The insurance industry should follow the example of Starbucks and take a fresh approach to solving the needs of the average American, according to Fred Jonske.

Jonske, president of M Financial Group, Portland, Ore., a national marketing organization, made those remarks here after participating in a life distribution panel at an insurance seminar presented by Standard & Poor’s Corp., New York.

The ability to reach out and understand what consumers want is what makes it possible to sell a $4 to $5 cup of coffee, Jonske said.

Similarly, an understanding of the consumer and industry chief executive officers’ willingness to take a chance and move upstream if necessary will allow insurers to reach the average consumer, Jonske said.

During the session on life distribution strategies, moderator Kevin Ahern, an S&P director, talked about the opportunity insurers have for providing consumers with continued income.

Jonske noted that consumers, not distributors, are driving demand for products such as those that have secondary guarantees.

Mark Schwarzmann, president of distribution at Ameriprise Financial Inc., Minneapolis, observed that an emphasis on financial planning is one way to make sure that consumers’ demands are met in a suitable way.

Suitability is built into a system such as Ameriprise Financial’s because of a “one-on-one relationship” in which “producers’ heads are in the right place because there is not a quota system in which they have to look for the next sale,” Schwarzmann said.

An effort to improve producer training also has helped address suitability concerns, Schwarzmann said.

When asked by a member of the audience about the transparency of variable annuity products, Schwarzmann said it is difficult to compare products with different subaccounts and different mortality and expense charges unless one can find a way to normalize different company contracts within the distribution system.

But Schwarzmann said insurers are in a good position to provide consumers with the option of an income guarantee.

The industry will need to show consumers why products with guarantees may be a better value in some cases than asset accumulation products that do not offer and do not charge for guarantees, Schwarzmann concluded.