Cecil L. Wyman has been CEO of his own company-C.L. Wyman and Associates-for almost 20 years, but he's been in the insurance industry for nearly 35 years. "My first position was as a sales representative with Mutual of Omaha, and it was there that I gained my first experiences with the employee benefits market. In 1977, I partnered with a large commercial agency in Peoria and ran the very successful employee benefits division until deciding to strike out on my own in 1986," he said.
As with many who became small business owners, he wanted to be his own boss, so in 1986, he began C.L. Wyman & Associates, Inc. "I decided my focus would be almost exclusively on the employee benefit/group health insurance market. Armed with my only associate-my wife, Diane-and a fairly nice-sized block of business, we opened our doors in the Northwest Bank Building. At the time, we were basically a mom-and-pop shop and remained that way until my son, Tim, graduated college in 1992 and joined the company. It was then that our company started to grow, and much of the credit goes to him and the ideas and visions he brought to us. Today, we employ five in-house brokers, work with numerous out-of-house brokers and agents, and employ six talented people as support staff," Wyman said.
C.L. Wyman currently offers group health, life, dental, disability, vision, FLEX, and 401(k) plans, he said. "We're also experts with partially self-funded group health plans and offer administration through an affiliated company. Finally, we write individual health, Medicare supplement, and life and disability plans."
Although he admits to not having much of a long-term vision when he opened the company, Wyman said that all changed when it started to grow around 1992. "I saw the central Illinois market had opportunity for a company that would put its clients first-that would provide them with the best employee benefits package available at the most reasonable cost and that would educate and provide service before, during, and after the sale. Within our industry, there are many brokers who dabble in the field, who perceive it to be an easy way to make money, and we recognized how dangerous that can be to a potential client."
Wyman said he built an internal support staff that's almost Disney-like in its approach to service. "All clients, big or small, are treated to immediate service, and when problems do occur, our staff immediately acts to affect positive resolution. We have a dedicated claims administrator whose sole job is to resolve claim issues as they occur. I can say comfortably that our associates are second to none."
He recognizes there are many brokers who can provide employee benefits, but it's C.L. Wyman's knowledge and service that helps set the company apart. "Another aspect is the concept of specialization. We believe the standard, run-of-the-mill insurance agent who tries to be everything to everyone does a tremendous disservice to his client. No longer can one person provide car and homeowner's insurance, estate life insurance, and group health insurance to the small business owner and still act in his best interests. You can't be an expert in all fields. We decided to be experts in the arena of group health insurance and benefits and have done just that."
Wyman said the next five to 10 years are going to be very challenging for the insurance industry. "As most people well know, health care costs continue to outpace inflation well into double figures. No one expects that trend to stop, and, naturally, employers are looking to save every dollar possible. It's my opinion that only the well-positioned brokers will survive, and by that I mean brokers who stay on the cutting edge of information and technology, who position themselves to be very service-friendly, and who educate themselves as well as those who work with and for them."
With this knowledge, Wyman said his firm will work to continue to be the leaders in the central Illinois marketplace. "We'll offer our clients the best access, the best education, and the best service possible. We must work diligently to provide every advantage to our clients. Failure to do so, in my opinion, would mean the end of us."
He said the escalating cost of health care is the biggest trend within the industry and has affected how the firm conducts business. "Many carriers left the marketplace altogether, employers quit offering health coverage to their employees, and a highly visible market brought in a lot of brokers who thought they could make a quick buck. We moved with even greater urgency to set ourselves apart. We stayed in the forefront of technology and innovation, we provide services and contracts other brokers don't, and we worked harder to expand those arenas. And since it increased the level of service to our clients, I think it was a change for the better."
Wyman said there are quite a few misperceptions about his industry. "I've heard about the 'greedy insurance companies' many times. Just like the attacks on greedy doctors, hospitals, and pharmaceutical companies, I think these attacks are unwarranted. There are some absolutes in health care that are driving costs that can't or won't be changed.
There are things that can be changed that can help control health care costs. However, I think one can look at the number of insurance companies that are leaving the health insurance market and recognize the extraordinary profits aren't there for insurance companies."
He said the most challenging aspect of his business through the years has been staying up to date on all of the mandates and laws that continually change the way business is conducted-and then passing that information along to clients. "The government has a tendency to get too involved in private matters; instead of helping, it becomes more of a hindrance. The most rewarding aspect of it is that you know you're providing a service that protects business owners and the families they employ. You grow to care about your clients; they become your friends. That you can provide such an important service-and do it well-is the greatest aspect about our job."
Being part of the Peoria business landscape is a perfect fit for his company, Wyman said. "We recognize we're living in a great community in a great time. There's so much positive growth-both economically and socially-in this community. It's a great place to live and raise a family, as well as have a business. We're investing in our future and the Peoria area, and we're proud to be a part of it."
Understandably proud of the company's accomplishments, Wyman said he attributes its success to the same things any successful company can. "It's due to our belief in what we do, our great staff, our internal philosophy of integrity first, hard work, and a little luck. Our philosophy-that integrity is the foundation of our success-really is a creed we live by at C.L. Wyman & Associates, Inc. We feel that if we act in a manner of the highest business morals, are honest about what we can and can't do as a business, and own up to our mistakes-which happen, yet are few and far between-then employers throughout the region will want to do business with us. We've found this to be the case." IBI