Continuing education key to staying on top

Here's our roundup of educational opportunities for advisors of SMEs

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textbook-apple-schoolAre you on the fence about whether seminars, meetings, subscriptions, webinars or credit courses are worth the time and trouble?

For the moment, “robo-advisors” are more prevalent in the personal finance and investment world than in the insurance world, so you’re not likely to be replaced any time soon. But Dave Patriarche, president of Mainstay Insurance Brokerage Inc., expects this to change quickly as insurance companies make ever greater use of technology to save money. As well, business owners will appreciate your efforts to educate them so they can make informed, cost-effective choices in an ever-changing benefits landscape.

If you’re not sure where to begin in terms of tools for your toolbox, here are some ideas:

Canadian Group Insurance Brokers
The Canadian Group Insurance Brokers (CGIB) seminars are an excellent starting point, says Patriarche. The CGIB website lists past seminar topics back to 2009, as well as upcoming seminars through to late 2016. There are also online seminars, as well as less-formal CGIB breakfast meetings at locations across Ontario. The CGIB website provides links to news items and other updates about topics of interest to small business advisors, such as taxation, health and wellness, disability benefits, HR issues and more.

CGIB members also have access to a Member Zone that offers additional resources, such as links to current articles on relevant topics like catastrophic drug claims or Trillium coordination.

Other advisors
Continuing education need not be formal, as Sophia Nizamuddin, a group health specialist with Svab Insurance Inc., has discovered. “I make the time to get to seminars and meetings even on topics I’m fully up to speed on,” says Nizamuddin. “They’re great opportunities to ask other advisors for information.” Other advisors may have attended seminars or meetings that you missed, and can fill you in.

Insurance companies
Nizamuddin recommends checking insurance company websites for breakfast meetings, lunch-and-learns and other chances to reach out and find out about what other advisors are doing. Patriarche does the same. “All you have to do is ask,” he says. “If you’re a broker and you go to every insurance company and ask to be added to their list of upcoming events, you’re going to get a ton of stuff. The emails will pile up, and it ends up being quite helpful.”

Subscriptions
Don’t discount the value of information you can get online from trusted sources, whether they are articles, newsletters, blogs or something else. “I subscribe to everything—blogs, publications, SmallBizAdvisor.ca, various industry journals,” says Patriarche. He advises getting on relevant lists to hear about upcoming events.

Colleges and universities
Check out the Certified Employee Benefits Program at Dalhousie University, which offers the CEBS (Certified Employee Benefit Specialist) designation as well as a number of others, such as the GBA (Group Benefits Associate), RPA (Retirement Plans Associate) and CMS (Compensation Management Specialist). For those who are newer to the business, institutions like Humber College, Seneca College, and Georgian College are all worth investigating for courses they may offer on insurance benefits, says Patriarche.

Benefits Canada
Benefits Canada organizes conferences and events on benefits, investments and pensions that bring together leaders in healthcare and finance to discuss relevant research. For example, there is a Mental Health Summit coming up this November in Toronto. You can also subscribe to the Benefits Canada newsletter.

The Benefits Breakfast Club
BBC Canada at www.connexhc.com offers a slate of sessions throughout the year with a focus on health benefits.

Hepatitis C
To get up to speed on coverage for hepatitis C drugs, check out www.hepmag.com.

Given that so few advisors pursue the ongoing education needed to remain relevant to clients, it seems obvious that those who do go the extra mile have an opportunity to stand out from the crowd.

However, says Patriarche, it can be difficult for an employer to know whether or not they’re dealing with an advisor who takes the time for continuing education. The take-home message: Although the value of keeping current may be obvious to you, it may not always be as obvious to clients, so take the time to point it out for them—for example by mentioning the seminars or courses you attend, and bringing them up to speed on what you’ve learned.

Transcontinental Media G.P.