Much has been written in recent years about carriers’ efforts to attract and retain insurance and financial advisors in the independent channel. Less well publicized are the recruitment initiatives of the distributors through which they market their products: independent marketing organizations and brokerage general agencies, many of which are ratcheting up their search for top talent. The recruitment drives have, sources tell National Underwriter, been aided by the economic downturn.
“Our recruiting this year is up dramatically,” says Gary Raggio, a national director of annuity marketing of Dunhill Marketing & Insurance Services, San Diego, Calif. “Ironically, the recession has helped. Like never before, brokers need a home and direction.”
Adds Bill Zelenik, CEO of Millennium Brokerage Group, Nashville, Tenn., “There’s been more of a flight to quality [distributors] in the current economy. Advisors want stability.”
For Raggio the starting point for reaching out to unaffiliated advisors is via e-mail blasts–and lots of them. As part of its campaigns, Dunhill regularly broadcasts information about upcoming webinars promoting new sales concepts, insurance products, and productivity-enhancing techniques. To catch prospects’ interest, the e-mails tend toward the lighter side, using clever turns of phrase, caricature drawings and mild humor.
And sometimes, enticements with sex appeal. At industry conferences–Dunhill regularly promotes its offerings at shows hosted by NAIFA, MDRT, and The International Forum, among other gatherings–the company has generated much interest among advisors by posting “attractive” and “personable” shoe-shine girls at its booth. When a Dunhill representative follows up by phone with broker prospects to gauge their interest in affiliating, the memory of the shoe-shine girl helps to break the ice.
“There’s a lot carnival-like stuff we do to get brokers’ attention,” he says. “These techniques are effective, but I would never communicate in the same way with brokers as they do with their own clients.”
To be sure, sources say, these and other outreach initiatives have to be pursued with care so as not to alienate targeted prospects. E-mail blasts are fine so long as they convey useful information and don’t overwhelm recipients who may already be contending with information overload. Setting up a booth at an industry conference, market-watchers agreed, is chiefly of value for branding purposes. They provide brokers with an opportunity to explore the value of affiliating with a BGA or IMO, but partnerships generally aren’t inked at these events.
And not all new Internet communications tools are suitable for recruiting. Sources say they employ blogs, websites and e-newsletters to varying degrees to raise interest in their services. But BGAs and IMOs still largely avoid using social media networks, such as LinkedIn and Facebook, as part of their outreach efforts. Indeed, they say that most affiliations are still sealed through time-tested methods: with a phone call and/or in-person visit to the producer of interest.
It still comes down to the telephone–the old-fashioned way,” says Raggio. “Nothing takes the place of that.”
Adds Teague Wright, an executive vice president at Crump Life Insurance Services, Harrisburg, Pa., “Most agents receive phone calls and in-person visits from our team, accompanied by printed material. If the producer is a big enough fish, we’ll fly him or her to our office to let them see what we’re all about.”