By Warren S. Hersch
Need an idea for keeping your agents happy and loyal? Consider hosting an all-expenses paid trip to Laguna Beach, Southern Californias premier seaside artist haven. And invite along the field forces immediate and extended family members.
The suggestion was one of a number of thought-provoking practices outlined during sessions of GAMA Internationals LAMP 2005 meeting, held here recently. The sessions speakers, including representatives from MassMutual Financial Group, Thrivent Financial for Lutherans and American National Insurance Company, described their organizations practices in the context of two studies published by GAMA Foundation. These were “Building the Right People” and its sequel, “Keeping the Right People,” which GAMA unveiled during the conference.
A recurring theme of the talks was the value of lending consistency to company processes. Since incorporating the GAMA Foundation recommendations, for example, the Twin Cities regional office of Thrivent Financial for Lutherans, Minneapolis, Minn., uses the same case study for illustrative purposes through all classroom instruction. Bill Reichwald, a managing partner for Thrivent, said the practice aids learning by giving agents a common point of reference.
Adopting a common approach to training, and to recruitment and joint field work, was also a top concern at Baystate Financial Services. David Porter, a managing partner for the Boston, Mass.-based affiliate of New Financial, said that only after implementing the workbooks recommendations did he realize how inconsistent were the practices among the firms 10 New England-wide district offices, and the potential for performance gains.
“We garnered almost $19 million in commissions last year, up from $1 million when I arrived at the company in 1996,” said Porter. “To think that you could have that kind of growth and not be on the same page was alarming.”
Before arriving at this conclusion, Porter completed the workbooks exercises alone. He thereafter had each of his district managers do the same, then meet as a group to consolidate answers, identify inconsistencies and decide on best practices to be used region-wide.
The performance improvements, implemented over two months, yielded a 37% increase in commissions, or an additional $3.9 million, in 2004, the largest gain Baystate Financial has achieved in the last five years. Porter credited the rise entirely to regularization of company procedures.
He noted, too, that he had less difficulty securing buy-in for the changes from the firms attorneys and sales support staff than he did from district managers and agents. The reason: The former had a greater incentive to cooperate in the restructuring because the pay of each is based on a percentage of company profits (and, hence, inking insurance contracts). Among the advisors, some lent greater emphasis to planning and fees for services, whereas others focused more on product sales and commissions.