Southern Maine Retirement Services was started in 2005 by Mark and Sonya Allen as a result of a very personal experience for one of its founders. A former Medicare beneficiary himself, Mark had at a very young age (28) been diagnosed with severe rheumatoid arthritis (RA). This is a painful disease. Within two years he was forced onto disability, experienced a dramatic drop in income, and spent the next year and a half living between his bed and the chair.
Still a young man in his early 30s, he was forced to make a decision. He could live with the pain or die in that chair. He started taking college classes, believing that even though his body was a wreck he could still use his brain. By the time he was eligible for Medicare, his hands had become so deformed he could hardly hold a pencil. His doctor suggested that since he now had insurance (Medicare), they could finally repair some of the damage the RA had done to his hands with joint replacements. It was at this point that Mark learned just how little he knew about Medicare. No one ever told him there was any such thing as a Medicare supplement or of the 20% Part B coinsurance. The bills began to roll in and pile up. The years went by and he finally entered his last semester of college on his way to a bachelor’s degree in business administration. At this point he met a man who worked for an “insurance company” that sold Medicare supplements. They discussed the opportunity and both thought that because of Mark’s personal experience with Medicare and time living on a fixed income, working for such a company would be a perfect fit. Mark was excited to have the opportunity to leave disability and Medicare behind and return to the workforce.
This first job was as a “captive agent”. That meant that he could only sell that company’s insurance plans. This was extremely limiting and he felt that too many clients he met with were not being offered the plans that were right for them. It wasn’t long before he knew that there had to be something better, so he left this captive agent position to work for an “independent agency”.
With this move he would have access to the Medicare products of numerous companies, so he felt he could be more helpful to more people on Medicare. He would finally be able to replace expensive supplements with less expensive ones at the same benefit level, saving his clients’ money. Around this time, his wife Sonya joined the same firm and began her own career as a Medicare Insurance Advisor. As they worked side-by-side they learned more about the industry, but they also discovered that the agency where they were working had an unwritten policy which discouraged helping existing clients save money. They were told “If the price goes up on an existing client’s policy don’t worry about it”. Their focus was directed toward continuing to bring in new business. The other Agency felt that if the price got too high for their clients, they would call. Even though it was an “independent agency” it seemed they still worked for the insurance companies and not the client.
It was at this moment that the mission for what would become Southern Maine Retirement Services became clear. We at SMRS still state this promise at the end of every meeting: “Our promise to you is to keep you on a cost effective Medicare Supplement, Advantage Plan or Prescription Drug Plan at your desired benefit level. We don’t work for the insurance companies, we work for you”.
Mark and Sonya’s early training and experiences in the industry were all about selling insurance and focused on how to get into a prospect’s home, and then how to close the sale. These other agencies used Medicare as a foot in the door to cross-sell as many other insurance products as possible. That premise and way of doing business just didn’t set well. The turnover rate for new agents coming into the business was incredible but the agencies they worked for didn’t care because they made their money off the new agent’s effort then moved on to the next new agent. Nothing mattered except writing the next application. They all preached service, but nobody actually practiced it. Obviously, this was not a recipe for success for either the Medicare client or the agent so Mark and Sonya set out to change that.
Because of Mark’s personal experience as a Medicare beneficiary, they had for several years wanted to create an agency that would be there for people. They wanted to be viewed as a trusted advisor that would be there for their clients for all the years they would be on Medicare. They wanted to start an agency that would answer their client’s questions, help with any bills they didn’t understand, and make sure each had the right insurance for their unique, ever-changing needs.
So it is that in 2005, Southern Maine Retirement Services opened for business with the idea that they are partners in their clients’ retirement. That they get paid, not for selling insurance, but for providing the lifelong service of keeping each beneficiary on the most cost-effective plan for the benefit level they choose. The Medicare insurance market in Maine and New Hampshire is very complicated and dynamic. The sheer number of choices, options and benefits is staggering. Worse yet, many of these plans and options change annually! How can the average person possibly keep up with that? Well, they don’t need to; that is what SMRS was specifically designed to do. They provide a security system if you will, that constantly watches the market, keeps up with the changes to both plans and the personal events of every client, and ensures that every client is offered the latest up-to-date information to make informed decisions.
It is said that “a jack of all trades is a master of none” and SMRS wanted to be the “Masters of Medicare”. To be of the greatest benefit to their clients, they need to be experts in all areas of Medicare and that meant dropping a lot of the other products that most life and health agents sell (hospital indemnity, cancer and annuities) to focus almost exclusively on Medicare insurance products.
People aging into Medicare are inundated with a barrage of offers and options, too often presented by new agents without sufficient knowledge or experience in Medicare. They simply don’t get the appropriate training and they don’t last long enough in the business to get the experience. The SMRS training model for new agents is completely different. They hire their new agents as part-time employees to do administrative and customer service work. Their newest agent (Brittany Rand) learned the world of Medicare by working the administrative end for three years before taking her state life and health exam. Now she is appointed and certified with all the different companies. As a result, any agent you talk with at SMRS will have a vast knowledge of Medicare and be ready to offer unparalleled service.
Sadly, after a courageous fight, Mark lost his battle with cancer in June of 2017. He is deeply missed by all of us. Our agency continues on as he would have wanted, and our mission remains to offer a level of service and expertise that is unmatched anywhere else.