The Broker is Dead! Long Live the Broker!!


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Its that time of the year again!

2015 Individual & SHOP Open Enrollment is here. The Federally Facilitated Marketplace and State Marketplaces are live and kicking starting November 15th, 2014. Several private exchanges as well as carrier sites are live offering their plans.

With so much of self-service being fed up to consumers, where does that leave brokers and agents?

Since 2014 Open Enrollment, in fact, even while the ACA was still brewing, there has been a fear of oblivion for brokers, the community that has been the backbone of health insurance distribution over the last several decades.

One reason for that was comparison with banking and travel industries, of how they have been automated over the last two decades connecting consumers, directly to supply and thus, in a world of self-service, diminishing the role of intermediaries. The perception is that intermediaries in these industries are gone.

Now, that kind of consumerization has come to healthcare. The premonition has been that a similar disenchantment of intermediaries will happen here. Brokers, who have helped millions find the best plan to cover their specific health insurance needs, are expected to be gone in future years.

Health Insurance is a complex business. It takes years for the experts in the field to grasp it completely, let alone, everyday common people! Common people look to understand health plans when they buy it or perhaps, when they use it. Brokers and Agents have been guiding consumers, be it individuals, employers or employees, through the maze of insurance carriers, plans, HMOs, PPOs and HDHPs, co-pays, co-insurances, deductibles and much more before leaving their clients, content with the purchase of a plan that meets their needs and their budget. In order to do that, brokers and agents have to be able to make sense of it all, act as experts, interpret and communicate accurately to the consumers.

Is it possible to achieve that level of acumen and impart it to consumers in a self-service environment? Perhaps, incrementally and over a period of time with much simplification introduced in the process. However, it would still be difficult based on the varying needs of the consumer based on their roles, be it the employer, employee or individual.

Brokers are a necessity to the system. In fact, the role of brokers and agents has evolved to the next level in the post ACA world. Brokers move from being sales agents to true benefits advisors and consultants. In travel, banking and finance industries too, advisors continue to play a crucial part.

Brokers as advisors, is the new norm. And, the use of technology to make it easier to shop and enroll in health plans with guided support during the whole experience puts more powerful and better tools in the hands of these advisors to do a much more effective job.

Besides, it opens up a whole new world of opportunity for brokers to take on, at the click of a button. Brokers selling only health plans are now able to work with, sell and advise on an entire array of benefits products. They are able to reach and retain a larger volume of customers and ensure they provide proactive and world-class service to them than they had ever previously done. This translates to effective advisors, more business and most important of all, happier customers.

Talking about clients, there are people who still believe that if they buy insurance through a broker, they pay extra! Whether you go to a self-service exchange or to a broker and take their assistance in getting onto a health plan, you pay the same. It’s the health plans that reimburse brokers for the business they bring in. You may find it difficult to believe that there are millions out there who do not know this and that is precisely the reason, the role of a broker has in no way diminished in the benefits arena, not just the health plan space. In fact, it has gotten a new boost in the post ACA era.

On the other end of the spectrum are consumers that are so overwhelmed by the health plan jargon and the laws surrounding it, that they would like expert help in spite of all the resources that they can tap into to self educate. For them, it just makes sense to reach out and call a broker, or better yet, connect with them online!

Here’s to your happy open enrollment experience, this season!

Image Courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Clean India Campaign, will just cleaning streets sustain it?


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“Swachh Bharat Abhiyan” or the “My Clean India” Campaign was launched on Oct 2nd, 2014 by the hon’ble Prime Minister of India, Mr. Narendra Modi in New Delhi, India. The PM along with a few others took to the streets, chose a spot and helped sweep the dirt there. The pre and post clean up operation pictures were posted by every newspaper, website and channel worth its salt. The PM went on to kick-start a clean up challenge by inviting 9 other stalwarts of the country to follow suit and in turn, invite 9 others to do so; thus introducing a chain scheme similar to the recent Ice Bucket challenge started to create awareness and raise funds for Lou Gehrig’s Disease. The Ice Bucket challenge went viral and was pretty successful for a period of time.

I personally believe that what Mr. Modi started is definitely a powerful mission especially when being propagated top down. But, without proper planning and measures taken to keep up the momentum and eventually seek perennial penetration within the community, it can be short-lived and fizzle out as quickly as several of the viral campaigns we have seen in this era of social media.

First, the entire BJP rank and file could have participated in the kick off across the country than just a few of the leaders. Second, this is a party agnostic nationalist mission and all parties, should have come together to support it. Before you start reacting, let me clarify that I don’t want to make this political.

However, hear me out before you comment. I, just like other Indians do want this campaign to go viral and sustain, but doubt the sustenance although want to believe that it will.

Here are my reasons:

  1. There is not enough fervor and motivation created so far by the 9 challenged. Some have said, I have always done so and others have said, love the idea and will surely do my part. One was abroad and sought the local embassy to see if he could come in and clean. The idea here is to not clean once and say, “ I have done my job. You next.” The idea   is to create intrinsic motivation to do what is right and continue that. Further, cleaning once or going out there and cleaning a couple of times is not going to make a permanent difference. The goal of the campaign should be to create a permanent transformation of habit in all Indians. I know it’s a lofty task but what is a challenge without one. Even succeeding partially would mean a sea change benefit to not just India and Indians, but the world for it can create such powerful global recognition of the phenomenon and its adoption by others. Don’t you think so? I would like to see all of our “leaders” irrespective of political affiliations or cadre, come out and pick up the brooms, not once but consistently over a period of time. The oath that was administered to clean about 100 hours a year, I implore them to do it each week. Choose different spots and do it, but, over a period of time come back to the spot you began with. If without your cleaning it, it remains clean when you return, you have achieved your mission.
  1. There is an old and famous saying, “ Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach him to fish and he will never be hungry.” That is exactly what needs to happen with this campaign too. Inspire the population to embrace the habit of cleanliness. In a land of 1.2 billion, much garbage is created and collected. Let’s focus on teaching our people:
    • How to minimize the amount of garbage they create
    • How to recycle since one man’s garbage is another’s gold
    • How to collect and dispose
    • How to become self-sufficient in living practices
    • How to pass the values on to future generations so it becomes second nature
  1. A review and analysis of our garbage removal and containment infrastructure and processes is needed. Modernization of our outlook, infrastructure and practices along with the way we manage waste is crucial so we don’t need a campaign for what should be a part of regular life.
  1. Inculcate respect for our janitorial staff and create better living and working conditions for them. Let’s bring a sense of camaraderie, and honor the work they do to ensure we all live clean and healthy.

I am sure there is much more we can do to make cleanliness practices sustainable over time. Now, I leave you here to discuss and deliberate with a focus to take action since I can hear my wife calling out to start our home cleanliness drive and take the garbage out. You know, it’s the weekend and that’s my job for the day!

Image Courtesy of PTI

Can you Think Yourself into Your Desired Level of Success?


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During the days when I taught management courses, many a student has asked me, “How do I become as successful in life as I possibly can?” In some cases, the question was, “How do I become as successful as I want to?” The de facto answer was, “Work hard.” And there were several others such as establish goals, pursue them diligently, dream big, focus, plan your work, work your plan, etc.”

Now, in hindsight, I would have given a more introspective answer for them to reflect upon. Not that all said above is untrue; it surely is a requirement for success. But, there are several intrinsic behaviors and patterns that determine the level of success you achieve in life.

It’s often said that in order to be successful at what you do, know your strengths and weaknesses and surround yourself with people who are strong in your weak areas. As a result, you develop a circle of strength from which to operate and find positive results in your endeavors.

However, how do you determine your level of success? I mean, how do you ensure you make a positive impact in the lives of thousands of people versus a few hundred or even tens? How do you build a business that is multi-national than locally or regionally focused? How do you build a billion dollar corporation than one that plays in the hundreds of thousands? How do you land the job you desire in the field of your choice in the organization you aspire to work for? How do you grow your career prospects as you gather experience? How do you move into your desired lifestyle? The answer to this lies in the daily life you cultivate and nurture. In other words, your daily interactions, the people you interact with, the books you read, the inspiration and thoughts you cultivate and the rapport you share with those that have done it before.

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Dreaming big and executing on a roadmap to realize your dream is just not enough. You need to build and interact with the right network, develop a nourishing atmosphere so that you can constantly draw inspiration; all your interactions, thoughts and actions need to be a sum total of this. Draw inspiration to chart your own path, the way you see it. Talk, read, and contemplate on what you aspire to do every second, every minute of your existence. Build on the intensity so that your thoughts are shaped by it which shows in your decisions, your actions and finally in your results.

It’s also often said, “When in Rome, act like the Romans.” Well, this is not about acting like Romans, but about getting to be the King of Rome. Not when in Rome, but on the way to Rome, so you arrive King!

Image Courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The Promise Of Hope!


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An entrepreneurial journey.

A creative endeavor.

Graduating from school.

Starting a family.

Raising kids.

Planning your future.

The promise of hope is what keeps the world going! Hope is the magical elixir that keeps the rainbow-hued horizon always bright, no matter the present or past; and rightfully so. The promise of your future should be pursued using lessons from the past and applying them in your present. And, at all times, the promise of the future is always bright!

How else would you find yourself getting up each time you fall, just to work as hard, if not harder in pursuit of your goals, unmindful of all that you have been through so far.

Sometimes, the hue of hope tends to show the future in a skewed rosy tint. Beware! It’s alright to be hopeful but not by being blindsided to the facts of the present. Hope keeps the pursuit of a better tomorrow alive but in order to make that possible, plan your present well and follow the plan, analyze each step you take, make adjustments and corrections to sustain your immediate goals and collectively, these small successes will propel you toward your ultimate goal. The best part is that all this can begin anytime you are ready and there is no better time than now!

Image Courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Is there a short cut to Self-Actualization?


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Maslow must have studied human behavior really well to have propounded the theory of hierarchy of needs. To refresh you with the theory that came about in the 1940s, human behavior is motivated to fulfill needs in the order of Physiological, Safety, Belongingness and Love, Esteem and Self-Actualization.

It is the logical order that keeps the wheels of human interactions going. If you are struggling to fend for yourself, you are always worried about where the next meal shall come from. Once your hunger is satisfied and you have taken care of it, not just for today but also for the near future, you look to the next need of shelter and companionship. Next, you want to defend what you have built for yourself. Living a relatively secure life, you crave for recognition and a status in society. Most of that is achieved with your professional position, extended further into societal placement. All along, it is primarily about elevating yourself in your own eyes. Finally, when you have it all; then, the need to fulfill your intrinsic needs comes into play. This is where your creativity, your interest in self-expression through your passion to the best of your abilities peaks. The goal at this point is personal satisfaction and happiness, oblivious of all that it could entail in terms of name, fame and money. Sometimes, this is also called the point of spiritual realization.

Now, coming back to my question, is there a short cut to self-actualization?

Maslow believed that in order to fulfill the need for self-actualization, all other needs would have to be not only satisfied, but also mastered. On this particular note, I differ. I believe there is a short cut to self-actualization. There are several amongst us that pursue a passion as a profession for the love of it. This allows for their creativity to peak since they enjoy what they do. Happiness and bliss become perennial. Self Esteem is also at its peak or they are oblivious to it. Name, fame & money follow when you excel at what you do. It’s often said that in order to be successful, pursue your passion, not money or other emoluments for when you obsess over them, success eludes you. Every one out to achieve success, dismisses the struggle they go through. They recognize the sacrifices made but do not pay much attention to it, when in pursuit of what they enjoy. Ultimately success happens. In more cases than not, they are oblivious to even success. They practice a passion for the love of it and success, which in worldly terms means the fulfillment of all the other needs follows through. Even if it doesn’t follow through to the extent where you can say that they have mastered the other needs, they really don’t care for they are absorbed in practicing their passion and that itself is success for them. That is self-actualization and it can be independent of the other needs.

As someone said, it’s not the destination but the journey that needs to be experienced and enjoyed. What more can be a better outcome than this?

Image Courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Home is Where the Heart is!


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When I am on Yahoo!, I tend to browse through the hundred odd newsreel items on the homepage. Generally, it’s one or two of them that catch my eye to read further. Today, I happened to click on an interview by Zoe Saldana, the actress.

As I read through it, one of her comments stuck with me. She said, “You just gravitate naturally to what your heart yearns for.”

That is so profound.

As a child, you are like a sponge; ready to absorb and learn everything you come across. You start to form opinions, likes and dislikes. Somewhere along as you get introduced to the world around you, you fantasize about everything you aspire to be when you grow up. Through the years, you develop stronger preferences and are left with a few choices that you want to be when you grow up. Later, as a confused teenager, you look around at what’s in demand and what professions are doing well and that dictates your aspirations. By the time, you gain clarity, you are down the path of what you will eventually graduate in and take on a profession. If that clarity comes to you sooner in life, you are one of the lucky few doing something you really enjoy. If it comes later, you would have bumped around doing a few things that you got into for one reason or the other before you realize where your passion lies. In some instances, you have to continue with what you got yourself into although your heart might be somewhere else.

And that is where what Zoe said, so aptly applies. No matter what you do or where you are in life and how impossible it may seem, you WILL gravitate toward your heart’s natural desire. You will find a way to do what you enjoy most. And when you work in the realm of what you love, it is no longer work. You lose the sense of time and effort and produce your very best, naturally and easily. So, no matter how insurmountable your life’s challenges may seem, keep dreaming, my friend and keep trying. Do not give up or give in! You heart will draw you toward your passion and you will be one with it. This is not my promise, but that of your own heart!

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The Inside Truth About Success


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Visionaries are a myth. The epithet is associated after the fact. Historically, and in the contemporary world, none of those who have succeeded set out with a vision to make an earth shaking impact with their success. They all started with a fire in the belly, to do something unique; some to make a difference, some to make something of their life, others for the fame and money, and yet others, just for the challenge and adventure of it.

The universal truth is that everyone that set out to succeed stumbled upon their success by following a passion or simply, by pursuing what they were fascinated with or got good at. However, not all of them set out on a pre-conceived chartered path. Some did not have the wildest idea of where their journey would lead them. There are several that started out on a certain path but eventually ended on one they did not, initially have the slightest idea about.

What is common among all of them is that they had a dream, a desire to excel themselves and for others, to make a difference and that passion, a strong will to endure all that crossed their path, a resilience and unwavering commitment to see it through; that sheer dominance of spirit is what turned their dreams into reality, their passion into their engagement, their commitment into their reward and today, they stand in the annals of our history as visionaries.

The current generation has a lot of young men and women, out to change the world. It’s a different time we live in where the wherewithal is in abundance; probably more than in any period of history to make this happen for those that seek to. However, the passion, the commitment and the dream need to be the same and start the same way, to change one’s own destiny to eventually change the world.

Now, where does your passion lie? What are you set out to do? How do you plan to change your world and ours?

Image Courtesy of flickr.com

Befriend Uncertainty for it’s certain!


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Uncertainty is your friend, a friend you fear. Moreover, you might not see it as a friend at all.

Uncertainty is such unpredictable territory. What will happen next? What will tomorrow shape up to be? What does the future hold? The anxiety these questions set off and sustain in the background is what most people experience. Once in a while, this anxiety flares up to disrupt life, as you know it. Eventually, you learn to tame it, to be just that little flame flickering away in the background while you anxiously act to keep it from flaring up again.

That’s how many have come to accept and treat uncertainty. As a result, we are cautious with what we do and live in the light cast by our yesterday. Generally, many are risk averse, play out their fears and live within the confines of their comfort zone. As a result, there is not much to expect in terms of change since comfort breeds stagnancy. Over time, it dawns that there is not much excitement and zest for life when it’s the same old life day in and day out.

Uncertainty has turned into something we are fearful of, avoid in all circumstances and cannot image to even skirt with it.

A cautious approach is good but to the extent you can see it. Being prepared is a virtue, but you can only be so much prepared.

Hence, learn to embrace uncertainty. Probably, cautiously at first! But, do give it a try. I assure you, you will be addicted to the fun and excitement that you experience along the journey. It’s exciting to not know what’s around the corner while you toil away at what’s in your control. You follow through logical steps to complete tasks, execute plans and then, do enough to assure yourself of the outcome you desire. Sometimes, you confront unseen roadblocks that you have to work around; at other times you come across unsurpassed surprises that galvanize the outcome way beyond your expectations. And, at other times, you simply get just what you expected. However, you feel more in control, as you no longer fear the outcome.  You feel more confident and self assured, since you put your best leg forward. The rest just follows through as an outcome of your actions. Life will feel richer and well lived when you look back; no regrets or should haves, could haves staring back at you. What you do will be worth the effort. Among other things, you will discover a nugget or two of your own innovative and creative capabilities.

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#IfIWere22 – Wouldn’t Change a Thing


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One thing I have noticed is that as you grow up, I mean as you age, life seems to pass by faster. I am not sure if that is, because of the number of pursuits you setup for your self and are so engaged in them that life just seems to fly by. It definitely was much slower when I was younger, perhaps because things were new to me to learn, experiment and enjoy my leisure. I also do not know how it will be when I get to my 60s. But, that’s for another day to talk about.

My 20s were a great time in life. When I was 22, I was in grad school working on getting my dual masters. Life was great as I was working and playing hard. I was like a sponge just soaking in whatever I came across, studying at a coveted university while living in a new city. It was time for exploration, in life, at school and trying to strike it out on your own.

It was in my 2nd year at grad school, when working on getting my MBA that I chose to go down the less trodden path. While my friends pursued studies diligently, I decided to explore new avenues at the same time while studying. I took up a direct sales job at an MNC that had just established in India and was expanding across the country introducing direct sales of consumer durables. The commission was handsome and I would be able to earn enough to be self-sufficient. But, I didn’t join for the money. I joined for the promise of a brighter future. It was a pyramid concept where you built a team, trained them and consistently generated enough sales for a certain period before you struck it out on your own. Then, you proliferated your network and made residual income on other locations you opened up. I must tell you, it was enticing enough to make me work full time when I had started, assuming it would be a good part time gig. I was always a good student and hence, my studies didn’t suffer.

I remember the very first day I went out by myself to make some sales. I picked up a heavy bag and went door to door for about 4 hours until noon. I must have knocked about 100 doors, not a single sale! I had experienced people who closed the door on your face, frustrated people who shooed you away and not so pleasant smirks from un-obliging customers. That was it! I was broken and returned to the office dragging my bag behind.

My trainer, whom I had shadowed the last three days came over and listened patiently to me, venting. I was angry, unhappy and just didn’t want to do this anymore. I thought I deserved better. My trainer explained the law of averages to me and said that in order to get 30 yes’s, you need to learn to go through 300 knocks and 270 no’s. He taught me how to take in each “No”, and make your pitch a little better with it, your demeanor a bit more pleasant and your resolve, stronger. After that he gave me two choices. He said that I could either walk away from all this and he would consider me history or I could go out there and work it one more time and put into action what he said. At the most, I would be a tired guy by the end of the day but the law of averages had to work.

I mulled over this for several moments, had a glass of water and stepped out to try, one last time. I went back to the area I was working. I was curious to try the law of averages and worked through that neighborhood for the next 4 hours. I kept knocking doors, became thick-skinned to all the negatives and just kept going. By the end of that day, I had sold 10 pieces! That changed my entire outlook toward struggle and achievement!

I went on to build my team, open my own location, start my own direct marketing company and open up about 12 locations in a year!

I wouldn’t change a thing about when I was 22! And my advice to you, seek your own adventure and blaze your own path to triumph. One piece of advice, never ever give up. It may come to you late, but it will!

#IfIWere22