Photo credit: <a href = "http://www.freedigitalphotos.net/images/view_photog.php?photogid=2664">Stuart Miles</a>

We’re hearing and reading a lot these days about the annuity market and how 2011 sales were a big improvement over 2010. We’re also hearing a lot about how annuities seem almost perfectly designed for today’s economic environment, especially in a society full of people who are living longer and growing concerned about outliving their savings.

In this roundtable, we look beyond the statistics and talk to the top producers who are generating those numbers.

To get the producer’s perspective on today’s annuity trends and how to capitalize on them, we turned to the following panel of top producers for their viewpoints: Ryan Pinney, Alan Schuh, and Kirk Wilkerson.

Ryan Pinney serves as the vice president of brokerage sales for Pinney Insurance Center, a national brokerage general agency that provides insurance, investment and financial planning advice combined with proprietary tools to assist agents and financial advisors. Ryan is a three-time MDRT Top of the Table qualifier. He currently serves as the local president of NAIFA Northern California, as a member of the MDRT Member Communications Committee and as a member of NAIFA California’s Social Media Task Force.

Alan Schuh of Alan Schuh & Associates LLC, in Weston, Fla., has been helping individuals and business owners preserve their assets, increase their income and reduce income taxes for more than 23 years. As host of Safe Money Radio, he helps people protect their retirement money. His firm’s mission is to teach clients safe-money strategies, with a focus on IRA/401(k) rollovers, retirement/income planning and capital transfer strategies.

Kirk Wilkerson of Forest City, N.C., is a registered representative and investment advisor representative who offers securities and investment advisory services through AXA Advisors LLC. Kirk is a nine-year Million Dollar Round Table member with six Court of the Table and one Top of the Table distinctions. His practice is dedicated to helping individuals and businesses build their financial futures.

Previously, the panel predicted even higher sales of annuities in 2012 and discussed variable and indexed annuities. This week, they look ahead at what’s in store for the industry, innovations and the boomer market.

Major opportunities in aging boomers, volatile economy

Charles K. Hirsch: As you look at the trends in the annuity market, where do you see the biggest opportunities, and what are you doing to position yourself to take advantage of those opportunities?

Alan Schuh: Based on my daily interaction with clients and prospects, the greatest opportunities for life agents are in working with the boomers ages 50 to 65. These people have seen most of their assets decline in value during the past decade, and most of them are not adequately prepared financially to retire. In addition, other than government employees, most people will retire without a traditional pension to rely on. All they will have are their 401(k)s, IRAs and personal savings, and as we all know, many people have not saved enough money.

The advent of the GMWB—that is, the guaranteed minimum withdrawal benefit—riders on annuities has really changed the landscape for life insurance agents. We now have the ability to help people dramatically improve the income gap they have created due to inadequate savings, without them having to gamble with their retirement assets. I’ve been in the business for 23 years, and I’ve never been more confident that we have the right solutions at the right time to help people.

If you see enough prospects, you will be successful. You must conduct yourself as a business owner and invest heavily in your business. The return on investment from marketing—through seminars, radio shows, and direct mail—is incredible. I don’t know of any other business that has the profit margins we do. You will never achieve your potential if you think and act like a salesperson.

Kirk Wilkerson: Again, guarantees are significant. We have an aging population in America. Many older Americans are anxious about what may lie ahead. Many have been forced to retire early, while others are forced to go back to work to make ends meet. We financial professionals are stewards of people’s financial lives and retirement plans. We have a moral responsibility to make sure we have done everything to guide our clients through the myriad decisions and products associated with retirement. To that end, I have earned a Certificate of Retirement Planning from the Wharton School of The University of Pennsylvania for completing the AXA Equitable At Retirement program at Wharton. I believe staying on top of all aspects of retirement, from product changes to legislative changes, is vital if we are to serve the common good for our clients and, inevitably, our society.

Ryan Pinney: To me, the low interest rate environment for CDs and the market volatility associated with stocks, bonds and mutual funds have really created the perfect opportunity to promote and sell annuities. Simply discussing these factors and the benefits annuities offer has led to a continued and growing stream of annuity sales.

Growth, innovation ahead

Hirsch: Any further thoughts?

Wilkerson: Annuities are continuously evolving, which is why I discourage both advisors and clients from acting on outdated perceptions. For instance, just in the past couple of years, fast-changing market and economic conditions have spawned new products designed to address interest rate and market volatility risks to retirement savings. Although it takes time and commitment, it’s important to keep your eyes and ears open to product innovations and new strategies.

Schuh: Some agents are worried that stockbrokers are going to be selling fixed index annuities. That’s the best thing that can happen to our industry. FIAs have been bad-mouthed in the media and by regulators since their inception in 1995. They tried to bury us with 151A and failed, so since they couldn’t beat us, they decided to join us. Soon we’ll start to see positive press about FIAs, so there will be more consumer awareness, which will help all of us in the long run.

The next 20 years or so will bring us unprecedented opportunities as 10,000 boomers retire every day. If that doesn’t make you jump out of bed early, then maybe you should find a new line of work!