Nov 01 2023 / Round the Table Magazine
Benefiting the group
By Matt Pais
Four kids in six years. Thinking back to the professional urgency created by that sizable, rapid family expansion, Daniel O’Connell Sr., MBA, laughs. “There’s nothing like that to make you a highly motivated salesperson,” he said.
Yet the path that the 16-year MDRT member from Addison, Texas, USA, took to achieve 13 Top of the Table qualifications and now become the Top of the Table Global Council Member and Advisory Board Chair, involved a lot more than just household motivation. After starting in the investment world in 2001, a family member steered him toward focusing on employee benefits in 2006. Specializing on those services was where O’Connell was able to achieve ambitious goals and help people in more impactful ways.
“Growing up, I had family members who dealt with lifelong health issues, and I saw what it looked like to be on the phone with an insurance company for an hour just to get the wrong answer or worse, get hung up on,” he said. “I knew there was a better way to serve and help people.”
To ensure he could do that, O’Connell scheduled four appointments per day (at 9 a.m., 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3 p.m.), family time each night and the ability to work more afterward. “If you told me to call in two weeks, I’d call in 10 days,” he said. “I’m not going to wait; I’m going to speed up the sales cycle.”
But the emphasis remained on service. Told by many that what he was providing small companies exceeded industry norms, O’Connell saw an opportunity. He wanted to show companies — many of whom he says didn’t even know they were being underserved — that their size shouldn’t dictate their options for benefits or the quality of advice they receive.
The benefits of benefits
Part of that meant mastering the needs of his target market and spreading his passion and knowledge to others. When he changed broker-dealers in 2009, O’Connell saw a tremendous opportunity to collaborate with other advisors, so he went to work. He initiated morning training sessions to teach others the value they can bring to companies and employees through providing employee benefits and why they should work in that sector. Soon, O’Connell was not just building his own credibility but building enduring relationships with other advisors, several of whom handled retirement plans but not benefits and wanted to work with him.
“I have advisors I have worked with for over 14 years who I still partner with,” he said. “We had a group that we’ve maintained as a joint client, which had 50 employees with not-great participation that is now over 500 employees. I wouldn’t have had that opportunity unless I put myself out there and was willing to split revenue and work with others who believed in me and took a chance to work together.”
If we want to grow our membership, we need to provide added value throughout the year beyond the meeting.
— Daniel O’Connell
Speaking of putting himself out there: Seven years ago, O’Connell started his own practice with the help of his wife and an account manager. He was doing virtual appointments long before the pandemic to increase efficiency and the number of people he could help. Today, O’Connell and his 11-person team (all of whom have six-month professional and personal development plans to help define and track goals and growth) work with about 325 businesses across the U.S., helping companies they believed are underserved.
By utilizing a mix of fee-based and commission-based models, O’Connell says he can offer better products at a lower cost than many larger national operations who avoid working with companies in his market. It is also not all about the price, as he focuses on value and the client experience. (O’Connell just got off a call with a prospective client whose current agent leaves it up to them to self-manage their benefits.) O’Connell’s company also thrives thanks to technology — which helps with administering benefits, syncing up payroll and more — and help from a national HR firm that provides resources, training videos, employee handbooks and communication across multiple channels.
By developing a process that begins months before his competitors, he has the ability to better negotiate policies, renewals and benefits. His team has bought in to the difference they are making, and their clients often achieve outcomes they could not have imagined possible. Small- to-medium-sized companies often have less turnover than the C-suite, O’Connell says, which helps to develop long-term relationships and allows O’Connell’s team to better serve clients and deliver consistent outcomes.
“We don’t want to be everything to everybody but everything to the people who we serve,” O’Connell said.
Magic in the numbers
In his role as the Top of the Table Global Council Member and Advisory Board Chair, O’Connell wants to expand the number of members benefiting from the annual Benchmarking Survey (completed by Top of the Table and Court of the Table members). That will be done by additional discussion (including a Focus Session during the Top of the Table Annual Meeting) as well as a practice management committee that has been modified to translate the data from the survey into outcomes for members.
“I think many advisors have not utilized the survey fearing the time it will take, or not readily having the information; it can seem daunting,” O’Connell said. “After completing it on my own, I now have my CFO do it, and you can do it in modules to break it up. Whether you assign it to a bookkeeper, an operations person or anyone else, it can be a really effective way to learn from other Top of the Table practices about how to grow your business.”
Updates to the Top of the Table committees continue an initiative to make those groups more dynamic and responsive to what’s currently relevant to members. In his new role, O’Connell also will help review Top of the Table’s strategic charter and implement plans to grow Top of the Table value in Japan, Korea, Taiwan Area and Hong Kong, China.
“If we want to grow our membership, we need to provide added value throughout the year beyond the meeting,” O’Connell said. “As we look at other markets, we have a good blueprint from the last 10 years of how to develop and build Top of the Table across the globe for our members.”
Certainly, O’Connell knows how to take good ideas and turn them into a thriving operation. It’s a growth mindset that he says is one of many core elements of reaching Top of the Table.
“It’s about standing up and being committed to making a difference, taking immense pride in what you do and wanting to grow,” he said. “It’s not doing what everybody else does. You’re never going to be Top of the Table if your goal is to be like everyone else.”