December 15

Episode 104: Lowering Benefits Costs + Increasing Revenue with Matt English


The best decisions are not always the most expensive or least expensive solutions…it depends on your organization. – Matt English

Matt English’s Biography

Matt English is an experienced Benefits Manager with a demonstrated history of working in the insurance industry. Skilled in Sales, Public Speaking, Insurance, Account Management, and Direct Sales. Strong human resources professional.

Questions in This Episode

  • What have you found about just the overall climate of employee benefit?
  • When you come in, you’re not necessarily recommending radical change. You’re recommending, let’s fully utilize the options that this particular carrier might be offering, right?
  • Do they now have the opportunity to kind of tailor to what they specifically need?
  • What is it that they can do working with you and your team to feel as if they’re really heard?
  • What is it about employee benefits that is so frustrating?
  • Do you find that there’s some common themes when you do a root cause analysis that’s limiting revenue growth?

Links & Resources Mentioned…

Read The Transcript

Mike O'Neill: [00:00:00] Welcome back to the Get Unstuck and On Target podcast. I'm Mike O'Neill with Bench Builders and we work with companies that wanna grow their business, but they're struggling with people, process, or planning problems. Joining me today from Houston is Matt English. Matt is the founder of Apex Benefits and Consulting. Thomas Gilman with Schooly Mitchell introduced me to Matt, and you'll probably remember Thomas because he's a past podcast guest. Matt brings to this conversation a unique combination, and that is we're gonna talk about one of those major cost that employers have, and that's employee benefits. So we will talk a bit about employee benefits, their related cost, and ways to lower those costs. But then we're also gonna spend some time on the flip side, how to improve the top line in terms of [00:01:00] increasing revenue. So we have a unique opportunity with Matt, to have that conversation. So let's get started. Welcome Matt. 

Matt English: Hey Mike. Glad to be on. Thanks so much for having me. 

Mike O'Neill: Why don't we just jump right in into this whole idea of employee benefits. Employee benefits. As I am talking to clients, it's a real source of frustration. Namely, it seems as if no matter what they do, costs go up. What have you found about just the overall climate of employee benefit? 

Matt English: Yeah. So, not a, like you said, it's not an uncommon problem. It's something, I've seen since my career in insurance. I've been in the business for, over 10 years now, and it's, it's, the, the cost of healthcare just continues to rise. But there's a lot of factors in that, right? And that some of the stuff that we try to help mitigate for all of our clients, There's different programs, different types of, programs put on by insurance [00:02:00] carriers to help lower costs. Require some different type of works and different avenues to take. But it can be done. The other part is, you know, being able to work within. What is already in place, within their already chosen carrier and get more creative with strategies, and cost shifting between plans, as opposed to contributing such a high amount on such a high benefit rich plan. So there's ways to shift that around with, within the plans. And then the other piece we see, Is absentee brokers, right? And we see a lot of small business owners, they feel like they're getting something very special when they sign on with the national brokerage or just a large regional brokerage, because of all the tools that they have at their disposal. But what we find is those smaller business owners get left by the wayside because of the size of their business. And that's very unfortunate fact within our business. And so we try to look at all three of those things and where we might be able to help. 

Mike O'Neill: So this topic, we could probably record multiple [00:03:00] episodes on without a question. Yeah. What I found is when I was managing benefits for large organization, I, I realize that at the end of the day, you have x number of dollars that you can. And what an employer has to decide is what percentage of those dollars do I wanna spend on direct compensation? And what percentage of those dollars do I wanna spend on indirect compensation? And indirect could include things, not necessarily like medical coverage. It could be vacation, holidays and alike, but as a former CEO that I worked closely with, would say it's all coming out of the same bucket. Mm-hmm. So when you were working with a client, you made an interesting point, and that is so. If I understand it correctly, when you come in, you're not necessarily recommending radical change. You're recommending, let's fully utilize [00:04:00] options that this particular carrier might be offering. Am I hearing that right? . Sure. 

Matt English: I mean there, there are times where the radical change that you mentioned is the play and, and it most certainly has its place, but yeah, there are times where you can come in and look who they're currently partnered with, and develop new strategies within their same renewal or proposal that they have from that, in particular insurance carrier. It just has to do with shifting your idea of your contribution. You don't have to change the percentage. Or even the amount, but you can shift the plan, in which you're contributing that to, which can give two things. If you're not changing the amount, well now the employee's responsible for less to be on your base pan plan and still has to do whatever buys or whatever it may be. But there's less cost on theirs, for that base plan, which is an employee appreciation thing. Or if you choose that we're not changing our percentage. They're still perceived [00:05:00] dep appreciation, they still contribute 70 50, whatever the percentage may be. They still contribute that amount. They've just shifted the plan. And if this plan is that important to me, I'm probably willing to pay up for it. So there's different ideas of just shifting through plans, without having to change too much, and still achieve what you're looking to achieve. 

Mike O'Neill: You know, I know that this topic can get complicated very, very quickly, but, what comes to mind is if you are an employer and you have folks working for you who are at different stages in life, their benefit needs might vary. Do you find that the options you're able to make available to your clients, do they have the ability as an employer or even employees on the plan, do they have now the opportunity to kind of tailor to what they specifically need? [00:06:00] 

Matt English: Sure, absolutely. There's, you can offer multiple plans, which cover multiple different items for your employee population, right? It could be medical needs, it could be cost, it could be covering fears even, right? I don't want to have to pay a lot of money if something happens. So there's you by offering multiple plans, you can definitely do that. There's other strategies that. Carriers provide, again, you have to go do some research and see all the weapons that are available to you as someone in the field, but, they'll, they have some that'll allow you to offer multiple networks. Of plans within the same company. So you can offer a much more robust, robust, network provider like Ano or Cigna, or then have like a lower insurance network here and offset your costs that way. And your, your population diversity far as, medical needs. 

Mike O'Neill: You know, you mentioned earlier that one of the challenges, particularly for smaller employers [00:07:00] is that the, the larger brokerage firms might woo you to get the business, but what I think I understood you to say is sometimes once you're in, you may not get the, the degree of service that you might, be expecting. For the sake of this question, for a small, maybe to a medium size employer. What is it that they can do working with you and your team to feel as if they're really heard?

Matt English: Take a meeting, just take a meeting. If I think it's very clear, if you sit down with either my partner or I, as that what we're interested in is putting you in the best place. Everything is transparent, right? We tell everybody what the process looks like depending on a strategy or, a program that they select they want to go with. There are deadlines that we know have to be hit by a certain time, and that's all laid out. In, in front of the client or [00:08:00] prospect, and we will ask point blank, can you make these dates? Yes or no? And if the answer's no, it's not a big deal, we'll go a different direction. But if it's, yes, okay, everything's laid out. We find that if there's full transparency of what's happening, there's no over promising going on, and there's no under delivering. And you can't be upset if something. The way that it is because it's been explained.

So I find that more than anything will set us apart in a conversation. I'm not gonna come in saying, I have this platform and I have this partnership, and I can guarantee you this and that and the other. I'm not gonna do it. I'd like to hear from you first, where you are, what you have, what your issues are, and let's address those right? And then if there's some other things that we can do for you, we're gonna let you know, and we're gonna advise you in the right direction. So you're not gonna have to hear about it from someone else first. 

Mike O'Neill: I got you. I'm mindful of who our listeners are. The feedback that that we get is, typically [00:09:00] our listeners to this podcast, they're decision makers. They may be business owners. They're most definitely business leaders, and I know we're talking about employee benefits in this conversation, but if you just were to step back and kinda put yourself in the shoes of these business owners, what is it about employee benefits that is so frustrating? 

Matt English: For most people it's the cost. Right? And if cost isn't the issue, it's the service behind it. And, as a business owner, I know those are the things that I look at. Obviously , I would be able to take care of our own benefits, right? So we know the service isn't gonna be an issue, but we still have to mitigate that cost as well, especially as our agency grows. So that's always a top concern. But there are ways, right? So you mentioned employee benefits being way up there on the totem pole. I, I think it's number two, from a liability [00:10:00] standpoint, number one would be payroll. But employee benefits is more than just the health plan, right? It's more than just the supplemental policies that come along with it. I find that in small businesses it's also the culture that you're able to develop as a part of that's just a benefit of being one of their employees and just reverse it a little bit. And we're able to help out on that front too, far as putting together wellness initiatives. By bringing in different companies, different partnerships, in order to put something like that together at a, at a very low cost, that gives employees access and discounts to some of these other bills, businesses within that health and wellness arena, that they would not normally have access to.

Right? So that's another way to do it at super low cost and, and keep employees happy. Money is not always the answer, but being heard and appreci. Goes much further than most employers would probably think. And we're, we've found certain ways to, to help do that as well, even when the budget isn't there to, to give somebody a, a [00:11:00] platinum standard PPO plan. Right. 

Mike O'Neill: Got you. I don't know what the typical client that you have looks like. Can you describe, however, if you step back and look at your client base? Most typically chooses Apex benefits to be their broker. 

Matt English: Right. So I, I operate a little bit differently, than some brokers. Everything I do is referral based. So usually I'm coming in actually not usually every time I'm coming in off of someone else's recommendation, whether it be a, a current client, a partner or someone I've done business with in the past. That's how all of our business is coming in. So with that in mind, it doesn't, there is no industry, that we'll stay out of or that we're scared of. We've worked in all of them throughout our careers. And then there's the, the size factor, right? So I'll look at every group that comes across my desk because every group could potentially, use our help or our services. So anywhere starting from a two life company or two employees, [00:12:00] even if it's a husband and wife, and that's someone that probably needs our help the most, to be honest. And, and we'll take a look at that. And my, my absolute sweet spot is probably two to 50. Okay. Employees and it just, , I connect with those types of businesses cuz they're smaller like myself and my business. And I, I understand a lot of the problems that they're gonna come up against. I've worked with them the most. We can look at larger clients as, as well. We've worked with thousands of employee based companies. It's a little bit different. Ballgame, requires more, time and attention on a weekly basis. It's just a little bit different, but that sweet spot is right there between two to 50. I, I like to take care of the small business owner. Those are the ones that tend to get left on the wayside for most things. 

Mike O'Neill: So why don't we now introduce that second part of what we say we're gonna talk about small business owner, who's wrestling with rising employee benefits cost. You come in and you help them, [00:13:00] address that, but you also maybe take one hat off and put another one on, and that is, if that helps lower costs to improve the bottom line. Let's talk about in what ways can you. Companies improve the top line, improve their revenue. 

Matt English: Right? Sure. So it's, it's, every company's going to be different. Every decision maker, is going to be different in what they see in their company and its potential. I have, I mean, I have an example that I can go through, but what, what I've found is occupational wisdom, which is kind of a two part, thing. Kind of what I would fall back on to help. Right. So occupational wisdom would be firsthand experience industries. I've worked in myself. Mm-hmm. and then the secondhand experience industries I've worked alongside or in, or with, excuse me, not in. And being able to leverage all of that to figure out their problems. It's really taking their issue and figuring out [00:14:00] what that is, getting all the way down to the root of what the issue is in their revenue problem. And then tackling that problem, and then everything else will start to take care of itself even from an implementation process. One example I can give on that, I've worked with a chiropractor, well, he's a chiropractor and athletic trainer. But he's a, a physician, right? So his product is what it is. He's going to help you from a bone alignment and some muscle stuff, and that's what his product is. So how do we now develop new revenue for you or new avenues of revenue? Well, being an athletic trainer, there's great value for someone like him in sports, for all ages, especially the younger they are. As they develop, they need to make sure that they. That their muscles and bone structures aren't manipulated in a negative way. Mm-hmm. and he's always been trying to get into that space, right? He wanted to work in more youth clubs and youth sports, so we developed [00:15:00] more of a add-on membership program. For him to be able to pitch to other businesses or club owners in a sense, for his services. And what that would look like is a small monthly cost per member. Let's just say $5 for easy math. That would be added on to every one of that club's, memberships. But there's gotta be the delivery there, right?

So what do they get? One, they get a free assessment. If they come in, they get this as a part of their me. Just by being a member of this club, now you have access to this chiropractor and athletic trainer for a free assessment and you get a discount on all of his services for you. Hmm. So that does a couple of things for him. One, it gives him passive revenue every single month from that club. The more members, the bigger that number is. The second part is for the people who actually do show up. He now has new clients. Right. So these answers were [00:16:00] all there right in front of him, but sometimes just like the name of this podcast, we get stuck. We get stuck looking at our own stuff, and we find a wall and we just can't break through it, even though it's right there. Sometimes we just need someone who's got an open mind enough just to listen to it, right? And kind of restructure some vocabulary, some words, and then. It's, it's something he was already doing for another program with membership. It's just taking that, applying it to his general services and putting it somewhere else or someone else to go find. That's pretty much it. And he's had success. He's, he's, he's gotten himself a club on board to, to have this add on membership. So it's working, it's working for him. So that's, that's kind of the, the revenue creation.

It's, it's not creating a new product. It's not, you know, hiring tons more workforce. It's, it's not unloading, you know, a new marketing campaign. It's, it's none of that. It's really just a [00:17:00] rebranding of what you have, or repackaging, we'll say it's just a repackaging. 

Mike O'Neill: You know, as I'm listening to you, I think this is very creative because it speaks to value add on multiple levels. And the example you just gave, a, a club wants to be able to offer value to be part of the club, and by offering this for a small upcharge, they're getting considerable value because they're not only getting. But they're also gaining access to discounted services. So the club wins in that circumstance because of the discount, the member wins. And then I'll go back and I don't know this would be the case, but I'm gonna make the assumption is that you probably started working with this chiropractor to help that chiropractor with their overall benefit. And so you are adding value to that relationship by working with them to help with top [00:18:00] line thing. Is that an accurate summation? 

Matt English: It's, it's an almost accurate, so as he grows, that's, now that I've brought this value to him, I can now bring the benefit value to him. I came in the door as the idea guy to help fix his revenue issue or to help increase his revenue, I should say. He wasn't having super big issues. It's just, what can I do to make. And so this is what, so now that value's been given, so when it does come time for him to put benefits into place, medical, retirement, that, whatever it is, yes, I will be the first person he probably thinks of to do that. 

Mike O'Neill: All right. Thank you for clarification. Right, and that's one reason why I thought, Matt, this might be an interesting conversation because I know quite a few, benefit brokers. There's some very good brokers out there. They're more often regionalize than than others, but. You and I had kind of a [00:19:00] one-on-one and I got to know a little bit about you and your business model. That's what really kind of intrigued me. Not as much the benefit broker piece, but this other aspect, helping clients increase revenues. You said something earlier that kind of caught my attention, and that is you kind of go in and you're looking for root causes. What is it that's keeping that? Do you find that there's some common themes when you do a root cause analysis that's limiting revenue growth? 

Matt English: Some yes and no, right? So, the yes part is, is the mental block of the business owner or whomever is asking for the help, whoever's in charge of this, whatever project that we're looking at, right? It's, it's the writer's block or whatever it is, it's breaking through that wall that they all have in common. And that is, that one thing is the cruel, God, this is gonna sound so bad, the critical thinking skill, like the ability [00:20:00] to think critically.

So to question and keep asking the question until you can't ask the question. Okay, why? Right? Why, why, why is this, why is. Why did this go this way? Until you get down to this is the answer, and once you have that answer, now you can fix. But as long as as, as long as you're in the question of why and when and how, as long as you're in that stage. Note, any solution you throw to those questions or the answer to that question is not necessarily going to be a permanent fix. It could be a bandaid, but it's not gonna fix the problem because the root problem is still going to be there, whatever that may be. You know, sometimes there's not even a problem with whatever they're dealing with. It's just finding a new avenue, like I said, a rebranding of the current pro. There's nothing wrong with the way this guy was running his business and his practice. He was actually ahead of a lot of other people. But he just wants to stay ahead and he wants to do [00:21:00] more and have his brand everywhere, and this is a way to do that. I did have, so there's some people that are dealing with, you know, a medical issue will hit them and they can no longer operate in the same manner and go out and create business the way they used to. So now I need a new way to do it because my business still needs to run, because that's how I'm gonna pay for everything else that's happening, right?

And that's another way as well. So yes, there are similar problems, but the root, I find the root is usually different. It varies. It might be in the same category, but it tends to vary. 

Mike O'Neill: You know, you made a comment a moment ago about business owners, and as a fellow business owner like you are, sometimes we get so focused on the day to day that we lose sight of possibilities. And I think what I'm hearing you say is that what you try to bring to the mix is a fresh set [00:22:00] of eyes, an inquisitive mind, and a determination to help keep drilling down to you get to this root cause. In the case of what is maybe slowing their revenue growth.

Matt English: Yeah, that's, I, I love to solve problems. Problem solving is fun. It's the fun part of managing, benefits and doing the health insurance and playing that game of balancing the cost and the, the benefits being held to a standard. It's, that's a fun problem to try and figure out. You know, it's a lot of the times myself, As a business owner, we're so busy, especially in when we're in our growth mode and we're small. And we're trying to, to get things going and increase that we tend to work inside our business or in our business a lot instead of working on our business. Right. And so sometimes I can come in and help work on their business so that maybe we can create something that allows them to [00:23:00] stop working in their business and allows them to get back and start working on their business either. For the first time or again for the second or third time. Right. So, that's, I guess if I had to wrap it up, that's what I would like to be. Let me come in and work on it while you're doing, finishing up some things in so that way when I'm done and we're done, you are now taking my spot and working on it, and you have your people working in it for you.

Mike O'Neill: You know, Matt, you may have already answered the question the way you would've as answered it if I had asked. And that is a situation where a client got stuck. And what did, did it take to get unstuck? You shared an example with the chiropractor, right. Who, who had a good service, but you helped this chiropractor, open up a new avenue to expose people to that service.

Do you have any other examples you would mention. 

Matt English: Sure. So I'll give you one of my clients from a benefit standpoint. [00:24:00] About a 10 life company and or 10, 10 employees. They had nine people, nine participants on the plan, and they contributed a very high percentage or dependence as well. Okay. But they were based on a very high end. They had a one plan offering. It was a very good PPO plan, very benefit rich, and they paid for it. It was very expensive. They were spending over a hundred thousand dollars a year on nine people. Goodness is high. That's, that's a lot. That's averaging over a thousand dollars a month for employee. That's a lot. So, anyway, they, they really liked their carrier and they liked the network. They were very nervous to do a bunch of changes. We were already looking at a second plan and, getting some other stuff in there to, to help out. So they didn't want anything radical. So, I walked in there and, we had the renewal out right in front of her and I, and we were sitting there talking, going through the renewal, looking at their plans and the cost. And [00:25:00] I noticed a plan that was set up very similar to their own, little bit different network. And so all we did was we. Offered more plans. We kept the plan they had as their top tier plan that an employee could buy up into. And then we offered an HSA qualified PPO plan, and then we offered an hmo, plan that matched the benefits of their top end buy up plan.

Now when we do this, we're basing the employer's contribution off that base plan. Mm-hmm. , because that's what the Affordable Care Act requires. Still contributing high percentage to all the dependents. But the thing to keep in mind was they were only getting, Well, they were less than a 4% renewal and I had just walked in on this case, so I didn't, it's not like I could look at all their claims history and all that kind of stuff. But I can assume from that renewal that they're just not utilizing the plan that's in place and they're paying a lot of money for it. Yes. So let's shift that cost down. and let's have plans that make more sense for your [00:26:00] population. Very young population. So they're not utilizing, they don't care usually mean, I was young, I remember I didn't even have insurance when I was in my twenties, so, cheap as possible. So that was, and that's, that's what happened. Everybody was very happy with the plan, but in the process, we save them $30,000. For a 10 employee company, including its owner. So, that, and that happened all right in front of her. We, I showed her the plans, did all the math right there, and her mouth hit the table. Mine, you know, mentally did, because it happened right in front of the client. It doesn't always happen like that. But completely blown away at that point. I just had to spreadsheet it all out for her so she could show her boss. And, we were all thumbs moving forward. And, now it's a client that I, I will probably never lose because she got to witness, the quote unquote magic in front of her, so to speak. She got to watch the process of solving the issue right then and there in [00:27:00] a very short window of time as well. So. 

Mike O'Neill: So Matt, as we kind of reflect on our conversation up to this, We have talked about ways in which business owners can lower cost, and we've talked about ways that business owners could increase revenues. As you kind of look back on this conversation, what do you want the takeaways to be? 

Matt English: Number one, it sounds like, a lot of me, right? Because I'm the face that the client will see. But I do have team, right? I have a team of partners, I have account managers, that, that all help me pull off some of the things that we attempt to, and, and a lot of cases do pull off. So it's not just, to me, it's an absolute team thing. And that's really important because I feel like in our world today that relationships truly will become a much higher trading commodity than people would've ever thought. And, relationships are important. So [00:28:00] the only way any of this stuff ever works is by opening up our ears and listening to our clients'. More, most importantly. And then they're wants, cuz they're gonna want things too . And so if we can knock out all the needs and, and, and hit some of the wants just by listening, we're winners there. And that, that's gonna make us continuously winners because clients are gonna love that cuz they need, they're being heard. Right. So, that would be my biggest thing is to develop relationships and, you know, And you can solve problems. It's, it's very easy. You listen and then you just keep asking those questions to get down to the root. 

Mike O'Neill: I like the way you summarize that very, very well. You know what Matt is, people have been listening. They may say, you know what, Matt's sharing makes a lot of sense to me. If folks wanna reach out to you, what's the best way for them to do so? 

Matt English: Oh, absolutely. So, you can always find me on. [00:29:00] Just search for Matt English, with Apex on there. It I should pop right up. They could probably find me right through you that in on that platform, right? You can find my email and my website on my LinkedIn address. My website is And those are usually the best ways. To, to find me, at least in this arena. I don't do a lot of the, the big social media stuff, but I'm definitely on LinkedIn. 

Mike O'Neill: Well, I know that we are connected on LinkedIn and as, as we got to know each other, the thing that I just kept coming back to is the unique combination that you bring lower costs, increasing revenue to fresh set of eyes. And I just appreciate you kind of sharing some insights with, with us today. Thank you. 

Matt English: No, thank you. I really, I, I love the opportunity to, to, to come on and share how we do things. I really appreciate that. I'm so glad, Thomas connected [00:30:00] us. Thomas is fantastic. So, super happy that we, we got to do this. It's been great for me too. 

Mike O'Neill: Well, I've already. thanked Tom, but I, I need to thank him also again because, it's Thomas who's introduced me to some really remarkable people, people who I'm learning from. And you fit that definition to a t I I've learned, and I'm, I'm glad we're getting to know each other. Better. And again, thank you for for being on the podcast. And I also wanna thank our listeners for joining us today. We upload the latest episode every Thursday to all the major platforms, including Apple and Spotify. So if you've enjoyed this episode with Matt, I invite you, please subscribe. So as you've been listening, If, if you kind of have the question of are you trying to really grow your business and you wanna make sure you got the right people, processes, and planning systems in place so that you can grow smoothly? If yes, let's talk head [00:31:00] over to and schedule a quick call. We're gonna talk about your growth and goals. Hopefully I'll be listening, Matt, and we're gonna be exploring practical steps that you can take now to make sure that that growth happens. So I wanna thank you for joining us, and I hope you have picked up on some tips from Matt that'll help you Get Unstuck and On Target. Until next time.

This Quiz is Going to Assess you in 3 main Areas...



People is about making sure that you have the right people in the right positions in your company, and that you have a plan for how to retain and train your top talent.


Planning is all about knowing where you're going and having exact steps that you can take for how you're going to get from here to there.


Process is about having efficient systems in place to help you get ahead of your competitors faster and with fewer mistakes.

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