What Channel Conflict?

Words like “mesh” and “complementary” pepper a conversation with Roy Bubbs, president of the MONY Independent Network.

Understandably so for a man whose job it is to distribute life insurance, annuities and, over time, other products through broker-dealers and broker general agents–all under the aegis of a 158-year-old career agent operation, the MONY Life Insurance Company.

Bubbs, with 30 years in the business, is suited to the task. Most recently, he headed distribution for Manulife Financial’s U.S. insurance business, where he reinvigorated the firm’s brokerage arm and developed a multiple channel strategy.

Bubbs maintains the much-dreaded “channel conflict” that has afflicted most major life companies that have gone into the brokerage business in the past decade or so hasn’t struck MONY in his 11 months there.

“They’ve embraced us,” he says of his organization’s career agents.

Oh?

According to Bubbs, since The MONY Group’s IPO about two-and-a-half years ago, it set on a course of acquisition and internal expansion of its own distribution channels. “As all of this has happened,” he says, “the idea has always existed that all of these distribution channels can, and should, benefit from one another.”

Today, he says, the new products and processes MONY Independent Network brings to its producer customers in the BGA and B-D marketplace (like its new universal life products), it brings as well to career-side consumer target markets of family builders, pre-retirees and small-to-mid-size business owners.

Bubbs may not admit to distribution conflicts, but he does see a few other problems, like getting all the parts working together–new business, for example, and policy issue and underwriting–to create, in his words, “a more friendly brokerage company.”

“The independent marketplace is different from the career marketplace–right, wrong or indifferent,” he says, so policies and procedures acceptable to the traditional corporate culture can sometimes get in the way of progress on the new side of the house.

An example is the simple matter of general correspondence. Letters using words like “agent” or “agency” are unacceptable in his operation, where more general terms are preferred, terms like “firm” or “financial planning professional.” If they go out incorrectly, he says, “it creates an emotional bombshell for broker and client alike, and if you can avoid emotional bombshells, you should.”

Bubbs’s clients are the 15 B-Ds, and 41 BGAs and their producers he’s enlisted thus far in 70 markets. “Every day they vote for who they want to work with, based on whether they send business your way or send it to other companies,” he says, so ease of doing business and “keeping the speed bumps minimal” is critical.

As for MONY Independent Network’s strategy, the goal “isn’t to paper the street” but to be selective in who the firm picks. “We’re not exclusive,” says Bubbs, “but we’re close.”

A key part of the strategy is to mesh with and complement other distribution channels. “Part of our selling proposition,” he says, “is to use as many of the other working parts as we possibly can.” He points to a program the company is finalizing to help BGAs market to CPAs who do financial planning.

“There’s a whole new emerging market of CPAs out there,” says Bubbs. “People ought to have advice,” he says, “and there’s a demand for people who can give it.” CPAs are in the advice business. They are, therefore, an avenue to customers for financial services and products, he says, so MIN wants to bring CPAs into the insurance business “in a more aggressive way,” to support whatever way a life professional and a CPA want to get further engaged in the sale of insurance products or, for that matter, engaged in any other channel.

In addition to the standard fare of CPAs and agents doing joint seminars, the MONY Group’s Minneapolis broker-dealer subsidiary, Trusted Advisors, helps CPAs and tax professionals add financial planning and investment services to their practices. TA offers training, continuing education courses specific to CPAs, and the opportunity to partner with a MONY financial professional so they can offer their tax clients more service and expertise. TA will also offer its services through the BGA channel.

For Roy Bubbs, as for most executives involved in multiple financial services, the key to a successful strategy lies in the distribution channels. The industry, he says, is now quite diversified, with more than 50% of its business coming from an independent marketplace which is never going to align with one company. “They want their independence. They want to be able to offer options to a consumer–underwriting options, product features and cost options,” says Bubbs.

“The market didn’t stand up and clap when we came out,” he says, ” but we’ve been very well received.”

That leaves a confident Roy Bubbs “pleasantly surprised”–and unconflicted.


Reproduced from National Underwriter Life & Health/Financial Services Edition, August 6, 2001. Copyright 2001 by The National Underwriter Company in the serial publication. All rights reserved.Copyright in this article as an independent work may be held by the author.


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