Attending NAILBA 34 at the JW Marriott Orlando Grande Lakes last week, I noticed a recurring theme: General agencies increasingly looking to expand beyond traditional distribution by going direct with in-house agents and call centers.
It came up in discussions on the exhibit hall floor and at networking events, and was one of the more interesting common threads in a panel session during the meeting’s opening general session last Thursday.
“A lot of producers aren’t going to like that you’re in the direct marketing space, which is why you have to bring much more to the table,” said Ryan Pinney of Pinney Insurance Center (pictured at right), who was one of the four panelists. “We have a vastly underserved middle market, where less than 50% of the households don’t have insurance. We have a problem with distribution, and until we figure that out, we are in jeopardy.”
The “State of the Industry” panel discussion was facilitated by Gene Koster, DCG Corporation, and in addition to Pinney, also included Christi Daughenbaugh, Borden Hamman Insurance Marketing; Larry Herman, Herman Agency; and James Wong, Partners Advantage Insurance Services.
Each of the panelists was given the opportunity to talk about what’s happening within their agencies, and about successful initiatives they have undertaken. It stood out that two of the four – Pinney and Daughenbaugh, spoke at length about the need they see for general agencies to go direct to consumers – something that could potentially ruffle the feathers of traditional producers. But while both acknowledged that going direct could be seen as competing against their traditional distribution, to date it has not been a big issue for either of them. On the contrary, they say it actually can be beneficial to traditional distribution.
“We started looking at our direct marketing division more like a laboratory,” Pinney said, noting that in-house they can experiment with different scripts and processes, and what works gets pushed to traditional distribution.
“Because our call center is dealing with consumers every day, we are able to adjust our script and optimize it with language that is most effective. And we can share that script with our outside producers,” Pinney said.Pinney said his agency currently has two call centers – one for agents and another for application fulfillment. He noted that getting the technology right has been one of the biggest challenges – but has also enabled them to generate more success. While he said it always takes longer and costs more than you think to build technological solutions, doing the time and resources to do so has “really helped us grow in the last five years.”
Christi Daughenbaugh of Borden Hamman Insurance Marketing says her agency is still currently in a state of transition, and the goal of that transition has been to increase their control over production. That has meant creating a call center with a handful of agents in-house.
“We need to be able to control about 50% of production. Going direct to consumer is a way to control that, in addition to working with financial advisors, wirehouses, and traditional distribution. It’s important to us to go direct to consumers. We are going to do it using agents in-house in a call center.”
She noted that creating a call center has been difficult, with challenges in training the in-house agents and how to provide them with leads. “That’s the secret sauce,” she said. She did echo Pinney’s viewpoint that having a call center and internally optimizing a script can be beneficial to their outside producers.
“We practice with consumers, and with what we learn, we can help our traditional producers,” Daughenbaugh said. “Most don’t look at it as competing with them.”
• Have some thoughts about BGAs expanding into the direct marketing channel? Please comment on this new thread: Trend of BGAs going direct?
Eugene Cohen presented with Mooers Award for Excellence
The National Association of Independent Life Brokerage Agencies (NAILBA) presented Eugene Cohen, CEO of the Eugene Cohen Insurance Agency, Inc., with its 2015 Douglas Mooers Award for Excellence at a special awards dinner held Nov. 19, 2015, as part of the association’s annual meeting, NAILBA 34 in Orlando.
The annual award, NAILBA’s most coveted and prestigious accolade, honors distinction in brokerage and is bestowed upon the individual most committed to furthering independent life brokerage as a distribution system, and who demonstrates an exemplary record of community service.
In presenting the award, Barbara Crowley, NAILBA Immediate Past Chairman, noted that Cohen has been in the insurance industry since the early 1960s, and is well known as an industry advocate, educator, mentor, and philanthropist.
His career in insurance began as a disability insurance agent for Massachusetts Indemnity Life Insurance Company in Cleveland. He was so successful in his efforts that just a few years later, the company moved him to Chicago to run one of the flagship agencies, and to manage a dozen agencies across the country. Ten years later, the company changed direction and the agency that carries his name was launched, and shortly after that joined NAILBA.
His agency is also active in LifeMark Partners, and he was a founding member of The Plus Group. In 2004, he was part of the formation of the International DI Society and in 2011 was recognized with their lifetime achievement award.
In addition to his active involvement in the insurance community, Cohen has also been involved in extensive philanthropic efforts. He actively supports the Glenkirk, an organization that provides services for intellectually disabled children and adults, as well as Heart Strings in Kansas City, the Muscular Dystrophy Association, the Wounded Warriors program and the NAILBA Charitable Foundation. He has been married for 52 years to his wife Shirlee, with whom he has three sons.
One of those sons, comedian/actor/writer Vic Cohen, provided the evening’s entertainment prior to the announcement of the award recipient.
Prudential’s Chuck Anderson wins 2015 NAILBA Chairman’s Award
David Long, 2015 NAILBA Chairman, has selected Chuck Anderson, Senior Vice President of Strategic Relationship Management at Prudential, as the recipient of the 2015 NAILBA Chairman’s Award. The honor was presented Nov. 19 at the association’s annual meeting, NAILBA 34, in Orlando.
The award, created in 2009, was developed to recognize the efforts of a NAILBA volunteer who has performed “over and above” normal expectations during the Chairman’s term.
In presenting the award to Anderson, Long shared, “Chuck has been a cheerleader for our distribution channel for as long as I can remember, and has been a big part of his company’s relationship with NAILBA members and the Annual Meeting, leading the way in providing highly visible support through sponsorships and exhibits. This year in particular, he was strongly supportive of our newly formed advocacy partnership with AALU – his commitment extends beyond the Annual Meeting and the Foundation, to legislative initiatives and issues that impact the way our businesses are run.”
He continued, explaining, “Chuck has always been a strong supporter of NAILBA – from the carrier side. He has served on multiple NAILBA committees and on the Foundation Board of Directors. “We are very grateful to have your support and enthusiasm, year after year,” Long told Anderson in presenting the award.
Held Nov. 19-21 in Orlando, the event attracted 1,287 attendees and 106 exhibiting companies in 122 booths. This meeting, recognized as “Where the Brokerage Industry Meets,” is the independent wholesale insurance brokerage industry’s premier event. Next year’s event will be held Nov. 17-19 at the Gaylord Texan Resort in Dallas.
The National Association of Independent Life Brokerage Agencies (NAILBA) is the premiere insurance industry organization promoting financial security and consumer choice through the use of independent brokerage distribution. NAILBA serves as the national association of life, health and annuity insurance distributors. For more information visit www.nailba.org.