The Buzz At NAILBAs Annual: Tuning In To Senior Needs

By

Phoenix

Insurers and financial marketing organizations increasingly are spotlighting the senior market in product development and marketing campaigns.

But how is this playing out in the field? When a senior client comes in, are producers saying to themselvesor to their staffers”Lets be sure to use those large print materials”? Or, do they remind themselves that “we need to remember to talk slow, and speak louder than usual”? Or, do they search the database for senior-friendly companies, underwriters and products?

In short, are they themselves part of the senior marketing machine?

Not necessarily in the sense painted above. But yes, in the sense of being tuned in to the needs of senior clientsespecially if the producers have had specialty training and education in senior market issues and needs.

That was the buzz from the podium and the hallways at the annual meeting here of the National Association of Independent Life Brokerage Agencies of Fairfax, Va.

Producers do have many senior clients, say the experts, but they dont necessarily think in senior marketing terms, nor do they automatically turn on the senior sales switch whenever a mature client walks in the door.

“The professional advisor will put the needs of the client first, not the persons age,” said one experienced life producer. “We use the senior materials to inform us, but we dont say, here is a senior; therefore, we should sell a certain product or talk a certain way.”

This is the case in the affluent market, too, even though most clients in that market are seniors, points out Richard D. Keidan, executive vice president and chief distribution officer of Highland Capital Holding Corporation, Birmingham, Ala.

“We dont break out our clients into age segments,” he explains. “Rather, we look at what they needfor example, estate transfer, long term care insurance or perhaps management of the wealth they have accumulated.”

There is just “no pro forma approach that will work with this market,” Keidan adds.

Its not that the producers or their clients dont recognize their age. “Many of them, even if they have $10 million in assets,” say they are concerned about outliving their money, Keidan notes.

But the advisors at his firm do not approach this concern from a “senior market” perspective, he says. “We view it as problem solving in the wealth transfer market.”

Still, Keidan is convinced that the financial industrys senior market campaigns “are not a waste.”

These programs should help producers when the customer base is larger and individual attention is harder to give, he says. One example would be mid-market seniors at banks and savings-and-loan companies. In that market, it would be more efficient to use simpler products and to segment by age, he says.

The various senior market designation and certification programs that now exist are very helpful to those who work with older clients, says Steve McLaughlin, senior vice president of Lincoln Benefit, Lincoln, Neb.

This is an industry level response to the growth in the senior population, he says.

The advantage is that this training helps marketers and carriers study and analyze the needs of the market, adds William McGrory, sales director at Brokers Insurance/LifeMark, Jenkintown, Pa.

For instance, such knowledge can help carriers design niche programs and promote them to brokers, showing how the product or program meets a certain need.

The brokers then can help producers focus on which solution will best meet the clients needs, says McLaughlin.

“Agents do better this way,” says McGrory. “They are more planning focused and not concentrating on the product.”

Thats good “because you have no idea what product is the right one when the person first calls,” says McLaughlin. In the course of planning, “the right product will surface,” he says.

But this way of doing business means that brokerage general agents need more education than they did in the pastmore education about the senior market, more education about how to sell and more insurance education in general, says McLaughlin.

They need this education for their own shops and also so they can better inform the agents who call them, he continues.

This point has not been lost upon NAILBAs leadership. In making his convention address, this years president, Jack Dewald, president of Agency Services Inc., Memphis, Tenn., announced that the association is moving forward on its plan to offer online continuing education programs to members.

Brokers increasingly are seeking the kind of education that used to be provided by the career agency shops in former eras, he explained.

Christi M. Ashwill, who is chair of NAILBAs education committee, says this demand is rising rapidly. Every week, since taking on her NAILBA education committee role, “Ive received tons of calls from BGAs who are looking for help with training,” she says.

The co-director of annuities and long term care for Borden-Hamman, Dallas, Ashwill can appreciate their predicament. When she decided to become a LTC specialist four years ago, she says she had to obtain the training on her own. She now holds the Certified in Long Term Care designation, and her LTC book grows every year.

Training is essential, she contends. “There is a huge learning curve.”

Sometimes, Ashwill says, she has encountered people who want to go into the senior market “because theyve heard its a goldmine. But no one has told them that it can take six to 12 months for a senior client to, say, decide to move on a long term care decision. No one has told them that half their applicants might be declined. And no one has told them they might be close to starving in the first couple of years.”

Those are only a few of the details that can emerge in the course of training, Ashwill says.

Brokers need all sorts training and education, not just for the senior market, she adds. This includes the basics of agency operations and staffing, middle management in a brokerage, and advanced training for leaders.

NAILBA is responding by developing its own NAILBA University, Ashwill says. It will make various training programs available to its members, starting with Phase I (now in initial stages of development), which will cover basics. Phase II (an intermediate program) and Phase III (an advanced program) will come later.

This is a three- to five-year vision, she says, and its implementation will entail sacrifice of time and effort. But she says NAILBA leaders believe the need for education and training is so pronounced that it has become a priority.


Reproduced from National Underwriter Life & Health/Financial Services Edition, November 14, 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.