Vinny Catalano - VP of Employee Benefits at Lockton

Vinny Catalano joins The Challenger Podcast for a fascinating conversation about his super powers in the industry, how he thinks about employee satisfaction during Covid, and some of his career highlights. Vinny is the Senior Vice President of Employee Benefits at Lockton – the largest privately held insurance broker in the world. I hope you enjoy!

Brennie: 

So we were just talking about what your specific superpower is in the industry - what does it mean to have a superpower? And when did you start thinking about a superpower and how you got yours?


Vinny:

When you think about it, you know, it's just one of those things that evolves over time and people think “I gotta hone this skill or hone that skill or find this or that.” And I think with me, it just happened kind of organically. My name is Vinny Catalano, I'm an employee benefits consultant with Lockton and I'm out of Northern California. But I was at an insurance event a couple of years ago in Southern California and a senior leader of a major insurer in California came up to me and said “what’s your super power?”


I was just giving you the example of an employee working for one of my clients. I get an email from the HR leader on Sunday night and the employee was severely injured in Mexico, potentially with a broken back. What are we going to do with this guy? How do we engage with their insurer to help get them back to us in a proper care, you know?

I live for helping people in complex situations. And so long story short, within 12 hours the company was engaged with the care team in Mexico. That person's going to get back to the U S and they're going to be well taken care of. And that's because myself and my team within Lockton was able to jump in with the relationship I had with the insurer to help fix this guy's problem. And that's the stuff I live for in this business. 


Brennie:

Is it very often that you find yourself in these super nuanced situations where it's really only you or one or two other people who can pull the strings to make it happen?

Vinny:

Back in the day, you know, a broker or consultant would sit down with a client. And the main part of the conversation was talking about rates and plans but now we're talking about employee engagement, we're talking about communications, we're talking about return to work. We're talking about wellbeing in all its forms. Ror their employees we’re talking about financial wellness. And that’s another superpower - working with clients to make them better off.


Brennie:

Right, help them think about things differently. And in turn that helps their employees in ways that they probably have never even expected.


Vinny:

Exactly.


Brennie:

What are the benefits that you’re most excited about in the covid world?


Vinny:

One is wellbeing and what that means to an enterprise and an employer. And that is a huge challenge for any organization. The second thing is “how do organizations use data to improve what they're doing?”. These are both parts of the trend I’m seeing.


Brennie:

It seems smart data is becoming increasingly important and maybe that's just a part of the trend. 


Vinny:

Well, it really is. You know, if there's ever been the year that HR has been forced to evolve, it's 2020. During COVID, they're evolving while they're working from home. Also, there's social equity, the black lives matter movement, everything that they have to now be responsible for internally. And now we've layered these three very thick pieces of layer cake on top of an already thick layer cake of, you know, compliance and recruitment and retention and benefits and any number of challenges. And so, HR, I salute you. You are the most overworked, underpaid folks in the biz and this year you are rising to the occasion. 


Brennie:

When I talked to HR managers or CHROs, they are so in tune with their employees and they know every initiative that they have going on and how it's going to impact the organization. 


Vinny:

I’m speaking at the California Chamber of Commerce this Friday and the topic is how we get HR to the table with C suite decision makers. In certain large organizations, that role is typically held by the chief human resources officer. So there is a C in front, but in many organizations, especially in the mid-market and smaller, it's not like that. And so I think the key challenge is how we can effectively get HR to the table. 


And then my session is also about finance of health plans. Most HR people aren't well trained formally in how to talk benefits and speak to their CFO. So they absorb information from their broker but have trouble conveying it to their CFO. So I think it's important for HR people to have the skills to be able to talk to the financial people in their organization.


Brennie:

I can see how there would be loss between an HR lead and the C suite they’re meant to communicate with.


Vinny:

There's definitely some loss in the conversation. I always joke - HR, people are from Venus and CFOs are from Mars. I've watched these conversations in conference rooms where they are looking at opposite sides of the same problem. And sometimes they're just talking past each other where the HR folks are empathetic and interested in the employee experience whereas the CFO is more interested in the financial side of the equation. 


Brennie:

It'd be good to hit on this because financial wellness is what we focus on at Challenger. I'd love to hear your thoughts on financial wellness as well as any initiatives you’re excited about. It'd be great to hear your take.


Vinny:

It's a huge problem. I mean, how many people who have lost their jobs and are now not getting a government assistance check and have no safety net like extra money in the bank. They haven't planned for three months or six months worth of expenses. The high percentage of people who don't have 400 bucks for an unexpected expense.That's horrific. I think organizations struggle with the notion of financial wellness [for their employees]. The goal used to be, “how do we give people a path to retirement?” But now it's not even retirement. It's “how do I give people a path to next week?” 

And as you and I touched on earlier, most people aren’t learning personal finance skills in high school and college so they need to learn it on the fly. And I think that's what businesses are realizing. We know there’s absenteeism when people aren't showing up and there's presenteeism when the lights are on but nobody's home. People come to work and they're not being a productive employee. These folks often have active health issues or active financial trouble. But, um, the financial side of that is a huge challenge. I don't know that anybody in the marketplace is doing anything that innovative. 


Brennie:

That's really the role that we're trying to fill of an innovative tool that can help employees in a substantive way. Having a call line available is fine, and having a seminar is fine, but realistically you can just bake all of those things into a software product. And if that software product is also the source of funds, you can help people budget and save too. 


Vinny:

You and I are two different generations. People in the millennial and gen Z generations have a different lens from mine. You know how people who are in their twenties and thirtieswere raised in the financial crisis. And I see a high level of interest in younger people in saving money and planning for their future and buying a home. There is also the trend of young people leaving major cities for cheaper rents and the opportunity to buy a home.


Brennie:

This is another very noteworthy trend - people are leaving cities. The Covid world has changed many things. 


Vinny:

Yeah. We just have to accept it. The way I look at it is I'm of an age where I've lived through a lot of presidential elections and hopefully I'll live through a whole bunch more. Every presidential election has been, you know, the most important election of a lifetime. And everybody, at the end of the day, you know, live your life, do your best.


Brennie:

Exactly. Vinny thank you again for joining. I appreciate you.


Vinny:

And thank you very much for the opportunity to speak with you and your audience. We'll stay in touch.

 

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