Dan Oberlin found he could build a business by helping other people build theirs

Anyone who has attended a significant local or regional insurance event in the last decade or so has seen the name “Oberlin Marketing”. Whether it’s on the signs, programs, in conversation, or on stage, Oberlin Marketing has become a respected name for insurance agents and professionals in the Midwest seeking guidance on their own business growth, development, and plans.

Dan Oberlin is the man behind it. In 1977, Oberlin graduated from Ball State University with a degree in insurance and finance. “A professor moved me into the life insurance business,” he recalls. “I had two horrible experiences, and I said, ‘That’s no good—I’m out of here.’” So he was. 

A third opportunity opened up in direct sales and continued through the next three years. Then, in 1981, his career in the brokerage business began. That’s when he found he was good at group insurance. “I began to teach agents how to make a living at it,” he says. By 1987, Oberlin Marketing was established as one of the region’s top field marketing firms, helping other agents in the business of insurance.

Most industries have their share of shallow gurus, hacks, and self-promoters who purport to help others in the same industry do better. Oberlin recognized there was a better, deeper way to help. “Back then, most agents didn’t make it two or three years. But I was teaching them that health insurance is monthly generated income. And increasingly, kids were starting to go into business with their dads. The kids could focus on the monthly income from health and group benefits on top of dad’s property and casualty business.” Later, Oberlin would add individual health and the senior market to that strategy.

Like agents sitting down with clients to talk about their needs, Oberlin’s business does something similar, but the other way around. “We’d sit down with an agent and talk about their needs. It worked then and it works today,” he says. “Two people who can trust each other are typically successful. The market always has an urge for that.”

Over the last three decades, Oberlin Marketing has shifted and changed to fit how insurance operates. In the past 15 years, the senior market products have expanded with the addition of Medicare Advantage and PDP plans. “There are so many seniors—they have so many choices they don’t know where to start. Having a well-trained agent work with them is ideal,” he says. Oberlin Marketing is always happy to help those agents train.

“The majority of my career early on was small carriers. The American Communities and Central Reserve Lifes of the world,” he recalls. “We were blessed to have them. Then the world changed.” Changes in policies, scope, cost control, and other regulations meant larger carriers were gobbling up the smaller ones. “You could see how in the future it was going to be large carriers only, and today we have just about that,” says Oberlin.

“It was far more important back then to have a variety of small carriers. When that world turned upside down, and many went out of business or got bought, we had a struggle. We were blessed to have continuing carriers to work with, but sometimes we wondered if the business was going to be around,” Oberlin says.

That was 20 years ago. Oberlin enjoys far better footing today despite a host of regulatory changes in the last 10 years. Equally important is his expanding network of relationships. Much of that started 30 years ago when Oberlin helped establish the first sparks of what is today NEIAHU (the Fort Wayne Local Chapter). “NAHU has always been the organization involved in the right things in our industry. It was worthy of being a member of then and still is now. It’s always been the leader.”

For agents and brokers like Oberlin who lived in northeast Indiana, a trip to Indianapolis for lunch wasn’t going to happen. “We needed to be more vocal and positive, and it was just a basic fact that people who could meet face to face could get more done,” he says emphatically.

Thirty years after helping establish NEIAHU and the formation of his own business, Oberlin is starting to think about retirement. The firm has consistently employed about 15 people for most of its history. Oberlin himself still enjoys coming to work, “but I don’t have to be here every day now.”

Established leaders in the Oberlin Marketing office have continued to move forward. They’re professionals who will no doubt have to deal with a host of new challenges like Oberlin did. He cites “Medicare for All” as one potential shift that the industry and Health Underwriters are going to have to be involved in. “I believe it could be done right as long as the brokers, agents, and carriers can be involved in it,” he says of Medicare for All ideas. “To have a particular product available for all is possible. But thrown in for free by the government is a joke and not good for anyone in the industry.”

“Carriers have proven through Medicare Advantage how much more they can promote and provide to seniors. They’ve had great success. One could assume that would apply for Medicare for All. The cost, of course, is extremely important. That’s why Medicare Advantage plans have been so successful. Often they’re $0 premiums. Those kinds of plans would appeal to customers,” he notes.

New leaders, including the three or four positions they’re hiring for now, will have to navigate those and other unforeseen events in the next 30 years. Oberlin Marketing also sees growth in agents looking to sell their business to other agents as they retire, along with increased training and help.

“We have won a zillion awards with carriers along the way and are very proud of each achievement. Many wonderful relationships have been established over the years, and each one is very special. The integrity we have always brought to the market will continue to push our growth forward for years to come.”