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Joe Guzman is a co-founder of Indianapolis-based Ascend USA, the new trade adopted after Guzman merged his benefits brokerage, Benefits Strategies Inc., with benefits business Steven Goodin. The eight-person firm expects to hire as many 15 new employees in the next year. Those workers will help Ascend diversify from health benefits into brokering commercial insurance products, such as property-casualty, worker’s comp and general liability, as well as to offer a new cost-analytics service to help with purchasing efficiencies.

IBJ: A lot of brokers are getting out of the business, selling their brokerages to larger outfits. Instead, you’re diversifying. Why?

A: Being bought out has never held any appeal for us because of the TLC we give our clients. I’m not willing to put my clients at risk. I know many other folks who have sold out and I’ve heard first hand the tales of what has happened.  … The [new] lines complement each other. We’re dealing with the same decision makers [as with health insurance] in most organizations. To that end, it seemed like a natural progression for us. We’re not having to develop a new relationship. And our mission on the commercial side is the same as it has been: reduce administrative drag.

IBJ: How much did the new health law impact your decision?
A: Health care reform has had no impact whatsoever in the strategic direction we’re now taking. [But] as the intricacies of health care reform begin to roll themselves out over the next several years, I think there’s going to be a lot of questions, and yes, a growing need for independent representation and strategic planning. I’m bullish about it.

IBJ: Are you making these changes in response to or anticipation of changes in how health insurers pay brokers?

A: Do I think that there is going to be some margin trimmed wherever possible? Yeah. This area is going to be under not just continued scrutiny, but increasing scrutiny. But I’m not concerned about what happens to the remuneration basis as it concerns our role. I’m much more concerned with being well positioned on an expanded scope to bring value to our clients.

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