BGAs, NAILBA Getting More Attention From Companies

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A lot of companies want to get into the insurance brokerage business, according to Jack Dewald.

The president of Agency Services Inc., in Memphis, Dewald is also the current chairman of the National Association of Independent Life Brokerage Agencies, Fairfax, Va.

During an interview with National Underwriter on general product trends, Dewald mentioned that one of the key trends he is seeing right now has to do with distribution arrangements, not just products.

Specifically, he says, many insurers are looking for a different source of business. “They say they want more expertise and less cost, and they see brokerage operations as a way to achieve that.”

His views are not uncommon. Many brokerage general agents tell NU that insurance company executives are knocking on their doors, looking to establish (or strengthen) their marketing relationships. Many come with new products built just for the brokerage arena.

The momentum is high, says Dewald. For example, he notes that NAILBAs annual meeting last November drew 1,400 people. “That was an all-time high for us. We broke every record we had, in attendance, sponsorships, exhibits and so on. And this was despite the down economy.”

Further, he says, just weeks after that meeting, “we had almost sold out the spaces and sponsorships we have available for next years annual meeting.”

Several newcomers were insurers that are now looking to get into, or expand their use of, the brokerage system, Dewald says.

“We establish new relationships with eight to 12 companies each year,” points out Joe Normandy, the executive director for NAILBA. A number of the newest members are from old-line insurance companies with household names, he notes.

NAILBA membership is growing, too, Normandy adds. For instance, he says the association now has 310 full members, up from about 250 four years ago. It has also established a new “provisional membership” category for brokerages that do not yet qualify for full membership; they can hold this position for up to two years.

NAILBAs bounce is surfacing at the same time it is undergoing a structural expansion, say leaders. Last year, for instance, the trade group moved into its own headquarters in Fairfax, Va., and became a freestanding organization. (For the previous 20 years, it had been managed by Association Management Group, a professional management company in Reston, Va.)

“We decided it was time to be on our own and in control of our own destiny,” says Edward Murray, a principal of Murray and Zuckerman Inc., Schenectady, N.Y., and immediate past chairman of NAILBA. He made the comment in a speech at the November annual meeting.

The association has also re-oriented its board to become a goal-oriented body, Murray says. It has established a “NAILBA University” for brokerage-oriented education and training, too. In addition, he says it has expanded committees, deepened industry relationships and sharpened other programs that support BGA distribution, he says.

In the past year, NAILBA set up its own Charitable Foundation. (This was done in partnership with the Global Gift Fund of the MDRT Foundation.)

Retired Colonel William Felton, a principal of the Tennessee Brokerage Agency, Knoxville, Tenn., has been spearheading the new foundation. He indicates it is part and parcel of NAILBAs expanded horizon.

The industry once thought of BGAs as “parasites,” recalls Felton. “But now, we are taking the lead in putting something back. We are building a monument to our way of life, not just to marketing achievement.”

In November 2002, the foundation made its first charitable awards–monetary gifts to two charities.

It is hard to find a veteran NAILBA member who is not delighted with these changes. When the organization first formed in 1982, the members tell NU, BGA distribution was not widely accepted. But today, they say BGAs account for a huge amount of total life and health production.

According to Normandy, association members account for an estimated $1 billion of first-year life premium per year. “The actual production is probably higher,” he adds, “because BGAs also sell long term care insurance, annuities and other products.” (To get a more exact picture of this, NAILBA is now surveying its members and will report details later this year.)

These developments have not been lost on insurance companies. Over 50 insurers had representatives on the roster at the last annual meeting, for example, with many sending five, 10 or more people. In all, 94 companies of various kinds were at that annual.

Some companies go there to meet and greet. Some have booths or sponsorships. Some host private dinners and hospitality suites. Some use the venue to talk product. Some even decide to debut brand new products there. (See sidebar on page 17.)

“You can feel the buzz,” concludes Normandy.


Reproduced from National Underwriter Edition, March 10, 2003. Copyright 2003 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.