Brian Haney is Vice President of The Haney Company, which specializes in insurance and retirement programs for associations, business owners, and individuals. Brian joins ConnectYourCare for a conversation about upcoming trends in digitization, how to connect with diverse clientele, and how 2020 has caused our industry to be even more thoughtful about how to engage with people.
Carla: Hello, my name is Carla Wardin and I'm the host of the "ConnectYourCare" podcast. Today, I'm talking with Brian Haney, vice president of The Haney Company. Hi, Brian. How are you?
Brian: Hey, Carla. Thanks for having me today.
Carla: Well, thank you for being on. Can you please tell me about you do?
Brian: Sure. I'm pretty fortunate to have run a family-owned and operated multi-lines agency right out of the Washington, D.C. area. And our team specializes in kind of one of three markets. The largest market we work in is associations, membership organizations. It's probably 75% - 80% of where our business comes from. Second market we concentrate in is privately-owned businesses, which runs the gambit of industries. Then, we do wealth management, individual insurance, planning for families, affluent folks, and multi-lines meaning we do benefits, we do retirement plans, we do property casualty as well. So we get our hands in a lot of pots, I guess.
Brian: We're never bored. We're always busy.
Carla: That's always nice to have some diversity on your work and depending on what is trending and popular at that time.
Brian: Yeah, you better believe it.
Carla: Tell me about founding your company with your dad.
Brian: So it's kind of an interesting story. You know, first of all, it's good for everybody to know that it wasn't planned. A lot of times you'll see kind of this older generation trying to groom the younger generation, especially if there's an interest. That wasn't our story. Growing up, I didn't have any aspirations to be doing this and in fact, I graduated from college with a degree in journalism, thinking maybe I'd come back to D.C. and be the next Tony Kornheiser or something.
Carla: Got it.
Brian: I loved writing, loved sports, loved all that kind of stuff. Threw my hat in that arena and very quickly knew that if I wanted to pursue that dream, I would have to suffer through years of living on a salary that would allow me to buy maybe a closet. Since I didn't want a closet, I quickly expanded my horizons and got into the financial industry, and I started in banking and did licensed banking, private wealth for five years with a couple different banks. And I left to develop an independent kind of semi-traditional practice.
As I was kind of building my independent business, my dad who had successfully run his own company for many, many, many years, sold it and was in kind of at the tail-end of that five-year payout and transition. And so, over some holiday, I don't remember if it was Christmas or Thanksgiving, I kinda asked him, "Hey, so are you looking forward to the light at the end of the tunnel, the next season" and all that kind of stuff. And I don't remember exactly what he said, but I remember hearing the words behind the words being, "I'm not entirely sure and I'm not entirely positive I'm excited." So that kind of caught me a little bit because I knew how hard he had worked to get to this place and to not be fully thrilled about it was not what any son would probably wanna hear. So off the cuff I said, "Well, if you've got any gas left in the tank, why don't we give it a run and work together and see what we can make happen?" He said, "Okay." That was the genesis of it many years ago, probably eight or so. Seems like yesterday and then also seems like it was a lot longer.
We hold our respective strengths, weaknesses, and practice focuses together and have been building this out ever since. It's a lot of fun because we came together essentially as peers at that point, where I had made my way in the industry that he had been in already, but, we didn't actually get to cross the proverbial paths until we decided it was gonna be a partnership and a practice. So it's been fun.
Carla: Yeah, and it seems like he had a lot of gas left in the tank if that was eight years ago. Still going strong here. For someone who's not familiar with your industry, can you talk about what your main responsibilities are?
Brian: I like to tell folks that at least understand parts of the industry, the analogy I think for our practice that more people can relate to, is we operate almost like a medical practice where maybe you'll have a primary care physician or the general practitioner, the doctor that's kinda like a quarterback, but then you've got a couple specialists all under the same roof. That's as similar of a description or analogy to our practice's model as I can get.
Someone like myself in my role oftentimes acts as the face of the relationship, whether it's an association we're doing benefits and property casualty for, or whether it's a business owner or even an individual. We'll bring them in, do a comprehensive assessment of where they are financially, what things can we be doing for them, and then we bring our partners and our extended team together to make sure we get a specialist and an expert on every single piece of that puzzle. And then, we deliver it, pulling anything that we need to off the shelf. As an independent firm, we have access to anything and everything we need. And then, it's just really making sure that we stay connected and walk through that relationship with a real keen understanding of where our client's coming from, where do they live in terms of their professional space, what are the things that move the needle for them, what are the things that are really challenging and that they want to avoid.
When working with benefits or retirement or anything that kinda touches from the employer to the employee relationship, we really try to make sure we understand that value proposition, like what's their hiring value prop? How are they attracting talent? Because in the role of a broker representing the benefits or a retirement plan, it's really an extension of the organization. It's not about us at that point, right? It's about how do we help employees connect better to their employer through benefits.
So we do try to really spend time connecting beyond our deliverables to the story of our clients, the organizations. So that way, it's just a more meaningful, well-rounded experience and we can tie everybody together more succinctly. I know that's a lot and hopefully, I answered it a little bit.
Carla: Yeah. At ConnectYourCare, we do a broker survey asking what types of things brokers need. What have you found that you need to help people navigate the benefits landscape? What have you found most helpful to you in your career?
Brian: It's such a good question and it's probably one that, you know, I know the answer has changed over the years, as you can probably imagine. I think the most consistent, if I were to kind of take a high-level theme, is anything that equips us as brokers to deliver better education as well as engagement experiences to really enhance that employer-employee experience. Anything that equips us better to stand out more, to really connect with employees that are diverse, employees of a variety of age range, demographic range, learning styles, etc.
We get a lot of value and mileage out of relationships that don't just give us, "Here's a 10-point PowerPoint that you can use," that really only kind of speaks to one audience. Whether we have audio webinar, like, when we get materials across a lot of mediums, since everybody learns differently. Some may be more comfortable using, self-help tools. Some are more comfortable doing in-person meetings. Some will listen to or participate in a webinar. Whatever it looks like, we make sure we're delivering that type of empowering educational experience.
I've seen in 16 to 17-plus years across the entire landscape, a lot of times, we're pretty good at putting together information almost as if we're the audience, right? As if the brokers and the insurance professionals are the ones that we're speaking to. But really, you're not. You're speaking to consumers who don't have insurance licenses, are not securities registered, don't understand one-tenth of the things that we, as professionals, had to learn.
What's been challenging is when you get a lot of resources that could be good for the broker audience, it's almost too much for the consuming public. And so, I think that's the area in our landscape where I hope more of our partners, our providers, you know, organizations like ConnectYourCare and others, are really trying to refine their deliverables and the messaging to better connect to an audience that probably wants to consume something in 5 to 15 minutes, and maybe listen to 1 to 3 points, not 12, right?
Carla: That's why we have a podcast, right?
Brian: That's why things like this are so great and I think so critically important. That was part of the reason why I started my own podcast over a year ago as well. It's—how can we connect more effectively with our target audience, because they're out there looking for answers and help and support, but it's not necessarily flowing through those same old tried and true traditional ways. Even with the pandemic and the largest, you know, virtual workforce mobilization in human history, I think it almost feels like the canned answer was, "Well, let's just take all the presentations we used to do in person and just throw them online as webinars and it'll work." That's not true, you know. And I already even questioned the effectiveness of how things were in person, you just had a better rapport because you could see people then.
So it's almost like, you know, the need is even greater to be more thoughtful about your message and your deliverables, because you don't have the benefit of that in-person dynamic. Somebody could talk, you could listen, you could read the room, body language. There's a much smaller head space that's available in Zoom world. So I think it's just, you know, we all have to collectively ask ourselves, what is it about TikTok, right? Or Instagram or whatever it is? And like it or not, how can we be relevant in a space like that, not necessarily that has to be our medium, but how does our content need to be able to stand out and be relevant in a very, very different way.
Carla: Yes. That's obviously one of the main challenges of 2020, but I really like your attitude about it that's forced you to have better materials, better delivery. And obviously, that is part of what's going to happen in 2021. Are there any other trends that you see coming in 2021?
Brian: You know, I think...MetLife did a great survey, I wanna say it was 2019, and a couple others I've seen that have kind of talked about just, you know, benefits in general and how kind of what I mentioned earlier, how really benefits, what we deliver to people isn't necessarily gonna dramatically change, medical, dental, all that kind of stuff. It's how we do what we do, is radical change, the messaging, the need to...again, it's the word that I focus on that we talk to our clients about all the time is engagement. It's a measure of responsiveness, right. If I put something out there to the employee population, are they responding? Do they feel empowered to make informed decisions or are they just hassled, stressed, under the gun to meet some sort of open enrollment deadline, still don't really know what they're doing but know they have to do it by Friday?
I wanna say I think the real trend's gonna be, you know, what we're talking about in terms of let's make sure that our delivery a lot of these things is in their language, is in formats that are a lot easier to digest or more relatable, but we kind of make this experience easier and empowering so that when more people turn around and say, "I get it. Not that I'm an insurance expert, not that I'm gonna pass a test on all this stuff, but I feel like I know what I'm saying yes or no to more than I did before." I think that that's one critical trend.
And I think the other one, this is tough because the entire financial industry has woefully historically been behind the eight-ball. But when it comes to the digitization of our business, I really hope that we continue to see that transform a lot more effectively, and that we make the cost of those tools shrink. With over five billion of investments in fintech alone in 2019, I think, I don't see that number going down or backwards. I'm pretty bullish on being able to deliver things in a more digitally adept way, but obviously I think the main barrier there is not whether or not we can get technology to work. It's can we get really compliance and regulators to kinda get out of the way so that way technology can empower people and not get stuck because a lot of times that's truly the barrier that makes it the hardest. I think those are the two things. And it's not our stuff. It's not different medical. It's not a new next best...I don't think any of that should change. I think how we do what we do just needs to change.
Carla: That is great and I look forward to seeing those changes in 2021. And Brian, where can people find out more about you?
Brian: Please check out our firm at www.thehaneycompany.com, so all spelled out. You can listen to my podcast, "That's My Financial Guy" podcast, which may have a branding change in a little bit, but for now, you can find all the episodes on there, some really great stuff that I think you'd enjoy. You can find me, hire me to speak or connect for your groups. I do a lot of education at brianjhaney.com. Any one of those spaces. We're on Twitter as a firm, @thehaneycompany. You can find me on LinkedIn. I'm pretty digitally visible, I think.
Carla: Wait, give me more choices. I don't think we got enough.
Brian: Yeah. Any one of those places or, you know, throw a dart into the Google-verse and I think you'll hit me at some point.
Carla: Oh, Brian, thank you so much. Once again, I'm Carla Wardin on the "ConnectYourCare" Podcast, and I've been talking with Brian Haney. Thank you for listening and to find out more and to listen more of our podcast, you can go to connectyourcare.com. Brian, thanks again.
Brian: It's been great, Carla. Thanks for having me.
Carla Wardin is the host of the ConnectYourCare podcast, Exclamation of Benefits. Carla brings her broadcasting and technology experience to talk to experts about the latest innovations in the benefits industry. Carla is an author, speaker, and marketing communicator from Michigan, where she and her husband are raising three boys on a dairy farm.