On any weekday Allie Billows sits in her office at the IU Gateway building at Illinois and 10th streets Downtown. The tower gives her a vantage point high above the city’s streets and the tens of thousands of commuters shuffling by outside. In July, Billows will move into an equally high-up position within the Indianapolis Association of Health Underwriters as she becomes Chapter President. Even before getting there, she sees a problem: “As an organization, we’re losing membership.”
In an industry with an average age of about 55, Billows is young. She’s in her late 20’s and still repaying student loans for a Master’s Degree in Human Nutrition she earned last year. Billows might sound like a cliché topic-du-jour of a Bloomberg or Business Insider story about how millennials live and think about work.
“I knew I wanted to work in healthcare or some health-focused company, particularly in corporate wellness,” she says, adding, “That’s how I got into IU Health Plans.” She started as a Product Manager and today serves as Project Manager for New Group Implementation.
Billows was soon recruited into Health Underwriters by co-workers when she started at IU Health Plans. Current IndyAHU President Rob Strickland was quick to recruit her into the Membership Chair board position two years ago, too.
Without the hindsight – or possibly the baggage – of 30 years of industry experience, Billows sees the world how many young people do: a rough economy that sapped family savings and laid off loyal workers, small brokerages and companies folding into larger conglomerates, and access to so much information it’s overloading.
“Part of the value of Health Underwriters is their ability to explain what carriers, brokers, policies, and laws are doing in a way that’s relevant,” says Billows. “Even in the things that don’t sound beneficial, NAHU can explain the silver lining. Like everyone, I’m just trying to make this crazy world into something a little more comprehensible,” she says.
As she prepares for her role as President she notes, “There’s an older generation that values social networking. And millennials feel social networking is just online networking. There’s this barrier IndyAHU has in getting young people in, figuring out what they can’t get online, and telling others what’s in it for them.”
“In this job market with unemployment so low, companies are fighting for the best employees. But companies are still selective. It’s a lot about who you know,” says Billows. For many young people who network passively with online social media, the networks of truly knowing people are limited. “Many of the older members in IndyAHU know everybody. People value recommendations regardless of age, and their recommendations carry a lot of weight when you’re looking for a job,” she says. “It’s the best advantage someone looking to advance their career has. If there’s a company you want to get into, like IU Health Plans, Anthem, or any other major players, you can get in through Health Underwriters.”
Billows has other ideas and plans for her term as President. “I want to see some new Continuing Education topics that we can’t get online or elsewhere,” she says. She’s currently preparing her own CE on Integrated Healthcare Models, a rare but growing niche across the country.
She also wants to see a softening of the politically-charged nature of meetings. “We have to be bipartisan. We’re cutting off our right arm by making some political views so obvious. We push people away by doing that,” she says.
Billows is in awe of faithful long-term members who have paid their dues with aplomb for longer than she’s been alive. “There’s nothing wrong with our current membership. But we have a huge challenge on our hands. Every chapter has this same complaint about finding new members. I get it. I’m not loyal to any brand or company or organization, either,” she says. But now she’s tasked with bridging the gap. Like many millennials who see companies and organizations take a pass on being loyal to workers like days gone by, Billows sees a benefit in a new kind of member.
“Even if it’s a revolving door of members at meetings that rotate on a schedule” – unlike the current practice of always meeting in the mornings once a month – “I think there’s some benefit in having more people who get involved at their own speed and schedule”, she says.