It may sound odd to call an insurance broker a boutique firm, but it’s the preferred term for Alan Wise, president of Charlotte’s Trinity Insurance Group.
“We offer customized insurance solutions for our clients,” says Wise. “We are a strategic, consultative partner and we operate our business with a high-touch relational approach. Trinity is a boutique agency.”
Trinity offers insurance products in three areas: employee benefits, property and casualty, and 401(k) retirement plans. Wise describes it as a middle-market firm, a company that works with businesses who employ from 50 to 2,000-plus employees, meeting a “huge growth opportunity.”
While large insurance brokerages siphon off the big companies and the small mom and pop shops take care of smaller businesses, Wise says mid-sized companies are seeking the services plus extra guidance that they can’t afford to have in their own staffing.
“We work to demystify how brokers are paid,” says Wise. “We offer an a la carte cost ‘menu,’ or fee-based services, so that we can be transparent and build the programs our clients need. We charge only for what they need.”
With its footprint in Charlotte, Trinity also has clients in Greensboro, Raleigh, Spartanburg and Greenville. Most clients are from the Carolinas with some national clients in Texas, Florida, Kentucky and Atlanta, Ga.
“We have the resources of the large national brokerages and the touch and feel of a local firm,” says Wise, who credits it with much of their success to their customers, clients and employees.
Trinity works with about 200 clients, Wise says, and about 20 of them have been with Trinity for 20 years or longer, earning a place on the Trinity’s new Wall of Fame, a display space in the office that includes photographs and descriptions. Wall of Fame clients are treated with “cupcake ceremonies,” annual celebrations of the partnerships. Trinity brings cupcakes and milk to clients’ workplaces for employees.
“It’s a good way to pause and say thank you,” says Wise, who boasts the firm’s 99 percent client retention rate, expecting the number of Wall of Famers will continue to rise.
Building a Firm Foundation
Starting with just a handful of employees in 2001, Trinity was opening in a tough business environment surrounding the 9/11 tragedy. But Wise says he had planned in advance and was able to bring with him several larger clients to help carry the young company. In just one and a half years, the company grew to 30 employees.
Each client at Trinity has an account manager and support team. One of those clients is Warco Construction, Inc., a business that began working with Wise more than 20 years ago. Hans Warren, CEO of Warco Construction, says the people who work at Trinity are one reason why he appreciates working with the insurance broker.
“Trinity is a smaller firm that has experienced fewer turnovers in its personnel,” says Warren. “We have been dealing with the same representatives for many years.”
“In fact,” Warren acknowledges, “they attend our company picnics and outings in an effort to get to know our employees and be available to them.”
Wise says that employee retention is an important metric at Trinity. “In 12 years, only one employee has left the company. Bonding and community service days encourage employees to believe they are ‘part of something bigger,’ and provide value-added service to customers,” he affirms.
“This is how we carry out our core values which include serving our customers, employees and carriers in a way that brings glory to God,” says Wise.
Those values and exemplary service also extend to the Charlotte community where Wise, as a member of the Charlotte Leadership Forum, helps mentor young leaders in the community to be leaders in their families, occupations, communities and churches.
In 2008, Wise’s former college roommate Harry Floyd joined at Trinity, and brought his expertise in CPA processes to help build deliverables for the growing company.
“We had a vision for the company,” says Floyd. “Business is always changing, so we needed a dynamic business model. We brought a unique service model to the table. We will listen, learn and surround ourselves with successful practices.”
Floyd emphasizes that Trinity works hard to court new customers and show clients that they are valued within the company. “The competitive insurance market in the Charlotte region means that clients make decisions based on the capabilities of the firm and the right fit of the people,” he assures.
Initial client meetings focus on the culture, resources and capabilities of both firms to see if there’s a “good fit,” between them. Trinity spends time “learning about the client’s issues and concerns, not just quoting insurance prices,” describes Wise. “Our goal is to consult and provide advice and counsel to our clients. Our clients want to find out the best way to provide services for their employees and they are looking at the value of adding differentiated services.”
“How can we help you? What are the services you are looking for in a brokerage?” questions Floyd. “Marketing is a part of what we do, so after we learn about the client company, we can show different products with different prices.”
Trinity provides consulting services in three main areas: benefits work which comprises about 60 percent of the business, property and casualty work which comprises approximately 35 percent, and 401(k) and retirement planning, a new line of business they’ve begun this year.
Trinity analyzes the risk of the company, looking at the benefits and the property and casualty lines to determine the company’s exposure. After reviewing the loss control and claims management, Trinity looks at how the processes can be improved.
For health benefits, that might be in offering wellness programs, reviewing plan benefits, or communicating with employees. For property and casualty, that might be reviewing loss control and claims management. For 401(k) or retirement plans, it might be looking at employee education and compliance issues.
“By operating as a fee-based company, Trinity can craft and price 13 or 14 service items and build a program around the client’s specific needs,” Wise says.
“We are very transparent with our pricing,” he continues. “Our goal is to match what you want with what we have and price it fairly for both parties. We want to demystify the broker commission process. We work especially hard to ensure that each and every one of our clients has positive experience.”
Making Sense of the Affordable Care Act
The Affordable Care Act poses potential hurdles to mid-size companies as they work to implement the new requirements to provide health insurance. Trinity can help, says Wise, by providing counsel about the changes in the law.
“There is great concern in the business community about this new health care act, which gives employers and employees the opportunity to review coverage, care and premiums,” says Wise, “and, it comes down to two main issues: quality care and choice.
“What will the exchanges offer and what kind of subsidies will be available?” asks Wise. “How can I educate our clients to make good choices—both for their companies and for their employees?”
Employees are the most valuable asset for any company, according to Wise, so it makes sense to spend the time to both educate them about their health and offer valuable benefits to retain them. A new wellness program, he says, can be put in place in three to five years, including design, implementation and execution.
“Trinity is able to offer a comprehensive solution for companies,” assures Wise.
Trinity offers year-round support for health care benefits including business analytics, planning, wellness measures, and communication portals for employees, and compliance monitoring to help provide and measure the effectiveness of employee health benefits.
Wise acknowledges that, “one size doesn’t fit all in wellness.” He touts the Trinity Health Quotient, which is a product developed in-house, which uses biometric employee data to provide individual health assessments for employees, making them more aware and accountable for their health status. Employees receive a personal health report and measures to help monitor their own health concerns such as weight management, smoking cessation, hypertension, or heart issues.
“Technology is an important part of the mix,” affirms Floyd, “Picking the right technology can help employees with enrollment and engagement around health benefits and healthy lifestyle choices.”
It’s important to get employee buy-in to help control health care costs, explains Wise, since 75 percent of all health care costs are related to lifestyle.
“Robust educational measures can help drive behavior and lower premiums,” he says. “When we help high-risk employees manage their conditions, we help them improve their health, and that improves the health care costs to the company.”
It can also lead to employer incentives that could be used to prompt healthy lifestyle changes. They might include a lower premium cost to employees who lose weight and have lower hypertension, for example, or a contribution to a charity for improvements in lifestyle conditions.
Warco Construction uses Trinity for its group health, dental and vision benefits.
“Trinity is important each time we come up for renewal,” says Warren. “They help us navigate the increases in health care expenses by sharing different options we us so we can pursue both plan designs and carriers.
“Whenever questions or concerns arise about claims, they do an excellent job in supporting our staff and employees,” he says.
Maximizing Value by Minimizing Risk
Property/casualty insurance, says Wise, helps companies protect their investments. Property insurance helps protect a company’s physical property, while casualty insurance helps protect the company against legal liability for potential losses caused by injury to people or damage to property.
Understanding the choices in environments where risks change and compliance is the service provided by Trinity. Trinity can provide advice based on staff assessment that includes engineering and environmental experts.
“We work hard to help clients make good choices—first when it comes to choosing the carrier, and second when it comes to working out claims with the carrier,” says Wise.
Edifice, Inc., a general contractor for construction based in Charlotte, uses Trinity to cover its general liability issues. “Alan has been a great business partner,” says Eric Laster, president and CEO, who has worked with Trinity for 20-plus years. “We moved with him when he formed his business.
“He’s handled my liability coverage and managed my health care,” says Laster speaking for his firm of 55 employees with annual services of $125 million. “Year after year, Trinity has provided health insurance and worked to manage the continuing and escalating health care costs.”
“If you are not happy with a carrier’s action, we’ll be the intermediary, the person who is there to solve the problems in a high-stress environment,” explains Wise. “We are the servicing arm.”
“I’ve found Alan Wise to be an honest, resourceful and creative partner,” attests Laster. “I would recommend him to other businesses.”
With its new full service retirement planning division started in January, Trinity now helps its clients design and provide employee benefit plans. Meeting regulatory requirements is a necessary part of the review process, and Trinity, with its fee-only service, can offer non-biased consulting on current plans, says Wise.
Service is the key differential, maintains Wise, and helps drive all of Trinity’s actions.
“We have a service heart,” says Wise. “Our DNA is around serving and helping others to achieve their goals and dreams. Trinity is a conduit for our clients. To the extent that our clients are successful, so will we be successful.”
Photo: Fenix Fotography