Catching Up with Council Chair David Becker

Part II of our conversation with the CEO of Cottingham & Butler
By Brianne Spellane Posted on October 2, 2021

Becker will hand over the reins as chair of The Council to Nancy Mellard, executive vice president and general counsel for the benefits and insurance services division of CBIZ, at the conclusion of the 2021 Insurance Leadership Forum.

In January 2020, you penned a column in Leader’s Edge (see Aiming High in 2020, above) noting that The Council “exists to tackle issues and problems that no individual member firm could likely tackle on its own but that many of the firms see as critically important.” Can you give us an example of something you witnessed during your time as chair that supports this definition?

Probably the simplest illustration would be the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) . Here comes 1,000 pages of new regulations and rules that all of us member firms need to read and synthesize and create a coherent explanation for our clients so they can understand the new opportunities and benefits and responsibilities that they have, of something that is massive. And The Council turned it around in a matter of days and educated all of us and our teams so we could then educate our clients. I think about the amount of hours that would have taken each individual firm, multiplied by our membership to go put this together. There is no clearer explanation to me of the value of The Council than the ability to tackle things like that.

Then you think about the transparency rules that are coming on benefits. None of us know how to navigate Washington and get a voice and shape things so they make sense, the ability to get all our thoughts together, and then have one channel in which we’re creating alliances with other groups and we’re speaking with a consistent voice. Then there are initiatives like the new insurance professional school. I would love to build my own curriculum and partner with a couple universities, but it doesn’t make sense for them at the scale we’re at. And so The Council steps in and creates world class capabilities to a problem that we all struggle with. To me, those are three simple examples from the last 12 months that I think are just incredibly powerful.

Do you think your leadership style has changed at all over the past 19 months?

I don’t know if I would say it’s changed. But what has changed is that before the pandemic, we had all this technology and we never used it. I mean, I was on conference calls all the time but we never thought of having a video call with a client using Zoom or other technology. So what this has allowed is to be present much more easily. Relative to my style—I’m certainly in touch with a lot of people more than I was in the past.

One of the things that I’ve been working on is speed of decision making. COVID challenged us to go faster and to figure out if we can do things with fewer meetings, fewer gatherings. Can we get on the phone or Zoom for 10 minutes and nail things out? And can we challenge some of the grind on our personal lives and our bodies? And so I’m trying to be more thoughtful about those things.

What is one business/professional opportunity you have now as a result of the pandemic?

We built a symptom tracker for our clients to track people’s [coronavirus] symptoms, and to connect that to the HR team. And so we were the information storehouse for ensuring safe workplaces for a lot of our clients. We built that from scratch a month into the pandemic, and rolled that out as a new business. The last six months of 2020 were the most successful six months of sales we had in the history of Cottingham & Butler.

We used that as an opportunity to be more helpful to our clients and prospects on educating them around things like the Paycheck Protection Program. In other words, the relationship went beyond the nuts and bolts of how to fix your benefit plan or your P&C plan to [being] a broader thought partner for you and your business. And that actually was incredibly well valued. And so we’re thinking a lot about how to expand our reach, and the way that we interact with our clients to create more value for them.

You’ve long been a big proponent of developing talent and giving young professionals opportunities in the business they might not find in other industries. How do you think the industry today is faring in the war on talent?
I think the collective challenge of the industry is, do we have a commitment in teaching people this business. Most firms are retiring a lot of people out. And there’s a certain degree of panic that sets in. I think we’ve got to, as an industry, do much better at the commitment to hiring young people and teaching them—taking the time and having the patience. It’s hard, by the way.
As you prepare to hand over the reins as Council chair, what will you take with you from your two years at the helm?

When you’re the chair, you deal with the staff on a more regular basis, and see the inner workings of The Council in a different light than you do as just a member firm or as a board member.

The Council is incredibly resilient itself. And through the pandemic, it was able to do amazing things, and it will continue to do amazing things. I just take away enormous respect for the team, the mission, and am thankful for the support that our industry partners—both on the carrier side and our broker member firms—have for this institution; trying to make it great and give it the resources to do what it does so well.

Read Part I, Better Every Day

Brianne Spellane Director of Membership, The Council Read More

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