Keys To Increasing Bank Reps Productivity

By

A survey last year by Cerulli Associates, Boston, found that half of the banks selling insurance havent been as successful at it as they hoped.

If they want to sell more insurance, experts say, banks will have to do better at increasing the productivity of licensed reps and platform people who deal with their customers every day.

Part of the problem is that banks have treated insurance products as an add-on rather than an intrinsic part of their financial services, observes Craig Whitehead, senior consultant with Milliman USA, a Chicago consulting firm.

To give insurance a clear place in the banks routine, look to your training, he advises.

In the early days, insurance was an uncomfortable sale for most bank reps, Whitehead points out. “They were not sure they could answer the customers questions about insurance, so they didnt bring up the topic.”

Now more and more banks are offering their own sales training and not relying on carriers and wholesalers to do it for them, he adds. That has led to an internal sales force that is more self-assured about bringing up insurance in conversations with customers, Whitehead says.

Clear goal-setting is another obvious but often overlooked step toward higher productivity. Joanne Collins, president of Union Planters Insurance Agency, Memphis, Tenn., says goal-setting is important where a banks platform staff is expected to sell a slew of financial services.

“We dont have bank employees 100% dedicated to insurance,” she says. “So we are competing for shelf space with our own employees.”

Union Planters Insurance, a division of Union Planters Bank, has about 1,700 licensed reps.

“Because they have other functions, we try to think about their jobs in terms of activities,” she says. “In term insurance, for instance, we try to get every licensed employee to sell one policy each month and we keep reminding them they need to do that.”

For all types of insurance products, Union Planters generally ties goals to budget objectives for each branch, such as for total loans.

“A lender knows if he makes 10 loans, I expect at least half would be sold consumer protection life and one quarter would have accident and health. The key is to communicate that goal,” Collins says.

For annuity sales, goals are typically set for the branch as a percent of deposits, then divided among the reps in that branch.

Sharper teamwork is another way banks have been learning to get more insurance sales out of their licensed reps. If done well, the bank can even leverage its team environment as a recruiting tool to attract capable agents.

Glen Milesko, president, Bank One Insurance Group, Milwaukee, notes that most insurance salespeople outside of banks spend a lot of time prospecting and generating qualified leads.

“They constantly put 60% to 70% of their time into prospecting for the next lead,” he says “One advantage in a bank is a life agent has bankers to the generate leads, and that makes you productive.”

Being able to team up with commercial lenders was a main attraction to Kevin Barry when he decided to join Stoneham Savings Bank, Stoneham, Mass., about a year and a half ago. Previously, he had been an agent for CIGNA Corp., Philadelphia.

Barry, a vice president of the bank and an investment executive with its New England Heritage Insurance Agency Group, came to the bank with Series 7 and 24 licenses and with a background in selling employee benefits.

At Stoneham, he started out selling investment and insurance products at the retail level but is now ready to graduate to commercial accounts. Thats where his banks commercial lenders come in.

“I want to be able to go out and build a customer base,” Barry notes. “Being part of a bank gets me out there. “

He is seeking to build sales of life, health, disability, flex plans and medical reimbursement plans to small businesses. “If our commercial lenders bring me to decision makers in their accounts, with my benefits background, I can open up that account to additional business very nicely.”

A commercial account also offers opportunities to handle some of the business owners personal financial needs, Barry points out.

“Once I have sold them benefits, I can show how I can help with the business owners individual financial planning, right down to trust accounts and long-term care insurance,” he explains.

The opportunities to cross-sell give bank agents a huge leg up on independent agents, says Wade Reece, president of BB&T Insurance Services, the insurance unit of BB&T Corp., a bank holding company in Winston-Salem, N.C.

Cross-selling “cuts down on prospecting and gives agents more at-bats,” he says. “Historically, when you look at cold-calling, most [independent] agents convert around 10% of calls to sales. With our agents, its 37%. Thats major.”

Having a p/c agent or customer relationship manager introduce a licensed representative to a client boosts conversion percentages dramatically, he notes.

BB&Ts twist on the cross-selling idea has been to target new agency acquisitions that can take advantage of its older acquisitions.

“We have bought a number of employee benefits agencies in towns where we already had acquired large p/c agencies,” explains Reece. “Were doing this throughout the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast.”

Just last month, for instance, BB&T bought Benefits Consultants of Virginia Inc., in Richmond, where it already has a large p/c operation, he points out.

BB&T, which claims to have been in the insurance business longer than any other U.S. bank, acquired its first agency in 1922. Its insurance unit now has 71 locations in seven states.

Joint calling programs in which p/c agents visit accounts with life and employee benefits agents is a mainstay of BB&Ts effort to develop its employee benefits business, says Reece.

About 70% of BB&T Insurances p/c volume is commercial, so that opens up quite a bit of cross-sales opportunities for the banks benefits advisors, he says.

“Either our bankers identify a need where we can go in and provide employee benefits, or we can profile clients out of our database and develop the leads ourselves,” Reece says.

If cross-selling is to work, though, p/c people have to be brought aboard the idea that life insurance and benefits specialists are their allies.

“At first, the normal p/c mentality was, I dont want to have our accounts buy employee benefits through us, because Im afraid they might have a negative experience,” Reece says. “In fact, they found that the high quality of employee benefits has been a positive add-on.”

In other words, Reece says, being able to offer both types of insurance increases the chances that a customer will be retained.


Reproduced from National Underwriter Life & Health/Financial Services Edition, July 22, 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.