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.
by Dawn Allcot
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.
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.