Felipe Barganier, the owner of GAB International LLC, is a 2017 BenefitsPRO Magazine National Award finalist and winner of the 2016 GMBA Insurance Industry of the Year award. An Atlanta native, Barganier is a University of Rochester graduate and father of five. A believer in God and strong relationships, in this interview he talks about employee benefits insurance, the importance of relationships and more.
Tell us about GAB.
GAB International LLC, we’re a full-service risk management employee benefits firm. I started the company in ’03, but we officially got our LLC in 2011. I named the company after my daughter, Gabriel Angelee Barganier, and I named it after her so she could have a sense of pride. At that time, I was going through a divorce, she was only 1 year old, and I wanted her to know that daddy was always thinking of her. But, our specialty is employee benefits with a focus on government entities, physicians and attorney groups. We do a lot of nonprofit business too but our largest client is the Georgia Department of Corrections. We’ve been doing their supplemental insurance benefits since 2003.
Okay, so I read that you were a financial analyst first, what made you want to get into insurance employee benefits?
So, I kind of fell into it. I started with a company out in Marietta, [Georgia], where I got my Series 7 and Series 66 license. Those are your security licenses which allow you to trade mutual funds and invests people’s money in the stock market. I left there and became a financial planner. I did that for a while and then a friend of mine needed help enrolling with the city schools of Decatur in their employee benefits. Once I did that, it allowed me to see another side of the industry that a lot of times our community is excluded from. The typical demographic of the employee benefits industry is a 59-year-old Caucasian male. Not a lot of people know about it, including people in the insurance industry. By the grace of God, I was able to find my niche with my first client being the state prison system.
What has been the greatest lesson that you’ve learned along the way?
The value of relationships. Relationships are gold in this industry and I would say any other business. Nobody’s really concerned about how knowledgeable you are or how intelligent you are if you don’t have a passion for people. My passion for what I do is more of a ministry at this point. So as long as you take care of your client, they’ll take care of you. That’s been one of my biggest lessons is to make sure that we don’t focus on money, we focus on people. If we can make a person’s life better and protect their families, we’ve done our job and the rest will take care of itself.
Being a financial adviser at heart, what’s your take on the Bitcoin craze?
Well, it’s kind of like a double-edged sword. It’s a highly speculative currency and a lot of people have made a lot of money, but a lot of people lose a lot of money. There’s substantial risk associated with anything that’s new like that and I’ve advised some people that it wouldn’t be a bad idea to have it in your portfolio but don’t just go all in. You treat it like you would treat any other investment, put a little bit in but make sure that you’re diversifying with mutual funds, bonds and stocks. That way you’re not susceptible to losing everything you have by making such a risky investment because it’s too new. Of course, a lot of people are willing to take that risk until that risk is biting them in the butt.
Being a Black business owner in your industry, how has that affected your journey as an entrepreneur? Especially being a Black male, are there any advantages or disadvantages?
One thing I can definitely say is that it’s caused me to make sure that I dot all my I’s and cross all my T’s as it relates to my peers. In doing that it’s taught me, again, the value of relationships. So on one hand, being African American in this space, you know you always have to come to the table with your A-game. It’s allowed us to capitalize on our uniqueness of being African American males in an industry where if you’re going to a conference or you meet someone a lot of times, it’s the first time they’ve met someone [who] looks like them. We typically are in the decision-making roles of those cities — Atlanta, Houston or Chicago, for example — but unfortunately, in this industry, there aren’t a lot of African Americans [with] the type of client base that we have.
You’re a family man and a community man, do you have any initiatives or scholarships to get more African-Americans in your industry?
We do utilize interns. We’ve been approached about starting a risk management program for HBCUs. So we’re becoming more engaged with the HBCU’s here, locally, and nationally. Also, being a member of 100 Black Men, when we have our mentoring sessions, I make sure to talk to the kids regarding what it is that I do. It is kind of a niche industry and it’s not sexy or anything like that, but you can make a lot of money doing it like my firm has. So, in doing that it’s allowing those males to understand there are other avenues of reaching success other than becoming an athlete, doctor or entertainer.
For someone that may be interested in that career path, what are three tools they will need to be successful in this industry?
This is not an industry that you will get in and start making $100K the first year. So you have the mindset of a business owner. Which means that you’ll have to sacrifice a lot on the front end to reap even greater rewards on the back end. Typically, I tell our new reps that’s a 3-5 year commitment. Be a student of the business because our industry changes all the time. It’s important to read, stay abreast of current events and changes in the industry.