"Brokers Need to Play Chess, Not Checkers": Meet Chris Renzulli, Nava's Newest Partner
You've been working in the benefits brokerage space for over a decade. No doubt you've seen how small and medium-size businesses experience a different healthcare system than larger companies. So based on your experience, what advice do you have for SMBs navigating healthcare and benefits?
While every employer is different, there are three golden rules every small and mid-size business should follow.
First, you must communicate the value of your plans and how they work throughout the year. If you only highlight benefits during employee onboarding or open enrollment, it will lead to problems come the next enrollment season. Benefits are hard for the average person to understand; the data on this is conclusive. If employees are only hearing about benefits once per year, they will probably be overwhelmed and anxious when they’re asked to make their elections.
The second thing you must do is establish a thoughtful benefits selection process that prioritizes your employees’ needs. Before jumping into plan selection, consider all the factors at play: your culture, geographic locations, projected growth, everything that impacts your employee population. If you do this right, then your plan will be as unique as your team — because in the end, if you're not building your benefits with your employees' wants and needs in mind, then who is this all for?
Finally, make sure your broker has your best interests in mind. I remember reading a quote by Charlie Munger that’s stuck with me: “Show me the incentives and I’ll show you the outcome.” Working in this industry this long, I've heard some horror stories of brokers leading their clients to plans with higher rates because those plans paid higher commissions. Often the employer has no idea this is even happening. Thankfully I've never worked with any brokers like this, but we can't pretend it doesn't happen — and I don’t think that’s a recipe for success. It’s unethical and it’s short-sighted, but sadly, it’s business as usual for far too many brokers in this space.
Clearly you feel strongly about the level of service brokers should provide to their clients. So if you had to describe your approach to client service with one song, movie, or book, what would it be?
Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin — to be honest, I just started reading this book, and within the first few chapters I knew it would be a new favorite. So much of their message resonates with me.
I especially love this quote in particular: “Implementing Extreme Ownership requires checking your ego and operating with a high degree of humility. Admitting mistakes, taking ownership, and developing a plan to overcome challenges are integral to any successful team.”
If we want to achieve true success, then we need to be 100% committed from the start. That means I’m deeply committed to my team, to my clients, and to my own projects.
At Nava, we own the outcome — it’s one of our four values. And that extreme ownership is what sets us apart.
We're so thrilled to welcome you to the team. When you were learning about Nava, what was the aha moment that made you think, "okay, I want to be a part of that"?
There were a bunch of small moments, but the one thing that stands out is Nava's monumental mission. I mean, it's hugely ambitious — delivering quality, affordable healthcare to all Americans and changing healthcare in this country. If you want a mission that could change millions of lives, look no further than that.
As both an employer operating a National Staffing firm and a broker, I’ve seen how hard it is to provide competitive healthcare benefits. This is especially true for small and midsize companies. It sometimes feels like David vs Goliath.
Nava recognizes this problem and is devoted to solving it. Every employee at Nava, regardless of their department, sees themselves as part of one team pulling in the same direction. With so many talented people focused on a single problem, I believe we’re going to turn our mission into reality.
Let's dig a little deeper on your experience as a broker. Throughout your time working in this space, what's the most common pain point you've heard about the broker model?
There's a number of things I could bring up here, but what comes to mind first is the notion that one size fits all. If we want to create an effective benefits offering for our clients, it has to be specific to each individual client's mission, culture, and budget. This has been my belief from the early days of my career, and it's never failed me.
Brokers need to play chess, not checkers. Rather than just trying to get through open enrollment and renewal season, we need to think two steps ahead. How will our hiring plans affect our offering or funding strategy? Are we moving into new states or going international? What emerging benefits trends should we be monitoring? An effective broker will take the time to look at the big picture and consider every piece of the puzzle and determine the best path forward.
We love to hear that you are so committed to solving these problems that are all too common in healthcare. Brokers hold such a strong influence on our healthcare system, yet we think it goes largely unrecognized. To that end, what role do you think brokers can play in transforming healthcare?
This is a big one for me, and there's no simple answer I can give. But I can tell you what brokers should do in their day-to-day to drive superior results.
First, dive into the data and analytics. As a broker, this should be at the center of your daily activity. The data, rather than anecdote or fad, should guide your decision making and strategy.
Next, take the time to understand your client’s problems before throwing out solutions. All too often, some brokers will take their clients on the road most traveled: a PPO plan alongside an HMO offering, little, if any creativity offered related to contribution strategies, done and done. But when you focus on listening and getting to the root of a problem, you're much more equipped to bring the right solution to the table.
Finally, the most effective way we can transform the healthcare system is through collaboration and forging true partnerships with our clients. My goal is to become an extension of my client's staff. When you hire Nava, you have a team of benefits experts on your side from day one; we just sit in a different building. That perspective transforms the relationship, and over time transforms the overall system.
What's one aspect of employee benefits that you're most excited to reinvent?
In short, bringing technology and innovation to the brokerage space. I'm most looking forward to leveraging our tools and tech to level the playing field for small to midsize groups. What other brokerage firm has a team of product managers? Or software engineers dedicated to the development of resources to support both the Nava team and their clients?
And doing all of this in a transparent, honest, ethical manner — with performance guarantees as a cherry on top? That package just takes things to the next level.
What do you hope to accomplish over the next five years at Nava?
In the near term, I want to help foster an environment that's grounded in teamwork and collaboration. I'm a big believer that a next-level team is made by working hard for each other and sharing successes. I want everyone to feel like they've played a part in each and every win.
Looking into the future, five years and beyond, I'm just thrilled to be part of a team that I believe will create change in a broken, antiquated industry. It's staggering to me that a country with all the talent and technology at its fingertips is ranked so low in terms of quality and accessibility of healthcare.
Whether it takes one year, five years, or longer, I have one ultimate goal: Bring transparency and affordability back into healthcare. I seek to help small and medium businesses, which are the fabric of our economy, level the playing field. I want to live in a country where the average person is able to afford the care they need, and by joining Nava I’m helping to make that a reality.
Nava is hiring Partners across the US! Check out our open roles to learn more.