“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.
by Dawn Allcot
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The State of New Jersey legislature recently voted to waive the signature requirements for companies to switch from a state plan to privatized TDB (Temporary Disability Benefits). Previously, brokers needed signatures from 50% + 1 of all employees within a company to switch.
DBL Center reported on the proposed legislation in October 2018, and the bill passed in February 2019. It goes into effect this month.
DBL Center is making sure our brokers are ready for the change, with our Assistant VP of Ancillary Benefits, Lori Rose leading the charge. For two years now, Lori has helped DBL Center expand its brand and presence over the bridges into New Jersey and provide the level of customized service our New York brokers have come to expect. Using TDB as a doorway to sell more ancillary benefits, including dental, life, and vision, Lori has helped brokers increase their book of business.
Now, as it becomes even easier to write privatized TDB, the opportunities for New Jersey brokers expand.
Lori is ready for the challenge – which involves broker education and lots of hustle. The word “can’t” is not in Lori’s vocabulary. She views the new legislation as an opportunity to help her customers – and all New Jersey brokers – earn more with privatized TDB.
Her desire to help others, her willingness to hustle, and her “team player” attitude is why DBL Center President Michael Cohen calls Lori “a hybrid between a ‘fantabulous’ account manager and a superior sales manager.”
Lori sat down with Mike to talk about privatized TDB and also share some fun facts about herself. Watch the video here.
You can learn even more about Lori in Part 1 of Mike’s interview here.
Mike: What are your goals going into January 1, 2020, due to the changes in New Jersey, where privatized TDB will no longer require employee signatures?
Lori: That’s a great question. That signature requirement has always held companies back, because it was difficult to make a change from a state plan to a private plan. With that going away starting in August 2019, all employers will get the experience from the state — it’s called the AC-174.1. Once they have that information, I’m going to be working with my brokers to help their customers privatize TDB.
A lot of it is training and education to teach brokers about selling New Jersey TDB. My goal is showing them how easy it is for them to work with their clients to see if it makes sense to go to a private plan, not only to save the employer some money, but to get better claims service.
Mike: Tell us about how easy it is for employers to switch to privatized TDB.
Lori: Once upon a time, we had an easy TDB program at [insurance carrier] CNA. We were able to guarantee savings to an employer based on the experience on the AC174.1. That has moved forward in the industry from CNA; Zurich took that program, and now other carriers have jumped onboard. That makes it easy for employers to see their savings with privatized TDB. Now, with no signature requirement, it will help brokers write even more business in 2020 for New Jersey TDB.
Mike: What is your favorite word?
Lori: Fantabulous. And it’s a made-up word.
Mike: What is your least favorite word?
Lori: The word can’t.
Mike: I had a feeling you were going to say that. I really did.
Lori: Because everything is do-able. I consider myself a professional problem solver, and I can get anything done. And when I get it done, it’s fantabulous.
Mike: What motivates you?
Lori: I like helping people. I like providing solutions. I find when I can bring value to the table, that motivates me to do a better job every day. Working as a team.
Mike: What turns you off?
Lori: Negativity. I have to be around that positive energy and surround myself with it, and bring that to others, as well.
Mike: What profession other than yours have you always wanted to do?
Lori: Once upon a time, I was a psychology major. I had always thought I’d go into child psychology. I find that even in this business, it’s all about relationships. It’s about talking to each other. It’s about understanding a person, knowing their needs, and really listening. Being a good listener.
Most of The DBL Center family works out of the Melville, New York, office. But the newest addition, Associate VP of Ancillary Benefits Lori Rose, works in New Jersey close to her clientele. Helping to expand the DBL Center brand and presence with her knowledge and expertise, Lori focuses on ancillary benefits, primarily with TDB customers in New Jersey.
Lori took the trip to Long Island to chat with DBL Center President and CEO Michael Cohen about her history in the insurance industry and her favorite part about selling ancillary benefits.
Watch the full video here.
Michael Cohen: Tell people how you got here, to DBL Center, and where you came from in the industry.
Lori Rose: I have a long history in the insurance industry on the employee benefits side, starting once upon a time at CNA, doing statutory. New Jersey TDB was the focus. Then I moved into employee benefits, and then moved over to Zurich. From there I moved onto Principal, doing employee benefits – dental, vision, life, disability – and then focusing on the dental / vision with Ameritus.
Mike: What is your favorite product to sell?
Lori: I love selling Dental / Vision, because employees can really appreciate the value of these benefits. I sell a lot of it on a voluntary basis. When I go to an open enrollment meeting with employees, and sit down with them, they can see the value of having a dental plan for themselves and their families, as well as Vision coverage. It’s something they can use every year.
I also like selling voluntary life, and [other] voluntary products. Families don’t realize the financial protection they need and how affordable it is. Very little comes out of their paycheck for them to have a full suite of employee benefits.
Mike: What is the most important thing you see that brokers aren’t doing, that they should be? What advice would you have for them?
Lori: I think brokers could do a better job with cross-selling. They may only write a basic life product and take care of the basic needs. They can appeal to their clients, their accounts, to extend the employee benefits. And that’s where we come in at The DBL Center, helping cross-sell, helping their clients see the value of having a full employee benefits package.
Mike: This is your first time selling on the wholesale level. Is it different?
Lori: It’s different. When I was on the carrier side, I represented one carrier and only their products. Now as a wholesale broker, I can bring solutions to my brokers, to their clients, with preferred carriers, with multiple lines of coverage, and really take care of all their employee benefit needs.
Mike: And how do you feel the broker dashboard has helped your brokers in that process?
Lori: The dashboard has helped my brokers because now they can go onto our website, onto our portal, and look up their accounts. They can track what’s going on, not only with their commissions, but with nearly every aspect of their accounts.
Let’s say they need a highlight sheet or a policy or some information– it’s at their fingertips. They don’t have to wait to go to their particular carrier and get that information. It’s easily accessible to them 24/7. They have access to their accounts and can see what’s going on. That’s what’s great about it. I’ve never had this kind of tool before.
Michael Cohen shares memories and laughs with DBL Center’s longest-running team member.
Eugene Puleo, DBL Center’s first employee, joined the company on April 1, 1983. He made a “splash” from day one when he promptly poured beer over his burger during lunch with founder David Cohen.
Even though Eugene started his tenure with the insurance wholesaler on April Fool’s Day, his dedication and hard work are no joke.
Eugene sat down recently to be the first DBL Center team member to go head-to-head, Actor’s Studio-style, with Michael Cohen. Their rapport is instantly evident on camera. Even if you missed our other DBL Center videos, this one is a must-see.
We’ve excerpted some of the best moments below. But you’ll have to watch the video to hear the burger-and-beer story and to find out why Mike calls Eugene, “the Jimmy Buffet of the insurance industry.”
Mike: When did you start with DBL Center?
Eugene: This past April 1, it’ll be 36 years. Time really flew.
Mike: What do you remember about Dave going off to Hawaii when he was expanding the business there?
Eugene: He wanted to go to another state that was statutory. California was all sold through the state. Rhode Island was all through the state. New Jersey we were dabbling in at the time. He said, “Hawaii, why not?”
Mike: I was just a kid at that time but having you in the office allowed him to make that move…
Eugene: It took him time for him to even let me do commissions. I remember your mom telling him, “Why’d you hire him? Why even have him if you’re not going to trust?”
I think over the years, your father trusted me. He was not a person to trust anybody, and I felt that he trusted me. I was there so he could do those other things, like going to Hawaii, knowing his business was in good hands.
Mike: So then fast forward: How did the industry change from the eighties to the nineties?
Eugene: The eighties just seemed like you could write anything. The Wild West. We were writing like nobody’s business.
Mike: Who was your biggest carrier back then?
Eugene: CNA was starting to phase out, and in the late eighties we began developing a relationship with Zurich. There were things going on with American Accident, then they went out. And Dave approached Zurich. They were right on Rte. 110 in Melville at the time, and Dave called John Beberich to talk. And Zurich became the number one writer.
Mike: Can you talk about how DBL Center has evolved in the past several years, especially since my dad passed away?
Eugene: It’s just [grown by] leaps and bounds. Now, the progression with you coming in, obviously, it was a good turn. You’d come in and give your father ideas. And he was a little stubborn in the beginning. You know. He was your dad. I remember you coming in and saying, “I’ve gotta pay these brokers 22 and a half [percent] because everybody else is paying 20.”
And the whole commissions thing… it was insane. We used to put commissions in manually by hand. Statements from Zurich could be this thick. [Gestures with hands.] It took time to keep track of the delinquents, log all the commissions, and everything was so antiquated. But you were there, giving your father ideas.
Now we can upload a statement a foot thick, and we can do it in a half hour. We couldn’t do it before. It’s been a total 180. Even moving into the new headquarters – I finally got a new office. And I’m still enjoying it after 36 years.
As many of us get set to celebrate Father’s Day with cookouts, laughter, and gifts for Dad, the DBL Center family decided it would be appropriate to look back at The DBL Center’s history and, especially, reminisce about founder David Cohen.
At a recent broker appreciation event at Oheka Castle, a few guests suggested we share David’s endless font of wisdom in a blog post. They didn’t know we already had the idea in the works, but their suggestions moved the topic to the top of our list.
We went from “Hey, we should…” to “Let’s do this. Now.” You can watch the video here:
It seemed right to share this post in the week leading up to Father’s Day, as David was not just a role model for his son, DBL Center President and CEO Michael Cohen, but also to the many brokers he worked with over four decades.
These financial tips and valuable wisdom will make you think, make you laugh, and give you a new perspective on growing your book of business in the insurance industry.
“Dave was like the Don Rickles of the insurance business. He tried to make it fun and I’m trying to continue that legacy,” Michael Cohen said, before sharing the anecdotes and adages that he’s used to pick up where David left off in growing the DBL Center into a top insurance wholesaler in the tri-state area.
A lot of people don’t know this, but my father wanted to be a dentist, which I think was probably what most Jewish parents at the time. Back in the ‘60s [they all] wanted their kids to be a dentist or a doctor.
He went the dentist route, and one day he got into a car accident on his way to Stony Brook dental school. The guy he hit was a life insurance salesman who said: “Hey, listen, it was clearly your fault. But I overheard you speaking to the cop and it sounds like you have half a brain because you’re going to Stony Brook’s dental program. I happen to be looking for an underwriter that has a salesman’s mouth, so why don’t you come work for me? I sell life insurance.”
It was that simple. And that life-changing.
After that he sold life insurance for a year until he met someone who introduced him to estate planning; a company called Alexander & Alexander that ended up becoming AON. They asked my father if he had thought about selling DBL, and that’s when he started to segue out of life insurance to get into statutory disability.
When he first knew that I would be starting [at DBL Center], his initial advice to me was: “If you think of it like a restaurant, you’re going to grab the mop and you’re going to start from the bottom before you get into the kitchen. There are different levels and you have to work your way up.”
I didn’t want people to think I was coming in like the prince of the kingdom. That was the first obstacle I had to get over: Proving myself to the organization. That was 15 years ago this July.
He always used to tell me, “Grow out like Los Angeles, not up like New York.” If you’re too top heavy and you’re in a very short and narrow city where everything is upwards and falls, you can lose a tremendous amount of revenue. Instead, you should focus on your nickels, dimes, and quarters and build your base and foundation that way.
The rule of 72, which is something we have written about in the past, is about how your money doubles every ten years. We’re trying to tell people that the statutory benefit hasn’t gone up in 30 years. But inflation has, so why don’t you enrich your DBL to mitigate and bridge that gap between DBL and paid family leave? That’s what we’ve been trying to do.
It’s all about retention, which is exactly what we are tracking in our broker dashboard. Our brokers receive email notifications twice a month letting them know which policies are potentially going to be canceled for non-pay. It’s one thing to know where you’re growing, but do you really know what you’re keeping or retaining?
It’s the small, steady accounts that build your foundations. That’s why David always said, “Grow out like L.A.” Take care of all your nickels, dimes and quarters, because they all make dollars; they all add up.
Too many people today don’t want that $15,000 dollar commission. They want the $100,000 commission. But my father taught me that all those $15,000 accounts add up to $100,000, and you should always treat a smaller account as if it’s worth a million dollars.
Work at what you’re good at. Do what you do best and don’t get outside of the box.
This is exactly why we do statutory disability in New York, New Jersey, Hawaii. My father opened up shop in Hawaii in 1986, and his biggest dilemma there was a cultural difference. He had to convince a Japanese guy to deal with a Jewish kid from Brooklyn in the ‘80s. It was a bit of an obstacle, but he overcame that.
We also do ancillary benefits. group life, long-term disability, dental and vision, that’s it. No major medical, no workers’ comp.
We stick to what we know best at DBL Center and we’ve been doing that since 1976.