Our VP of Partnerships Zak Pines recently sat down with Yajaira (Yaya) Fernandez, Salesforce Consultant and Business Analyst for Sikich Consulting, as part of our ongoing Partner Interview Series. Zak and Yaya had a far-ranging conversation that focused on the digitization of the insurance vertical, Financial Services Cloud growth, and a career transition to fuel her creative side. Here’s an abridged transcript of the chat.
Background on Sikich & Yaya
Zak: I’ve known Sikich for many years, initially based on your heritage around NetSuite. And then I found out at Midwest Dreamin’ last summer about the emerging focus on Salesforce, by meeting Ginny Ferguson and Tory Shields. Can you share background on Sikich?
Yaya: Sikich is a professional services firm whose offerings span across accounting, advisory, tech, and managed services. Its root is in financial services and accounting.
In October 2019, Sikich purchased NextGen Consulting, which is where I was employed. NextGen was a Salesforce Gold implementation partner, and while they worked in many verticals, their niche was in the financial services space. We became part of the Salesforce practice at Sikich.
Zak: What is your role now at Sikich?
Yaya: I’m a Salesforce Consultant and Business Analyst for Sikich, with a focus on insurance—coming with 19 years of insurance industry experience as a retail agent, underwriter, and also a wholesale broker. My understanding of the insurance industry enables me to get our clients’ needs and help solve their pain points by helping our Salesforce team build technology solutions around those needs.
Zak: Your industry experience is a huge asset. What does your day-to-day look like as a consultant focused on insurance?
Yaya: My typical day starts with two to three cups of coffee! And then I jump right into meetings, usually a lot of requirements gathering sessions. I’m speaking to clients to really understand their processes. After that, I’ll usually do some technical configurations, which revolve around automation and business processes. My configurations also involve third-party softwares, such as Formstack.
Zak: What’s your preferred coffee of choice?
Zak: That’s also one of my favorites. I follow you on Twitter, and you’re a great follow. The first headline on your profile is Boricua.
Yaya: Yes! Boricua is the native name for Puerto Rican. It derives from the indigenous name for the island of Puerto Rico. I am a first generation mainland American on my father’s side and second generation mainland American on my mother’s side. My mother was born in New Jersey, as was I. My father still lives in Puerto Rico, and he’s a Hurricane Maria survivor from one of the areas most ravished by the storm. I’m very proud of my heritage.
Zak: You’re now a three-times-certified Salesforce Consultant. When did you get into Salesforce consulting?
Yaya: A little over a year ago, so I’m relatively new to the tech space. As I mentioned earlier, I was in the insurance industry. It just so happened that my daughter and the daughter of the founder of PepUp Tech—Selina Suarez—went to the same preschool, and our kids were good friends. We didn’t know it until our husbands met at an event and hit it off. Soon after, she and I became friends, and she started telling me about what she does and how she works with Salesforce. She told me that her nonprofit trains people in Salesforce for free in order to bring diversity into the ecosystem. I wasn’t interested at the time, as I had already built a good career and felt well established with a great book of business. I wasn’t trying to start anything new. Eventually, she wore on me though, and I decided to go ahead and take the course. Once I started, I instantly fell in love with the platform. Not long after graduating the course, I resigned my job in insurance and took three to four months off to study Salesforce full time. During that time, I became a Salesforce Certified Administrator and landed the job with NexGen Consultants… and that’s how I got my start.
Zak: Wow that’s amazing. I love these kinds of stories, where Salesforce has opened up new career opportunities for people based on the initiative they take. Would you say this was a true change in career for you?
Yaya: Yes, I always laugh to myself when I think about it because the insurance industry is, well, I would describe it this way: it’s as though the legal services field and financial services field had a baby. I’m a creative person, and that industry is very heavy on rules and regulations. You’re essentially selling contracts. Not much change. I think I was at a point where I needed something that spoke to my creative side. I wanted something that I had a passion for and that was growing and evolving at my pace. When I saw this in Salesforce, I fell in love. It was a huge transition, but luckily, I’m still working within the insurance industry and helping organizations within the financial services field implement Salesforce technology, so the deviation isn’t too far off.
Salesforce Financial Services Cloud & the Insurance Vertical
Zak: Back to Sikich and Salesforce. It sounds like a huge opportunity for Sikich to expand their service offerings into the Salesforce community.
Yaya: Absolutely. The insurance and financial services verticals are a hot topic in Salesforce with the expansions of Financial Services Cloud. We’re hoping to position ourselves as a key partner in that space, as well as a few others.
Zak: The insurance and financial services verticals focus by Salesforce…. can you expand on that?
Yaya: Traditionally, we’ve been implementing standard Force.com or Sales Cloud with either custom solutions or third-party integrations, such as Veruna, for agency management system functionality for our insurance clients. Salesforce didn’t really have a native solution for insurance business needs. Now, Salesforce is tapping into this space by adding some great functionality to Financial Services Cloud (FSC) with objects and features dedicated to insurance customer needs.
Zak: What can you tell me about Financial Services Cloud? What are some key components behind it?
Yaya: FSC has been around for a while and used by many banks and wealth management firms. It’s what we know as standard Salesforce modified with objects and functionality that are industry-specific, like Person Accounts, Households, and Life Events. But recently, they’ve expanded on that for the insurance industry and added things like the Insurance Agent’s Console with Policies, Coverages, and Claim management features.
Zak: What are some trends you’re seeing in the insurance category? Are agencies moving towards more digital tools, and is this a trend you’re seeing in the market?
Yaya: Absolutely. There is a collective shift in the industry to a more customer-centric experience. In the insurance industry, traditionally, technology is just used to manage policies and policy transactions. Over time, I think insiders are gaining a better understanding of how technology can help them better service their customers, and how crucial it is for retention. They’re gravitating more towards systems like Salesforce to give them a better 360-degree view of the customer that they weren’t getting before with traditional agency management systems. Customers are expecting that level of customized service now, versus strictly buying a policy for coverage’s sake. Self-service capabilities for end customers are also really big.
Sikich & Formstack
Zak: Salesforce is a powerful vertical strategy, both for go-to-market and now technology, working for Financial Services Cloud, Health Cloud, Government Cloud, etc. It’s been a great strategy for Salesforce that’s now supported by firms like Sikich. Are you still actively working with Veruna these days?
Yaya: Yes, we certainly do, and that is part of the connection to Formstack. Veruna is an agency management system that we partner with, and it is built on Force.com. It was a Veruna project that surfaced the fact that we needed a form builder that could point to any object within Salesforce, because Force.com does not include Sales/Service Cloud functionality like Leads or Cases—which meant that Web-to-Lead and Web-to-Case functionality were out of the question. Some use cases we had included an endorsement request over the web, requesting a service on an account, or submitting an application to our insurance agencies. That’s where Formstack comes in.
Zak: When did you start working with Formstack?
Yaya: My first experience with Formstack was a few years ago. I was introduced to it by my husband’s partner who works in lead generation. Within that field, Formstack is really well known and a lot of lead generation companies use it to collect their leads in their databases in a clean and efficient way. I built a few forms for him on your standard web form builder.
Later on, when I started working with NextGen, we had the use case where we needed a form builder that pointed to any object, for the reasons I mentioned earlier regarding Salesforce license limitations. I remembered that Formstack for Salesforce was a native application and used Salesforce fields in the form builder with no mapping, and I presented that option to my team. They loved it. We did a demo for a few of our clients who also loved it. It was then that we reached out to partner with you.
Zak: That’s a great story. It’s interesting that it spans over a few years. You said your team loved the product. What did you like about the product once you started working with it?
Yaya: Where do I even start? The fact that the builder is a native Salesforce application and works by drag-and-drop functionality with fields already existing within your Salesforce environment—that’s amazing. It means we don’t have to create a bunch of fields on a form then map to the correct fields within Salesforce. Great functionality.
One of the other things we were blown away with was that we could use our Salesforce lookup fields on forms. Having the functionality to give an end customer the ability to pick their own record within a Salesforce environment quickly and easily, which then leverages any relationships we’ve built within our environment, allows us to deploy powerful functionality easily.
Our insurance clients also really love the pre-filled forms with individual URL links for renewal applications and things of that nature. This saves a lot of time for everyone involved in the process.
Zak: Do you have any other use cases or ideas that you’ve had to continue to leverage the forms product as you go forward?
Yaya: Although I mostly work with insurance agencies, I also work on some implementations for nonprofits. Specifically, I had a nonprofit that was looking for a way for their volunteers to be able to sign up to help with events without using a portal like V4S or Communities. Using Formstack for Salesforce, we were able to provide a way for their volunteers to sign up and simply add themselves to a campaign using the lookup fields on the web form.
Zak: OK—lookup fields again. I’m glad that functionality is helping you.
Zak: Let’s wrap up with the Lightning Round. What are some of your personal interests or hobbies?
Yaya: I mentioned I have a creative side, and I needed a career that spoke to that. I love to bake and decorate cakes. I am a Pinterest mom! I make my own cakes, party decorations, and that sort of thing.
Zak: What kind of cakes?
Yaya: All kinds! I love baking cupcakes and doing fondant work for party cakes—a lot of sugar art.
Zak: Switching gears. Do you have any productivity tips you can share?
Yaya: Definitely lots of coffee! I also try to take short walks every couple of hours just to get outside and get some fresh air. When I get back inside, I can refocus. I think that helps a lot. It’s important to take a breather and come back with a fresh outlook sometimes.
Zak: Do you have a favorite TV show?
Yaya: My guilty pleasure is “90-Day Fiancé.” I love watching that train wreck!
Zak: What’s your go-to lunch during the workday?
Yaya: I’m really basic. Like peanut butter and jelly.
Zak: We have a silly debate at Formstack. Is a hot dog a sandwich?
Yaya: Oh I just had a big argument with my husband the other day about this! It’s totally a sandwich. Anything between two pieces of bread is a sandwich!
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