, what’s next for DBL Center?
Annette Sperandio:
Well, there’s always something on the horizon. There’s always the technology piece to it. We have our Broker Dashboard, which you are working on. And TDB expansion, which is huge.

Aside from that, it’s always been about honoring your dad, keeping what we have. It’s making sure the brokers know we’re thankful for their business and always showing them the proper respect. That’s something that’s very big. That’s the way I was raised. You take care of the people who take care of you.

Mike: How is that reflected in your work?
Annette: If we have a case for 15 years, we do the diligence. We make sure the market study is done and the claim issues are handled in a timely manner. Retention is huge.

As we show our broker community what we’re capable of and what we’re able to develop, the sky’s the limit. That’s really what it comes down to. I always tell you what a natural salesperson you are because it’s the truth. You’re able to sell. You’re able to talk. People don’t really have the gift of gab anymore.

Michael: And there’s that aspect of coming full circle. You said you want to pay homage, and my dad had that talent, too. Unfortunately, you lost your father, as well, before I did. There’s an undertone that resonates between the two of us, an understanding.

We’re also both fans of the arts. You’re familiar with Inside the Actor’s Studio. You may know these questions, but I trimmed them down.

Mike: What is your favorite word? Please say cook?
Annette: I’m going to quote one of my favorite –
Mike: It’s a word, not a phrase
Annette: It’s a word. It’s not an English word…
Mike: Italian or Latin?
Annette: Italian. Attraversiamo
Mike: What does that mean? That could mean anything.
Annette: To cross over. And if anyone’s watching this and they [don’] understand what it is, it’s a reference to [the book] Eat Pray Love.

Mike: What is your least favorite word?
Annette: Bulbous. I hate that word.

Mike: What motivates you?
Annette: My family. My family is everything. And anybody that knows me knows that I am fiercely in love with my family.

Mike: How many children do you have?
Annette: I have two beautiful boys, 7 and 3. [I would do] anything to make their lives better and to do better than the last generation.

Mike: What turns you off?
Annette: I just want you to be straight. I want you to always tell the truth. I want you to always be upfront, because that’s how I carry myself. And that goes for all aspects of my life. I’m an open book. If I give you that respect, I expect that in return.

And I feel like sometimes people get afraid to tell the truth. Truth isn’t always easy to talk about. And it doesn’t hurt to tell someone and be upfront.

I’d rather a broker tell me, “Look I’m shopping [the policy], too.”

If you do that, then I’m aware, and the hunger is there. And maybe we can get a better quote because let’s say our book is slightly bigger. We’re going to leverage it accordingly, so you get exactly what you need.

Also, it’s an art form. People that bring honesty and open communication are willing to come to the table and say, “Listen, I’ll work as hard as  I can to get you exactly what you need.” I know full well I may not be able to do it. But at least you know, I went through every single check and balance and hoop to try. We’re always going to do our best to get our clients exactly what they need, to get it done.



On the Mic with Mike: DBL Center's Ancillary Benefits Account Manager Annette Sperandio Traces DBL Center's Growth Trajectory

DBL Center’s Ancillary Benefits Account Manager Annette Sperandio Talks About Technology, Service, and the Surprising Poster in Michael Cohen’s Office

Ancillary Benefits Account Manager Annette Sperandio joined the team three years ago, at the beginning of its most recent growth phase. Coming to DBL Center from the prestigious Chernoff Diamond firm, Annette was looking for a company where she would be empowered to learn and grow in a pivotal role.

Annette’s feeling that DBL Center was about to “take off,” – combined with a certain propitious poster on the wall of Mike’s office during the initial interview — gave Annette the feeling she’d found her new home.

Mike Cohen: Remember when we interviewed? What did you say?

Annette Sperandio:There were many things that were said. [laughs] One thing I remember is sitting across from you, and seeing that Jaws movie poster, which I thought was a weird sign from my dad. My dad’s restaurant in Eastchester, NY, was called Jaws. And he had a huge following once that movie came out. It was a chops and seafood house. I was like, “What the heck are the odds of that poster being on the wall right now?”

Then I had this feeling that you were going to take off. I felt like that was a good fit for me because I was ready to take off with somebody.

Mike: That’s a good jump-off point. Where have we gone as a team since that day?
Annette: Three years ago in September I joined the DBL Center. We were in a small two-office suite. It was truly a mom-and-pop shop, and I was coming from a prestigious firm. I said, “This is going to be a great opportunity. There’s somebody here who is willing to grow.”

And we did just that. There was a trajectory set. I said tell me what I need to do, and we did just that. We grew a database – from a statutory database to now being a statutory and ancillary benefits database.

We took our knowledge together and we built upon something your dad was very passionate about, his manual ledger. We added our tech-savvy to that whole process: From the audit to the processes, to being able to create a portal, to our carrier portal.

Mike: Explain that for a moment, because you’re in the day-to-day…
Annette: We really started from the ground up. That’s because I saw a lot of influx coming in from Rich’s clients, and your clients, and even some of your dad’s clients coming by the phone, and I said, “We really have to streamline this.” It was too much in the weeds, too much getting stuck.

I knew these carriers had the capability to do online portals, and to make them user-friendly for our clients and brokers alike. Aside from that, we gave them these super-access powers that allowed them to do employee terms and adds and address updates.

We still get involved with retro terminations, but it’s good to be needed. We want to be needed, but we also want our brokers to be proactive on their own. So, we took that information and we started to train our broker community.

Mike: Don’t you feel like we’re in control for the first time? We formed the masses to get them to go in a specific direction, like the pied piper. They’re using the database and the dashboard. That function was missing before.
Annette: Yes. There was an opportunity for us, as a team, to show our customers we now have a service model. That service model was going to make the best use of these things that these carriers had been spending millions of dollars on, but so many people were not using.

Does that mean we don’t help out? No, of course not. We teach them. Then, when they need us for something, we know it’s a true and blue issue.

We have up to 150 brokers at this time using it, with two or more users on it. We get such good, positive feedback because they’re able to do things that they would originally have to [email us about]. Even if they were reaching out to the carriers themselves, that’s a 7- to 10-business day turnaround time.

Mike: And that simplicity shaves a little bit of time and fat off of everybody, internally. If we’re less stressed, the clients pick up on that, the broker’s community. They can feel it.
Annette: Yes. I think people really rely on us to get things done. If you think about the sales process, they come to you or come to me, and they say, “Here’s a census and this is what I’m looking for.”

That’s one process by itself. But then there’s implementation, which is where I take the reins. And then there’s servicing a case that’s been finalized. So, we have this tiered system in place, and they need to know the pecking order and they rely on us to get it done within a certain amount of time.

Mike: And everybody’s in their lane. And all of that – in just three years.
Annette: Yes. When I joined the team there was a start to a system. It was statutory based. And then I felt like the first six months of my being here, aside from learning the system, was changing over from our old system to the new system: adapting, changing, and tweaking it. We’ve done that for well over two years, to a point where now we’re able to give it to our broker community. We’re able to share that with people, so they can see what we’re bringing to the table. Because we’re not just a general agency.

Mike: It’s far beyond… that’s our competitive advantage.
Annette: Yes. There’s service, upon technology, upon being platinum status with our carriers.

We’re always looking to our brokers the best prices for ancillary benefits, and a lot of times, we do that by bundling DBL or TDB. We have relationships with six carriers for ancillary benefits, and nine carriers if we bundle statutory benefits. So, I look at all nine when I’m writing ancillary benefits. We’re always trying to get the best rates and provide the best service.


On the Mic with Mike: Selena Kutschera Talks About PFL, DBL and the Benefits of the Broker Dashboard

Working with the top insurance wholesaler in NY gives Selena a chance to make a difference for brokers

Selena Kutschera, DBL Center’s Director of DBL and TDB never actually applied to work at DBL Center. She joined the family when DBL Center acquired competitor Combined DBL, a competitive insurance wholesaler in NY, in 2014.

How she got the job at Combined DBL, straight out of college with no insurance industry experience, is quite a story.

“I found the job listing in the newspaper,” she tells DBL Center owner and president Michael Cohen. “I begged for an interview, but they had already closed out their interviews because they knew who they were going to hire.”

Kutschera didn’t stop pushing for the interview, however, and, ultimately, got the job. Through her hard work and perseverance, she’s become a leader in wholesale TDB and DBL sales.

It was this tenacity that impressed DBL Center founder David Cohen at the time of the acquisition. “That was the kind of personality my father was looking for,” Michael Cohen recalls. “I remember him saying, ‘I don’t know if we’ll get the deal, but Selena will join us.’ We did make the deal and here we are, five years later.”

Read on to learn how Selena Kutschera is helping DBL Center brokers manage the challenges of PFL and prepare for new opportunities in New Jersey.

Then watch the video to find out Selena’s (second) favorite word, what musician she’s not-so-secretly obsessed with, and what she’d be doing if she wasn’t serving the DBL and TDB insurance needs at one of the top insurance wholesalers in NY.

Michael Cohen: What’s the most exciting thing that we’ve done as a team, in your opinion, since the acquisition?
Selena: The program – the Broker Dashboard. Just coming together and building something, changing the game.

Michael: How has that been an upside for you?
Selena: We can track now. We can track the business. We can track what we’ve lost, what we’ve gained, the brokers, who’s writing, who’s not writing. It just makes it easier.

Michael: Can you describe the process we use when we get together and track retention and new business?
Selena: When we look at our book through the Broker Dashboard, we look at what we can keep out of what’s lost. Our cancellations. We know DBL’s a moving target. Your DBL’s come on, they come off, there are non-pays all the time. That’s the first thing we address, the non-pays. Can we get them reinstated? If we can, that puts business back into the books.

Any time coverage is replaced, we want to find out why it was replaced. Was it something we lost? Did the broker lose it? Did they replace it on us, and why did they replace it? We have to analyze what happened—and why—to get that business back.

Michael: What has the feedback been from the brokers since we implemented the dashboard?
Selena: They’re surprised about their non-pays and what’s cancelled and what’s not.

Michael: Everyone thought Paid Family Leave was going to be a home run, but in the beginning, it wasn’t. Why? And what have you been doing to help overcome those challenges?
Selena: It just added another layer of tracking. Who doesn’t want to pay their PFL [rider]? Who didn’t think they needed Paid Family Leave? They pay the DBL; they don’t pay the PFL. That’s really been the issue. Now, we’re getting the complaints that the insured made the payment, but they only paid a portion of it, or they shortchanged it. So now it’s a matter of them understanding how to pay the bills.

Mike: What do you feel is the biggest dilemma in the overall statutory environment? You’re in the trenches and you’re also involved in commissions. What’s an issue for us that’s outside of our control as a wholesale insurance broker in NY?
Selena: I guess what’s outside of our control is just the insureds making payments. That’s out of our control as an insurance wholesaler in NY. Is the $170 [weekly] benefit in New York State for disability low? Absolutely.

What I do find is some employers want to buy up and some employers don’t want to hear it. I agree with the buying up because the reality is the Paid Family Leave is for somebody else—to take care of a baby, child, or family member—and the disability is for yourself. And if you need to go out on disability, why do you need to go out at a $170, when the PFL benefit is $750 and change? It’s $752 [for 2019].

Mike: Are you excited about what’s happening in Jersey? Explain that.
Selena: Absolutely! Jersey just lifted its signature requirement—there’s no more signature requirement to move to a private carrier. So, it makes it easier for us to write this product, as 98% of it sits with the state right now. And the benefit is going up tremendously.

If you’re shopping for a new insurance wholesaler in NY or NJ or need help writing TDB or DBL, let Selena Kutschera and DBL Center help you. Reach out today.