Video Interview: Why Insurance is Essential for Yoga Professionals

• 3 May 2021

The Interview

Joe Fagan of beYogi talks to CEO, Chinwe Onyeagoro, about why insurance is important for solopreneurs and small businesses, including the yoga community.
 

We’re going to jump right in. Joe, we usually start these conversations very personal, very intimate. Let’s give folks a sense of who you are. How did you get on the entrepreneurial path and what is your personal yoga story?

Well, thank you for asking. It’s funny. I have a very different journey than a lot of people who found yoga. Interestingly enough, I found it through the relationship I have in business actually. I’ve been in sales and marketing and run a few businesses over the course of my career. Then really it was within the last 10 years, I jumped into the health and wellness space. I started with this wonderful company that I work for now. They brought me in as they were developing this insurance program for health and wellness practitioners. We started in the massage space because traditionally our company was a publishing firm. We own Massage Magazine. We own Chiropractic Economics. So we were in the health and wellness space, but much more on the publishing side. Then in 2008 & 2009 print became a tough business to be in. A lot of businesses were shifting their strategy to electronic media.

You’re kidding. What type of yoga do you do?

Well, it’s really all kinds. If I’m being candid, I’ve only done a handful of live classes. I did a hot yoga class a long time ago. I actually have been, especially since the pandemic, I’ve been following different people who are hosting their platforms online and trying out different things. Again, probably not a normal journey if somebody who’s into yoga. I’ve really touched and tried a few different kinds. I don’t know exactly what my next move will be. I don’t know which one is the right one for me to really continue my journey on, but I’m learning as I go.

That’s awesome. It seems like a bit of a tangential route to go from publishing to insurance. What was the natural connection between those two or was it just serendipitous?

Well, it’s funny you asked that because what a completely different business model, right? To go from a publishing firm to a 180 degree flip over to insurance. Really, in the publishing space, being the proprietor of Massage Magazine, we were just so dialed into the market. We found through that relationship, through having that magazine, that there was a very underserved market offering liability insurance directly to health and wellness practitioners. Really what fueled it, what we found is that we could really change the way it was all done. So back many, many moons ago, if you wanted to buy liability insurance as a massage professional, as a yoga instructor, you’d have to go to a local agent, you’d have to fill out a lengthy paper application. He would spend a couple of weeks getting it underwritten, charge you several hundred dollars, and then you’d be covered. Two things:

Number one, at that time that we were entering the market, a lot of the major franchises in the massage space were starting to require that their therapist carry liability insurance. So we knew that, number one, there was an underserved market and it was growing. Number two, it was really our technology that fueled it all. So before that lengthy process, as I mentioned, we converted the entire process to something almost like going to Amazon today and buying a widget. It takes literally less than three and a half minutes. You don’t have to talk to a human. You can get covered with millions of dollars worth of coverage. It’s all less than $200 for the entire year.

Of course yoga much like massage, we started to see the trend and started to either have studios that would require their yoga instructors to carry liability insurance or just more yoga instructors became informed over time that, “Hey, this is probably a good idea. What we’re doing while training is great and we’re not seeing many hurt people, but there is the risk of it.” So really, there’s been somewhat of an evolution over time that more and more and more yoga instructors understand that they need it and they’ve been buying it. So that the timing, the technology, and really … and even more importantly, our passion to find partnerships with wonderful companies like PocketSuite, and then finding creative ways where we can amplify each other’s message, all of those things combined really helped to fuel our success and brought us to where we are today.

It’s interesting, I don’t hear chatter among yoga instructors about insurance. The first thing I hear from estheticians is about liability insurance. With Massage therapists, I do hear it as well. Certainly contractors are onboard with the need for insurance. There’s a whole slew of solopreneurs that are super hip to the need for insurance, but it’s not super prevalent among yoga instructors. Are you seeing that as well or are you starting to see some change in that area?

Well, you nailed it. It is far and away more common in the markets that you mentioned. In the aesthetic space, in the health and wellness and the spa space, it’s become not only understood. It’s become required in many cases, if you’re going to go work for a salon or spa or go work for a massage franchise. You’re right, it’s very, very different in the yoga space. We’re seeing similar things occur in the yoga spaces as we saw occur in the massage industry, as well as occurred in the aesthetic space maybe 10, 12 years ago. More and more companies were either requiring it and it just became something that even independents were deciding on their own. “Oh, I need to do this.” Not to mention, if you get to the level where you’re able to start your own business and rent your own space, now to rent that space, the landlord’s probably going to require you to carry insurance.

Interesting, so landlords require it now, too?

We made certain that the program that we offer would fill, in almost every case, all of those requirements that a landlord would require or an employer would require. So we made sure we built all those components into our program. That way, we’re a one-stop shop for anybody who might need it.

I’ve done yoga. I like Bikram. I haven’t had any injuries in the past from a yoga perspective. When I had my first child, I spent a lot of time doing yoga. I was trying to keep limber and release pain. I’m not as familiar with the injuries that folks are exposed to in doing yoga. I’ve heard that there are some. Can you share a little bit about the common injuries that folks might get doing yoga? Also, what is the exposure for a yoga instructor who has a client that has been injured?

Absolutely, we know what yoga is and certainly when you’re stretching your body like that, certain things can happen. I will say very candidly and I think this is a good thing. Two of the main components of our coverage are professional liability and general liability. Professional liability is what they call light malpractice insurance. If a yoga instructor is giving instruction and either through their negligence or something they said wrong causes an injury, that would be covered under professional liability.

The other kind is general liability. That’s what most people call slip and fall insurance. It’s more of a freak accident. So if there’s water on the floor, the person falls, hits their head, or something like that occurs, that’s covered under general.

Our insurance program has other components, but just to start with those two. So professional liability is a yoga instructor through their instruction hurts somebody. We get a lot more claims for general liability than we do professional liability. To me that tells a good story, because yoga instructors, they’re trained well. They’re not teaching things that are potentially hurting their students, but it’s very difficult to foresee that freak accident. The leak on the ceiling that causes water to drip on the floor that causes somebody to slip and hit their head. That is a lot more common in our industry. So in a way, I find comfort in the fact that it’s not the training. It’s not the instructions. It’s the freak accident.

But you’re right. Nine times out of 10, people will buy our insurance and they’ll never use it. And that’s a good thing. Insurance is a strange thing to buy because you’re buying something that you hope you never use. Because of that very thing, we’ve really evolved our program to be something that we call a business in a box. So yes, the insurance was, and really is, and always will be probably the main component of what we offer. But we have gone to great lengths to build a tremendous amount of value into our program. That way, for our customers who buy our program year after year, because they need it, even though they may never use the insurance, they get a tremendous amount of value out of the other components that come with it.

For instance, day to day, my role every day is finding creative companies like yours and negotiating discounts that our customers can use. So that’s one thing. So our program has a slew of discounts related to yoga instructors, whether it be mats or different advanced trainings, software, booking software, streaming software, all of those things so there’s value there. Our program also comes with access to heavily discounted group rates like dental insurance, vision insurance, telemedicine, a concierge service that will help anybody find low cost health insurance options. That’s become important because most people in our industry, as we know, they’re independent contractors or they may have a very difficult time finding those discounted insurance programs that usually come with working for a major employer.

That’s only one component of it. Additional components are, we have all of the tools and resources yoga instructors might need to help grow their business. It’s social marketing tips and information, teaching them how to become an LLC, do your taxes, how to market your program. Ours comes with a free website. We really try to give all of the tools a yoga instructor would need to build and succeed in business because they’re buying insurance and hope they never use it. So here’s a whole slew of other things that come with the program so you can use it, in hopes you never have to use the one that you don’t want to.

You used my favorite term “business in a box”. PocketSuite is always talking about having it all in one place, get all the resources together, so you’re not spending time looking every which way for what you need. You’re spending time with your clients and really doing what you love. So I appreciate that we share those values. With COVID, more and more folks are offering yoga instruction online, has the liability increased on the professional side because you now can’t fully see what someone’s form looks like when they’re doing it from home? You can’t necessarily see every angle and whether or not they might be at risk of twisting something in the wrong way. Or has the transition online not necessarily driven a spike on the professional liability side?

That’s a very interesting question. Honestly, I’d really like to go look into what it’s looked like over the last year, in terms of the difference in the amount of claims that have come in. If I’m being candid, I don’t know. If there was a tremendous amount of difference, I would know. Now, here is something that has happened to our insurance since the pandemic started. We always covered live face-to-face training, right? We also always covered live online training. So in some ways we were ahead of the game.

As soon as the pandemic hit, our underwriters allowed us to immediately begin offering at no additional cost, coverage also for prerecorded videos and without any restrictions. A lot of other insurance companies will have a particular restriction. Either you have to use a certain software or a privatized link. We don’t have any of those restrictions. For the foreseeable future, there will never be. It’s going to stay and there will be no cost to it. A lot of companies who built their business or during the pandemic pivoted their business and added this new revenue model of online training. Our program covers all of that.

It doesn’t appear that that has increased a lot of claims in my mind, because I know it would have been brought to my attention. I would have seen it. Now, let me go back and research and get some real numbers and find out. I’ll follow up with you about that. But our program’s gotten better and covers more people and it doesn’t appear that there’s been a lot more risk or a lot more loss associated with this. That’s a good thing.

That’s awesome. Can I just say Joe, that you don’t seem like the typical insurance guy and that’s awesome. You’re using lingua franca. You really understand the business model and the operational issues that Pros face. And you really just want to see them grow and thrive. It’s doesn’t feel like a transactional energy. I really appreciate that. I know our Pros will too.

Well, thank you.

So what do you say to the skeptics who are listening in and saying, “Ah, insurance, I don’t need it. I’ve got waivers. People sign right from the beginning. They basically hold me harmless for any injury that they may experience whether I’m overseeing their instruction directly or whether they’re trying out and doing routines at home. I’m covered because I’ve got the contracts in place. And my clients have clear expectations as to what happens if something unfortunate goes down.” What do you say to those folks?

Well, I’m one of you. I am the same. I am a skeptic. I’m going to be completely honest. That’s why I say you’re buying a product you hope you never use. I’m in the exact same boat. I feel the same way as everybody in there who is skeptical about insurance. I happen to have been fortunate enough to have been in this industry for long enough now that I get to see what can happen if somebody doesn’t have insurance. I don’t even like this side of the business, because I don’t like the idea of selling a product based on fear. But every day I see somebody whose career or life would have been completely altered or lost had they not had insurance. Five figure claims coming in for somebody who just started their business. Six figure claims who come from folks who have been in the industry for 10…20 years. Claims that come in from somebody you have been working with for 30 years and you thought they were your best friend, but then they got hurt and they now see a five or six figure opportunity. Now guess what? That friendship is severed.

Again, it’s an ugly side of things. We are a litigious society. I don’t wish that on anybody, but I highly recommend anybody and everybody who’s in anything that has some risk of this nature to just simply protect themselves. It doesn’t cost a lot of money. To address the waivers and disclaimers thing, by the way, I highly recommend anybody who has or anybody who gives instruction particularly online, always have a waiver and/or disclaimer that people sign. They need to know and having a signature to understand what they’re doing, what risks are associated with what they’re doing, what the outcomes of those risks are, and then to release you of liability. However, the one thing I’ll say, because a lot of people look at waivers and assume potentially a waiver could replace the need for insurance. I know this is going to sound somewhat cliche, but the way I look at it is the waiver is like the mask and insurance is like the vaccination. So a waiver is a great thing that could potentially limit the ability for somebody to file a claim.

A waiver might stop nine out of 10 things happening, but I’ll tell you what, if there’s real negligence, a waiver is going to be thrown out of the window immediately in a court session. Then you’re going to need insurance to cover the legal fees and the costs associated with everything else that occurs. Again, I don’t like selling on fear, but I just happen to be in the industry. I happen to see it all the time. So proceeding with caution would be my best advice for a skeptic. Don’t ever stop being skeptical, question everything I do too. But there’s real risk associated with what we’re doing and you want it there when you need it.

So what I’m translating is that if you have a waiver and/or a liability agreement with your client, often times, clients won’t even file a claim because they’ll say, “You know what? I’ll take ownership of this. It’s not that bad of an issue. I’m not going to pursue it any further.” But the one out of 10 that does decide to pursue it further, could really clean you out.

I don’t know if they’re nine out of 10, eight out of 10, five out of 10. But yes, in a general sense, waivers are going to stop some things from occurring, but they certainly don’t stop them all and that’s where insurance comes in when you need it. That’s another thing. People are skeptical about insurance because again, you hope you never use it. Then when you do need it, you think that the insurance company is going to come in and try to fight you at the very end when you really need them on whether or not they’re going to be involved. It was a big decision when we started and a continuing decision as we continue our relationship with our underwriter, we want to be known as the company that pays all the claims. So we made sure that the underwriters that we use were also the company that was known to pay all the claims. And we have.

A claim comes in, as long as there’s nothing illegal being done, nobody lied on their insurance, as long as it falls within the scope, our program is there when you need it. It is there for the coverage when you need it. I wouldn’t be in the industry, if it didn’t operate this way. I’m not going to sell a product that I don’t believe in. And this one, I believe in it because I see it working daily.

Well, I definitely have seen those whistleblower movies where you see the insurance adjuster and their job is to find every which way not to honor the claim. That’s just so heartbreaking particularly for folks who have paid for years without any need. Just putting a finer point on that. Can you tell us your Geico story? I use Geico and in the very rare event when I’ve had issues with my car, the Geico experience is just amazing. Everything is on your phone. You can submit the claim in like a couple of minutes. They send a mobile detailer or mobile mechanic to come fix it while it’s in my garage. We don’t even have to leave the house. Then we get confirmation that Geico’s covered the full bill. It’s like, “Oh man.” I didn’t feel not even a single drop of pain in that situation. Do you have a Geico model in terms of how you shield folks from the unpleasantness of a claim being filed at all?

Sure. Well, Geico is a phenomenal company too, and obviously, auto claims, things like that have become so normalized in our day to day that they’ve really come up with a process that I think that we could try to emulate. It’s different in liability. There’s more questions to be asked. There is more of an investigation that would take place. It’s not for the insurance company to not pay the claim to the claimant, but it’s to understand where the risk originally came from. That way they can pay the claim to the claimant and then potentially recoup some of that money on the back end.

So for instance, that leak we’re talking about. So if that leak comes in, a claim is filed. Our insurance company’s going to come in, they’re going to satisfy the claim. Then they’re going to potentially look at the insurance that was maybe on the building itself that’s maybe the liability of the business owner. They’re going to look at that and say, “Hey, well, you guys may have some cost here too, because there’s some negligence. So we’re going to split some of this on the back end.” So all of that is done outside of the claimant’s experience. So the claimant has a claim. Our customer needs to file a claim. They file a claim. They make a phone call, which by the way, we have a 24 hours a day, seven days a week claim line that they can use to reach a human being. They file that claim.

Then from that point forward, there is somebody assigned to it that holds their hand, walks them through it, gathers all the information and then an investigation on the back end does occur because they have to, it’s part of the business. There has to be an investigation for something to be paid out. Then, typically the claim is filed and then the insurance company will go on the back end and find out if there’s any way to recoup at least some of the losses through various entities that might be involved in it. I’m a couple of steps removed from the claims process. That’s probably a good thing. There’s different people that are experts in different pieces of the industry. But in my experience, the feedback I’ve gotten from folks that have gone through the program has been phenomenal. You see all sides of it. It’s the toughest time of our customer’s journey when they have to file a claim because something bad has occurred. So to me, it’s the time where we need to put on our best bedside manner and our kindest voice and walk them through the process the best way we can. From what I’ve seen, it’s been a good process for our customers. At least that’s the feedback we’ve received.

What’s the most heartwarming story that you’ve ever had or one of the top three stories that you’ve had that are like, “Yeah, this is why I do what I do.”

Well, I’ll tell you. Boy, I don’t know if heartwarming is the right way to put this, but just to reference back to what I had mentioned. So we also provide insurance in the beauty space. We cover beauty professionals, cosmetologists. So this was somebody who was in one of our client’s chair. They’re in their client’s chair, they cut their hair for over 30 years. They were close. They went out to dinner. They had a social group together. They were legitimately close friends. So there was a leak in the building. It was a leak on one of their machines that caused the client to fall, slip, and hurt their back. Nothing happened directly after the fall. The person actually came back in two or three more times to get haircuts after that occurred.

It was three to six months later, a claim was filed, and that hairstylist was sued for I think it was $90,000. They were at risk of losing their entire career, losing everything, going bankrupt. Our insurance covered it. They were able to maintain their license, maintain their business. I don’t know if heartwarming is the right word for that, but it does make me realize that I’m doing something good here. What we do is needed. I don’t like that story, Chinwe, but I’m glad you asked about it, because it does fuel me.

It’s an awesome story to see that you covered it all. That’s a whole life that you kept in motion. Did the relationship survive with the client and the hairstylist?

You know what? I don’t think so. I don’t think it has. It’s funny. They told me the story. This was about six months ago and they told me that story. I need to follow up to find out, but candidly, I do not think that their friendship was maintained.

Wow, you salvaged as much as you could. So that’s great. Final question. What are two to three housekeeping tips that every yoga professional should keep in mind to reduce down to as close to zero as possible the risk of having a claim filed against them, either on the professional or the general liability side?

Yeah, that’s a great question. I am about to speak a little bit of insurance talk here, but I’m going to explain it as best I can. I appreciate the compliment that you said I don’t sound like an insurance guy. I take that. Thank you for saying that, because I’m not, honestly. I happen to be a business development person who sells an insurance product, and we did get acquired by Arthur J. Gallagher, a very large insurance broker. 

So one of the things that’s very important to look for is whether a policy is an occurrence form or claims made. Those are two different kinds. One’s called claims made, one’s called occurrence form. Our program and the ones we recommend are the occurrence form type of policy. That’s what our program is. Here’s the difference: a claims made program will only cover claims filed within the policy period. An occurrence form program will cover claims that happened during the policy period, but were filed after. I’ll explain what that means.

So a policy period is one year. So let’s say they bought it on April 1st of 2020 and it lapsed April 1st of 2021. Then an injury occurs during that policy period; let’s say it was in December of 2020. So that happened. The policy period was from April 2020 to April 2021 and the injury occurred in December. If that policy was claims made and they tried to file the claim or if a claim was filed in May, which by the way happens, if a claim was filed in May, a claims made policy would not cover it. Now our program would cover it. Doesn’t matter if you file it a year later, two years later, whatever it might be. It doesn’t feel like that should be that important. Because most claims are filed within the policy period, aren’t they?.

You’re right, most work that way. But here’s where it becomes important. In 2017, we did an audit and of all the claims that we paid, 21% of the claims would not have been paid by a claims-made policy. Here’s an even bigger number, 36% of the money we paid out that year would not have been paid by a claims-made policy. There’s a few out there that offer claims made policies and people don’t even really realize that. They don’t realize they’re at risk. 

That’s a nuance I wouldn’t know to even look for. That’s the definition of fine print.

It allows the company to drive higher profit margins. We elected to not have higher profit margins, but to have a stronger insurance plan. So I highly recommend if you’re buying insurance, ask them if they are claims made or occurrence form, and then make a wise decision based on that information. Two other components: I would ask if they cover face-to-face, if they cover live online and if they cover of course, pre-recorded videos because that has become so meaningful. I know we’re coming out of the pandemic, but at the end of the day, I don’t think we’re coming out of this new business model, because people have found ways to not only maintain their revenue, but in some cases grow their revenue by offering their classes pre-recorded online.

Then secondly, in our industry, there’s a ton of crossover. There’s a lot of people that may do yoga today, tomorrow, they may become certified. They may do some massage or some ancillary stuff. Ask what other programs are covered under your current insurance. Because we find that, especially a lot of people in our industry, they may do two or three different disciplines. You just want to ask all the questions to make sure, number one, everything that you’re doing is covered. So if you’re doing Hatha yoga, if you’re doing Kundalini, ask to make sure it’s covered. You want to be absolutely clear.

And then if you have your eyeballs on anything else, ancillary within the health and wellness space, ask if those components are covered too. We happen to have a built in program that is one policy that covers all. So if you’re a yoga instructor, a massage therapist, even a beauty professional, it would cover all of those practices under the one policy. That’s become very meaningful to a lot of our customers because there’s a high percentage of them that have two or three things that they do.

Makes sense. So we’re super excited to be partnered with you at PocketSuite. For folks that are listening in and you’re running a yoga shop or have a studio, definitely reach out to beYogi. They can be a huge resource for insurance and beyond. We think they have a really quality product that’s focused on building your business and ensuring that you thrive. Thanks so much, Joe. Enjoy the rest of your Sunday.

Of course. I’ll just mention here too, if you’re a PocketSuite customer or just by being a friend of PocketSuite, we offer a unique discount to anybody who’s within the PocketSuite network or a friend of the network. You can find that at beyogi.com/pocketsuite, and that will be forever. We’ll offer a discount to any of you forever. We really appreciate the relationship, really appreciate the partnership, Chinwe. Thank you for bringing me on and look forward to continued success in working with you.

Download the app