By

Rancho Mirage, Calif.

What do producers and branch managers in the broker-dealer channel want from variable product insurers?

Speedier service and stronger wholesaling support.

That was the message delivered here at a marketing conference held by the National Association for Variable Annuities, Reston, Va.

At first blush, that may not seem the most exciting trade news youve ever heard. But forget the first blush. Those remarks have weight.

You see, it wasnt just one or two people calling for speed and support. In this conference of 1,000-plus people, numerous securities executives said the same. Whats more, they made their entreaties before NAVA, whose members come mostly from insurance companies, the target of many of the suggestions. In fact, NAVA asked these executives for their views, as part of its effort to spark ideas on increasing insurance and annuity sales in wirehouses and regional b-ds.

Several of these speakers were reassuring, in the sense that they predicted variable sales will pick up as the economy improves. But they didnt pull punches when it came to offering ideas on how insurers could help that along.

For instance, “make it easier for us to contact the wholesaler,” urged Ken Meyers, branch manager and managing director at First Union Securities, in Grass Valley, Calif.

Reps dont want to have to “go through four or five layers (at the insurer), and play perpetual telephone tag,” he said.

Another suggestion: The inside wholesalers at the insurance company should stay in touch with the producer and let the producer know the status on a case, Meyers said.

Further, “we like companies that offer continuing education and training sessions on estate planning and tax law changes.”

What is on his “dont” list? “E-wholesaling is not a good concept,” Meyers said. “This is a people business, and we need to retain relationships.” One firm did move into e-wholesaling, Meyers added, “so we dont use them any more.”

Producers “have a lot to do,” pointed out Dennis Modrich, first vice president with SalomonSmithBarney in Palm Desert, Calif., “so we dont have time to know, use, and keep your sales tools as effectively as youd like.”

His suggestion? Insurers should use wholesalers who know how to use technological resources to help producers find sales opportunities.

For instance, Modrich said, “the wholesaler should be able to come into the shop and say, lets click on this and filter for that and then bring up three people from our customer base who have eight-year Treasuries that are about to mature.”

They should also be able to filter their own companys system, Modrich added, “so they can get the presentation and sales material that will help make the sale.”

Advisors need insurance wholesalers who are able to work in partnership, said Sandeep Varma, branch manager and registered representative with LPL Financial, San Clemente, Calif. He looks for wholesalers who earn trust over time, by bringing “value and honest feedback.”

They should be able to help in closing, he added.

“I also want them to give me suggestions on how we can get better in our practice,” Varma said. In particular, he wants suggestions wholesalers have acquired from their travels, “not from being groomed in the home office.”

What reps dont want is poor service, stressed Meyers of First Union. “That makes us look bad to our clients, and it wastes a lot of time.”

In another panel, devoted exclusively to service issues, the tone was much the same. For instance:

When doing 1035 exchanges, “we want the forms to come back pre-filledso the client can sign it then and there,” said David C. Smith, an investment representative at Edward Jones, Huntington Beach, Calif. “Its irritating to have them come back three weeks later.”

Brokerages need to know the licensing status of reps, and “we need prompt notification (from the insurance company) that the appointment has been completed.” said James Sipe, president of Raymond James Financial/Planning Corporation of America, St. Petersburg, Fla.

His suggestion: “E-mail it so we knowthats what we mean by promptly.”

“We would like forms and supplies available online, so we can print them out in our shop,” Sipe continued, explaining this will cut the delays caused by ordering and waiting for shipments. “Can you accept faxed forms?” he added. “This would help us!”

[Note: A NAVA committee has done a lot of work on standardizing forms, responded Michael Herron, assistant vice president-relationship management at Lincoln National Life Insurance Company in Ft. Wayne, Ind. Now, many NAVA members use those forms, he said. However, some companies use additional forms, too, he said, and that "sometimes complicates the process."]

Insurers need to move toward electronic capabilities for submitting business, said Sipe, explaining “we want to make it as easy as we can for producers” so they can spend most of their time with clients.

Further, “we prefer electronic commission payments, because we dont want to process paper checks.”

For submitted business that is not in good order, “wed prefer a phone call about it rather than you sending the paper back,” said Sipe. This reduces the “several-day delay” that can occur when rectifying the problem.

Producers want to know the status of pending cases, Sipe noted. Therefore, tracking and reporting should be available online, he said. “We need detailed information so we can populate our system with thatand not just say `case pending. We already know that.”

Sometimes, observed Smith, “its a little irritating,” not to have access to information when it is out there. “It seems it takes forever for the money to move.”


Reproduced from National Underwriter Life & Health/Financial Services Edition, March 4, 2002. Copyright 2002 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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