The four Wisconsin offices of Strategic Employee Benefit Services (SEBS), an employee health benefit marketing program of the Northwestern Mutual Financial Network, have merged into one entity named SEBS Wisconsin LLC.
SEBS is a national company with operations in 42 states. It provides group medical, disability, life, dental and related insurance and employee products through Northwestern Mutual representative offices.
“Each office is a separate entity, but each is contracted and tied to Northwestern Mutual through a network office,” said Christy Schwan, an employee benefit specialist with the Brookfield office and one of five directors of the new statewide entity.
The offices that have merged are located in Milwaukee, Brookfield, Appleton and Fond du Lac. The merger did not involve any financial transactions, and each office has retained all of its employees. SEBS’ Wisconsin offices have combined, Schwan said, to give each a larger footprint and to improve service to customers.
“From a client perspective, it creates for us a bigger footprint and improves our collective status with the insurance carriers. It means we have a stronger and larger presence with them,” Schwan said.
The merged entity is now working to centralize certain back-office functions, which will improve delivery of services and allow each individual office to focus on its strengths, said Lynn Steinle, another employee benefit specialist with the Brookfield office.
“We have always been friendly competitors (with the other Wisconsin offices) and we will use this opportunity to learn from each others’ best practices,” she said.
SEBS Wisconsin now has a total of 40 employees. The Milwaukee office has 22 workers, Brookfield has 10, and the Appleton and Oshkosh locations have four employees each.
The Appleton office was chosen to host the fist consolidated function of the merged entities. In August, it began processing all of the commission payments and financial obligations for the statewide entity. SEBS Wisconsin chose the Appleton office for that function because of one employee based there, Steinle said.
“Our merged databases needed a lot of cleanup and in Appleton, we had the best person,” she said. “We all now jointly pay for her services. That’s been our first economy of scale.”
Schwan acted as project manager in the merger and has helped steer the integration process, Steinle said.
“She kept it on track. Without her, it would have never occurred,” she said.
The merger was initiated in early 2008 by Northwestern Mutual executives, who believed that SEBS could become more efficient by combining all of its operations in each state it is active within, Schwan said.
“This will allow us to lure more top-notch employees (away from competitors),” she said. “And we can institute benchmarking, analytical tools and other resources (in all four offices) so that we can do a more thorough job.”
The merger was finalized in May. Because of how smoothly the merger has gone, the SEBS corporate office may begin encouraging similar mergers between offices in other stages, Schwan said.
The Brookfield office has recently hired two new employees to prepare for the growth that it expects to come from the merger.
“We’re part of ‘The Quiet Company’ and we’ve never advertised. Most of our business has come to us from referrals,” Schwan said. “With the merger you will start to see advertising from us. That’s one of the things that all of us wanted.”