Over the past year, a lot of calls have come in from readers seeking sequential quarterly sales results–that is, quarter to previous quarter–followed by annual sales comparisons such as most recent quarter versus same quarter last year.
Some are looking for half-year results, also sequential. (Of course, at year-end, they want year over year, same as always.)
This attention to very recent results, quarter to previous quarter, is new.
In past years, most industry professionals seemed to be satisfied with data comparing the most recent quarter to the same period in the previous year.
The shift is worth noting because the inquiries are not coming just from data junkies. They are also coming from company researchers and executives, agency and brokerage heads, consultants and other business leaders–professionals who are mindfully scoping out something specific that they need for decision-making, sooner rather than later.
Their sense of urgency is palpable, and their comments about that are revealing.
As I understand it, the economy has been so volatile, and sales have been so bumpy, that some of these professionals have decided they really need to give more heed to current sequential data than before.
A big move, up or down, from the previous quarter means something to them. For instance, it may mean it’s time to decide whether to cut, curb, curtail, redirect, beef up, or otherwise change products and strategy. They feel they do not have the luxury of a long wait-and-see before taking decisive action.
Business 101 typically warns that acting only on recent results can create problems from which a firm may never recover. But in periods of big change, some insurance firms can, and do, move fast.
Consider: The recent recession officially started at the end of 2007. Variable annuity sales, which typically slow when markets decline, dropped 12% in first quarter 2008 compared to the previous quarter. They dropped a bit more the following quarter (compared to first quarter) but sank further in third quarter (by 10% compared to second quarter). This data is from VARDS, a service of Morningstar, Inc., Chicago.
Meanwhile, as the downturn deepened, many VA insurers grew concerned about the sustainability of their VA living benefit guarantees. Presto! By the second half, some of those insurers were trimming back, removing or increasing prices on those guarantees–moves that advisors said made VAs even harder to sell.
That is not end of story, though. Soon, carriers responded again to the pressures of the moment, by introducing new, albeit less robust, guarantees. By second quarter 2009, when the market started its comeback, new VA sales were ticking up a bit from first quarter, and by fourth quarter 2009 VA sales were up again–by 2.6% from third quarter, according to VARDS.
Those are but a few highlights from a very complex story, but they should make it clear that swift action prevailed.
It’s not just carriers that are watching and responding to short-term trends. Producers and brokers are doing it too.
For instance, one advisor recently said he is looking at quarter to quarter results for fixed annuity sales in 2009. Why? He is comparing industry results to those of his companies–to help him decide which company to send most of his business to in the coming months.
Ratings, product features and pricing count, too, he said, as does suitability of a product for the customer. But he says he is now giving greater weight to the quarter by quarter results than previously, because things are changing so rapidly now, he is concerned he might otherwise end up placing business with laggards.
If there is a disconnect somewhere in those results, this advisor now digs deeper into company innards before deciding whether to continue using the company.
This is not to say that insurance decision-makers ignore longer time horizons. They don’t. But in periods of dynamic change, they give greater credence to short-term results than they might otherwise.
The attitudes of day-traders and short-term investors may have influenced the group-think on this. Spurning the traditional “buy and hold” strategy, they prefer “buy and sell–quickly.” They’ve made the idea of hair trigger moves almost commonplace.
Another influence may be the experience level of the decision-maker. Those with less experience may not yet have had the “pleasure” of suffering the consequences of quick action gone awry.
This may all be irrelevant once the economy gets its sea legs back. But then, that could start a jolt on the upside.