Whenever there is talk of war and peace in Washington, I pay attention to the opinions of the leaders there who actually have faced combat. Not that they’re always in agreement as to the wisdom of a specific military action, but the thoughts of folks like John McCain hold a special resonance to me. After all, they know what it’s like to be on the receiving end of remote and sometimes clueless policymakers. They’re the ones who have had to incarnate policies on the ground–and they also can cut through the pettifoggery of the Pentagon or the Congress or even the President and ask the big, tough questions that need to be answered before taking action. In the same way, it’s always refreshing to talk to executives on the sell side of the financial planning profession who have been in the advisory trenches. Sure, they represent their companies and those companies’ offerings, but they also know how to speak to advisors and, more important, can fashion products and services to meet the needs of advisors. So it was a pleasure for me to speak to two insurance company executives recently who have been on the other side of the table: Bruce Wing, recently named senior VP and national sales director for life insurance products at Jackson National Life, the insurer that is a subsidiary of Prudential plc of the U.K, and which runs four broker/dealers in the U.S., and Chris Blunt, executive VP in charge of retail distribution for New York Life Investment Management’s mutual funds and wrap accounts.
Wing, a CLU and ChFC with Series 7 and 63 licenses, is happy to point out that JNL increased life insurance sales by more than 100% over the past year and that it also has one of the best-selling variable annuities. Having just joined the company, which only distributes through intermediaries, Wing doesn’t take credit for those accomplishments, however. In our conversation, he also asked me for my opinions as to the biggest challenges advisors face these days, and then actually listened. Not that my opinions count for much–it’s what you tell me that gives credence to any insights I might have–but Wing’s willingness to listen was refreshing.
Having gone off to found a philanthropic startup called Giving Capital in 2001 before selling it last September, NYLIM’s Blunt has a unique perspective, too. While Blunt has noticed a major shift in the mutual fund world since his departure, he remains a staunch fan of the 1940 Act fund, “a simple, commingled fund that remains the best way to deliver value” to investors. He believes that two kinds of advisors will continue to prosper in the future. One is the financial planner who provides holistic advice to clients, and the other is the wealth manager who “doesn’t want to be your concierge; he just wants to manage your money.” Wing would agree with Blunt’s assertion, by the way, that insurance companies are well positioned to be the strategic partners advisors need to handle the retirement income and distribution phase of clients’ lives. If insurance firms are led by folks like these two gentlemen, insurers will have a good shot at doing just that.
Two other gentlemen are debuting regularly occurring spots in the magazine this month. First, I’m pleased to welcome back Bob Clark, former editor-in-chief of Investment Advisor, who has returned to the IA fold as an editor-at-large and monthly columnist (page 49). Bob’s years of experience observing the profession and his unparalleled personal connections yield unique insights and fiercely-held opinions that always make his musings required reading. Second, IA Contributing Editor Ben Warwick launches his first “The Puzzler” feature (page 93), in which Ben, an advisor himself with Sovereign Wealth Management in Denver, explores some of the thorniest puzzles faced by advisors in serving clients. It’s only chance that the premiere column addresses the benefits–and drawbacks–of annuities.