For our first annual Life Insurance Power List, the staff at Senior Market Advisor shook the bushes, so to speak, to find five key individuals, people who have helped shape, and continue to finely tune, the industry.
We relied on our own experiences and relationships, as well as the input from other industry leaders, to come up with this list of standouts.
Our criteria were simple: Who are the movers and shakers in the business of serving the senior market’s insurance needs? Who are the industry’s biggest difference-makers? Which select few have consistently looked beyond their own bottom lines to the greater good of seniors and those who serve them?
In compiling the list, we found the sledding easier than we had envisioned. In such subjective undertakings, politicking and infighting can often take center stage.
That did not happen here for a simple reason: When looking for feedback on who to include on this list, we received many, many deserving candidates, but also repetition in the responses. These select five kept popping up again and again, making our final selections much easier.
So turn the page and meet the folks who have earned the right to be called life insurance icons.
As one industry expert told us, “A life insurance power list without Sy Sternberg is incomplete.” We agree. Sternberg, chairman and CEO of New York Life Insurance Company, carries an influence within and beyond the industry. His achievements are numerous. He was appointed by President Bill Clinton as one of three United States representatives to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Business Advisory Council, a position he held through 2002. This January, Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York City appointed Sternberg as co-chair, along with former NYC Mayor David Dinkins, to the Mayor’s task force on Career and Technical Education Innovation.
Sternberg considers his biggest achievement in life insurance as “having the good sense to stay with what we do best at New York Life. This involved several key decisions over the 11 years I’ve been CEO, and the foremost decision was to maintain our career agency system as our primary distribution channel. This was important because life insurance is not a commodity sale – it’s personal and it takes a trained professional sitting down with a client to tailor the right product to their need.”
Sternberg says that contrarian decisions have been a big part of his success as well. “We remained focused on life insurance when others were adopting a broader financial services model. By doing that we kept the torch lit for life insurance – the single most important purchase a family can make for their financial security.”
Another important decision includes diversifying the portfolio “by taking what we do best – manufacturing and distributing life insurance – and transferring those capabilities to fast-growing markets outside the United States, including India and China.”
Sternberg says a major turning point occurred when the firm chose to “remain a mutual when others were going public. This keeps our focus on operating the enterprise for the long-term benefit of our policyholders, and not subjected to the short-term demands of Wall Street. Our agents say this has proven to be a key market differentiator that consumers understand and appreciate.”
If you need a question answered or need to locate a key contact in the life insurance industry, look no further than David Woods, principal at Woods Financial Group and Woods Enterprises. The founder and former president of the Life and Health Insurance Foundation for Education, Woods also served from 2003 through 2007 as CEO of the National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors.
Whenever posed a question about the industry, no matter how mundane or complex, Woods invariably seems to have the answer.
Even with all his accomplishments in the life insurance world, Woods remains grounded when discussing his achievements. “The mission of the life insurance business is to provide financial security when someone dies, becomes disabled or retires,” he says. “My biggest achievement was as an agent, helping many hundreds of families and small businesses create that kind of financial security.”
However, Woods says, the industry is falling behind in carrying out the mission of financial security. Roughly “68 million Americans have no life insurance of any kind, with 70 percent of workers saying they could not go longer than a month without their paycheck. And we all know the retirement savings crisis in our country.”
His goals for the industry this year include “a return to basics and the beginning of increases in overall individual life insurance and disability income coverage.”
Woods would also like to see consumers begin to do a better job of integrating their financial security needs at death and disability with their retirement needs.