The corporate karma of Holmes Murphy has always resided within a certain measured audacity, anticipating future opportunities to inform the actions of the here and now. It is, after all, a firm launched during the Great Depression, arguably the worst period in history to start an insurance company, with the undaunted vision of building something great.
And build it has. Holmes Murphy is now a regional power that employs 1,000 and generates millions in top line annual revenue. Yet, as impressive as the last nine decades have been, company leadership is far more interested in where the company is going.
“Our culture of leading with innovation is going to serve us well because a lot of market change is coming,” said Beau Reid, Nebraska market leader. “We’re very aware of leading-edge things that are coming to the industry and that’s going to play a big role in us remaining relevant with our customer base.
“The DNA of this company has been innovation and adapting to change and embracing change before the market actually goes there, particularly on the employee benefits side. We have been on the forefront of change in the health insurance world. I like to say if you’re just looking for somebody who’s good with the status quo, we may not be your broker.
The philosophy has paid off for the Waukee, Iowa-based firm, especially as COVID-19 has rewritten everything about daily life. The insurance industry, particularly, has found itself between shifting tectonic plates of internal and external change.
“Our company didn’t have a ton of remote workers [before COVID-19]; we had to really figure that out in fairly short order and get proficient at it,” Reid said. “Our willingness to adapt technology and embrace it quickly enabled us to serve our customers.”
Challenges as Opportunities
Rapid adaptation to uncertain market conditions has been an element of the company’s modus operandi since Max Holmes opened his insurance agency in 1932, building it through the remaining years of the Great Depression. He partnered with Raymond Murphy Jr. in 1948.
Reid said the market forces and insurance trends that have followed conditioned the company for the kinds of uncertainties COVID-19 represents for the insurance industry, particularly as it applies to health insurance benefits.
“That’s a question our industry is coming to grips with right now,” he said. “In terms of health insurance, we couldn’t have anticipated the supply chain consequences from COVID in 2020 which led to a massive lockdown. We couldn’t anticipate how that would change the workforce working from home.
“But we didn’t feel all that much impact from it in terms of health insurance claims. It was a delayed impact. Omicron, in the fourth quarter of last year, led to a much greater impact than COVID did in 2020, mainly because back then the government took the sting out of that by basically covering the cost for a lot of testing and treatment.”
Reid said as clients come to terms with their own market challenges, they’re looking to all service providers, including insurance companies, to be more consultative than in the past. This expectation is changing everything from how firms communicate with customers to providing better tools for individual employees to access and manage their benefits.
“We are largely viewed as business partners in a lot of ways. Waiting for someone to tap us on the head and say, ‘Hey, can you help me buy this form of insurance?,’ isn’t really how it works anymore,” he said. “We sit down, we figure out where they have friction and where they have issues and we see what we can do to help solve those problems.
“On the employee benefits side, the most successful technology has been around communication platforms, helping HR departments communicate with employees in remote locations. They need something to push information out to the employees where they can get information on their own. For example, where can I access mental health care when I’m being told it’s a 30-day wait to get in? Where can I get access to virtual care?”
Holmes Murphy’s other major initiative is succession planning. Privately owned by about 170 employees, the company is midway through a carefully orchestrated strategy to help perpetuate the business for the next 30 to 50 years.
“The very thing that makes us unique and great could lead some people to be nervous about the future of our business,” he said. “It’s essential we have a plan that serves as a clear blueprint for the next generation. It’s in the fiber of this company to give that generation the opportunity to create wealth, not just work for an income.
“Participating in the growth and the success of something as an owner is a much different perspective; it drives innovation and I think it’s what makes us unique.”