The middle market will drive future life insurance industry growth, according to a panel of executives at LIMRA’s 2011 Life Insurance Conference yesterday.

Thomas M. Marra, president and CEO of Symetra Financial Corp.; J. Eric Smith, president of USAA Life Insurance Company; and Gary “Doc” Huffman, president and CEO of Ohio National, agreed that producers need to shift their focus to insuring middle-income Americans.

“Middle market will be the growth engine for the future,” Marra said. “Companies will need to return to the basics of life insurance to reach this market. With estate taxes [exemptions] at $5 million and $10 million for one person or a couple, opportunity in the affluent market will be diminished. The days of hunting elephants are probably over.”

To gain market share in this category, producers will have to leverage technology, building strong web sites and using social networking tools, Smith said.

But mostly, the panelists agreed, the industry will need more producers if it wants to effectively insure the middle market. Huffman pointed out that Ohio National has expanded distribution since 2005 and has been able to capture more market share as a result. “But it is very difficult in the first 3 to 5 years for a new agent,” he said. “Our industry needs to find a better way to attract and retain the younger generations as they enter the business.”

For more on the middle market, see:

Wake up, middle market

How to attract middle market clients

How to reach and teach the middle market