Among the highlights of employee benefits consultant Cher Bumps' career is when she met President George W. Bush in Oklahoma City, in September 2008.
When Bumps' vice president fielded an advance call from the White House while she and Bumps were traveling in Asia, she assumed it was from the law offices that occupied the former White House Restaurant in northwest Oklahoma City.
Turns out it wasn't the interim director of the Small Business Administration whose pending visit the White House originally touted, but President Bush who wanted to promote health savings accounts (HSAs) with Bumps and four other select industry observers.
“He was extremely charming,” said Bumps, who at the subsequent meeting respectfully reminded the president that he didn't need the HSA card he said he carried in his pocket, because he had health care for life.
Bumps, who said she never intended to own her own company, today has 18 employees and 300 clients across 26 states. Her firm was the first in Oklahoma to administer tax-favored flexible spending accounts for medical and dependent care expenses.
From her offices in The Oil Center on Northwest Expressway, Bumps recently sat down with The Oklahoman to talk about her professional and personal life. This is an edited transcript:
Q: Tell us about your roots.
A: I was born Cheryl Anne Elizabeth Catherine Snellenberger, and grew up, with sisters two and a half years and 10 years older, in Catholic schools in southern Indiana — in Bruceville, which had a population of 200 then. Our mother, who worked as an office manager for a pediatrician, died when I was 19 following a five-year battle with cancer. I lost my father, who worked mostly as an accountant for a manufacturing shop, to heart disease when I was 40. It was my dad who, when I was 4 or 5, started calling me “Cher.” My best friend was my (maternal) grandmother, who lived right down the street from us.
At age 3, I'd get out of bed, walk out the back door and to her house. I was there all the time.
Q: How was it attending a Catholic all-girls high school?
A: I was mischievous, but was a good student. My mother grounded me for Bs. I sang in the choir, though it wasn't my forte, and served as president of the student council.
Q: And college?
A: I went to Saint Mary's College, the sister school for Notre Dame, but transferred after two years to Indiana State to be closer to my mother because she was sick. I wanted to go into the Peace Corps, but she made me go to college, where I studied sociology and met my former husband.
About the time my mother died, he was drafted and we married and moved to Fort Hood, Texas, where we lived two years and I worked as a surgical assistant for a vet clinic.
Following his service, we moved back to Terre Haute, where I worked as a clerk for Columbia Records and we both completed our degrees. After his graduation, we moved to Logansport, Ind., where he joined Wilson Foods.
Q: What brought you to Oklahoma?
A: We were transferred here with Wilson Foods in June '77, with our daughters who were 2 and 3. In Indiana, I'd worked several years as a merchandising manager for J.C. Penney, who found a position here for me.
Q: How did you move into insurance?
A: Our home insurance agent with Connecticut Mutual kept after me to sell life insurance, and I finally relented because the salary, at just 20 hours a week, was more than double what I was making with Penney's working nights and weekends. I started May 1, and figured if it didn't work out, I'd take the summer off with the kids.
I gravitated toward selling to small businesses, because I didn't like the living room route and soon focused on benefits, which most all agents were handling on the side. I incorporated CABA (Cher A. Bumps and Associates) on April 1, 1987, with just two employees. We design creative health plans, using high deductibles, salary-based premiums and other tactics, to save employers, and workers, money. We usually can go in and cut their costs 20 percent, which is a lot of money for most.
Q: What are your thoughts on health care reform?
A: My guess is people will pay 25 percent more for health insurance because, though slightly more will pay for insurance, there still will be plenty of uninsured people. I don't think there's any teeth in the law to make people enroll in coverage.
I think there's a small percentage who can't buy health insurance because of existing health conditions. But most that don't have it, don't want it. Many are irresponsible and don't want to pay for it, even if it's only $20 or $30 a month. One thing that helps our firm is that we offer diversified services: retirement planning, an employee assistance program, Flex/COBRA administration, a benefits portal and HR services. Still, I think there's a lot of uncertainty about what 2014 will bring, after key mandates under Obamacare take effect.