For nearly 43 years Becky Whitaker has patiently worked her way toward a career goal many Americans share: the dream of starting a business and being her own boss. She’s had to learn a lot along the way. And she’s had to wait for society to catch up to her. At times today, she still is.
“I think I’m where I want to be. Going from an administrative assistant for a life producer to running my own business,” she says. “I was able to obtain my goal in 2003 to become a health insurance business owner,” recalls Whitaker.
Whitaker started in 1977 working for a million-dollar roundtable producer. Through a couple of early steps with agencies and Fort Wayne-based Lincoln National Life, Whitaker’s early career consisted of “keeping appointments and agendas”, a task Whitaker sounds appreciative to have had.
Perhaps more appreciatively, she notes, “During my time with the life producer, he was all about education, even for staff. I remember he purchased my first membership with NAIFA.” This was before NEIAHU existed in Fort Wayne.
Whitaker took in every bit of education she could before going to work for another agency in Warsaw, Ind. in 1996. There she headed an insurance department that merged with departments handling 401(k) accounts and inevitably started to work in group benefits. By 2000, Whitaker joined NAHU and NEIAHU. “The way my life was going, it made sense. I’ve been with NAHU ever since,” she says.
Over the next seven years, she began to develop her skills in group insurance when in 2003 she and colleague Darron Longenecker joined forces. Five years later in 2008, they branded themselves Creative Benefits Solutions, which continues to operate out of Warsaw today.
Much of Creative Benefits Solutions’ business is in group sales and helping employers find the best insurance plans. A tall order considering the rising cost of healthcare each year. “In today’s world, you almost need to be a specialist and take a consulting role,” she says.
“The way NAIFA and then NAHU has CE intertwined with meeting other members was great,” she says. “I am a business owner today because NAHU did such a great job of keeping us informed,” she says.
She remembers what it was like working in the 70s, 80s, and 90s and challenges that women faced, culturally and professionally.
“When you sit amongst your peers in NEIAHU meetings — current peers or aspirational — it’s influential. You realize there are other women in this room.”— Becky Whitaker
“I’ve always been fortunate to work around men who appreciated the talents I bring to the table,” she says. With the tone and heart of a teacher, Whitaker adds, “But even today, if Darron and I go prospecting to cold calls, sometimes even at my age someone thinks I work for him. But he’s gracious enough to say ‘My business partner, Becky,’ and we laugh about it and it’s no big deal.”
That approach to clients and what many young people would consider a serious cultural faux pas is likely born from Whitaker’s deep focus on service. “In our industry, it’s about relationships and once we get to know someone we have some real longevity in our accounts. People buy people,” she says.
When the Affordable Care Act was passed Whitaker says, “We didn’t know where we were going.” “It was a huge hurdle, but we said we’d figure it out. NAHU kept us abreast of what all the new tax laws were, how it affected us and clients, and the various guides and calculators on their website helped us answer tough questions for clients.”
In four decades, Whitaker has seen a lot. Today, challenges for agents like her happen daily. A $100 medical bill in 1977 when Whitaker was just beginning would cost over nine times that in 2019.
“Day-to-day, we work with large groups and underwriting in tough situations where we have to help employers make business decisions. And sometimes your heart gets in the way,” she says softly.
When insurance agents talk about repealing the ACA or “restoring the marketplace”, most people don’t understand the weight of those ideas. “People don’t understand how the cost of care impacts their premium,” she adds.
Whitaker cites filling a prescription and paying only the copay when 75% or more was paid by a carrier. “That education [about cost] is still missing. The cost of healthcare is laid on carriers, but it’s a combination of factors.”
“We don’t have much true transparency, and maybe that’s the key,” she says of pricing and the cost of healthcare. “Obviously an insurance pool has to have enough premium to cover costs. If we expose what’s being marked up so it can begin being marked down, maybe that would work. And if we put these charges on the front end instead of the back, so if you need an MRI you’re told a cost before you have it, not after.”
Like most experienced professionals, she wonders about the path not taken, but not for long. “I wonder sometimes why I do this for a living. But it’s those problems you solve. And being part of that employer’s benefits team to see a win for their employees and a win for the company. If the follow-through and having a servant’s heart. We’re here to be of help,” she says. “If you take care of people, you’ll get paid.”
In a way, Whitaker is waiting on new industry shifts to catch up to her. But, she says, “I don’t know that the bottom line of our industry has changed. People don’t care what you don’t know. You just have to get back to them quickly.”