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At Large: Pulling The Pieces Together

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Pulling The Pieces Together


Many talk the talk, but few walk the walk when the talk turns to global full financial services. Among the latter is ING, the Dutch giant whose recumbent lion has long since pounced and landed on all fours in the cross-selling arena.

These days, the hungry cat is on the prowl in the U.S. market, where, says Keith Gubbay, president and CEO of investment products distribution for ING U.S. Retail Financial Services, the strategy is to build a prominent position through mergers and acquisitions. These include, most notably, Aetna Financial Services and Reliastar–deals which augmented the group’s broad product range.

Gubbay points to a full range of life products, annuities, mutual funds, qualified plan products, and banking products through ING Direct. He points as well to broad distribution, from third-party health sales distributors to career agents to direct operations. He also lays claim to the largest independent broker-dealer network (10,000 reps) in the U.S. ING, he adds, has scale in all its businesses and is in “the top handful” in e-sales and in new sales overall.

“These are the building blocks of our integrated financial services strategy,” says Gubbay. These, along with branding, technology, and, most importantly, “pulling the pieces together to build a better proposition for the customer and the distributor.”

Today’s customer, he says, dislikes the industry’s historic product-push approach and favors broad planning advice and information on how products fit into their overall needs, a holistic approach requiring agents and companies to change their behavior.

The first trick, he says, is to hook up distributors with available products, often a hurdle because of brand and distribution conflicts, real or perceived, as well as internal and regulatory barriers.

For many years, he explains, the industry has operated in “narrow silos,” single channels that create cultural and organizational barriers to cross-selling.

“The first step in making all our products available to all our distributors has been to decouple the manufacturing and distribution functions,” says Gubbay. “Although this sounds easy, it has challenges. It requires organizational change, different scorekeeping methods and incentive plans and a different way of thinking.

“In ING, manufacturers now make their products available to as many channels as they can, subject to the manufacturers’ own quality and volume constraints,” he says. “This allows the distribution channel to access the full range of ING products.”

The next step is to make products available “in a seamless way,” which requires new technology solutions and changes in processes. “We are well on our way to delivering this,” he says, “but because of our acquisitions, it will take a bit more time.”

Finally, producers have to be made aware that they can access all these products from ING. “This,” says Gubbay, “is occurring through marketing efforts by our field managers, through our ‘Virtual Financial Center’ Web site for reps, and through the soon-to-be-announced ING Products and Services Clearinghouse, which will help producers find out about the products and services and how to access them.”

To Gubbay, there are three levels of cross-selling, the first of which is the end customer, where the goal is to get “share of wallet.”

“We are in a position to offer a solution rather than a product. We have banking products, funds, annuities, insurance, debit and credit products on the banking side, and there are market segments (the retirement market, for example, and the small-business owner segment) where we can bring those together to provide a holistic solution,” he says.

The second level of cross-selling, he says, is the individual distributor, and the third is the distribution channels, where he sees much success and even more potential.

“What we’re talking about here is leveraging corporate- level relationships with third-party distributors,” he says. “We may have a relationship with a wirehouse or a regional firm with a particular product. We can now bring funds and perhaps banking products and life insurance and worksite products to that relationship.”

And other things as well, like international distribution, a broker-dealer network, and leverage on the finance side that comes with owning a very large investment portfolio.

“That really can give us a huge amount of growth from where we are today,” says Keith Gubbay.

It’s just a matter of pulling the pieces together.

Reproduced from National Underwriter Life & Health/Financial Services Edition, August 20, 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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