Want to be a better benefits advisor? Start the day with breakfast

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Every week 24 benefits advisors, brokers, and consultants get together to chat over breakfast in the Greater Toronto Area.

They bring questions about changes in a group insurance contract, a tricky renewal or whether independent contractors should be on a company’s benefit plan. Together, as a group, they explore solutions. They are there to help each other—and themselves—be better employee benefit advisors.

The breakfasts are run by the Canadian Group Insurance Brokers (CGIB), which was formally established this year by Dave Patriarche. He’s the owner of Mainstay Insurance in Thornhill, ON, and has been in the business for over 15 years. The goal of the group is to work together to help educate the members so they can better serve their clients. In addition to the breakfasts, the CGIB holds educational seminars and informal information exchanges.

“It’s the water cooler for independent brokers to share stories and brainstorm solutions to problems,” says Patriarche. “It’s also like a replacement for the career agency training system that many of us did not experience.”

While the CGIB itself was founded this year, the breakfasts have been running for over eight under the name Group Benefits Gang Breakfasts (GBGB). When Patriarche started his career he wanted to create a space where he and his peers could toss around ideas and learn from each other. He started breakfast meetings with his colleagues and shortly after needed to expand from one location into three.

Today the breakfasts happen on three Wednesday’s a month from 8 am to 10 am. The Markham meeting is held on every second Wednesday of the month. The Ajax meeting is the third Wednesday of each month and the Oakville meeting is the fourth Wednesday.

Peter Demangos, an employee benefits specialist with PDF Financial Group Inc., has been in the industry for three years. During his first year, Demangos’ Manulife Financial rep suggested he check out a breakfast. Since then he’s been to the Markham breakfast every month and has attended all of the seminars.

“It’s an enthusiastic group of brokers and other industry-related individuals that come together to share and learn. The group benefits market is constantly evolving and CGIB provides a platform and sources to stay in tune with changes,” says Demangos. “Not only does CGIB provide me with the opportunity to learn and share with my peers, it is also the foundation of many cherished friendships that I have today.”

Adrienne Sacks, president of Benefits Matters Inc., has been attending meetings for four years. “Almost every time I go I learn something new. I don’t always have a question or problem, but it’s nice to have my understanding of issues confirmed by my peers and to help others come up with solution,” she says.

Al Kaminskas is a partner at Net Worth Employee Benefits Inc. and has been attending the breakfasts almost since the beginning. “Rather than being an independent advisor that is an island. We’re a group of islands,” he says. “Those who attend have the ability to ask people in the same business questions without creating a competitive situation. There is no question that it has helped me in my career.”

Kaminskas describes CGIB as a mentoring group, which is particularly beneficial to younger advisors who are just entering the business. “If this is your career and you’re committed to growing, it would be a tragedy not to join the group. There is no question you can expedite the growth of your knowledge and business through this group,” he says.

Joining the group costs $150 per year. This gets you access to the monthly breakfasts ($20 each) and discounts to the five yearly seminars. Topics for the seminars include: the risk and rewards of independent contractors; drug cost issues plan sponsors face; how to have a renewal to retain clients; and building and using a plan administration checklist.

Demangos says the seminars have helped his professional development more than any other seminar offered in the industry. “I like to think of the seminars as lectures with exceptional industry guest speakers and very rich content, and the breakfasts are hands-on tutorials, which offer casual yet high-level round table discussions,” he says.

In 2012, Patriarche is expanding the CGIB again with breakfast meetings in Cambridge and Newmarket as of February. If you are a broker that would like to start a breakfast meeting in your area contact the CGIB.

For more information or to sign up, visit CGIB.ca. Guests are welcome to attend one breakfast before joining the group.

Transcontinental Media G.P.