One of the most consequential decisions any investment or insurance professional will ever make is the choice of which companies to align themselves with for the distribution of product, marketing initiatives and client service support. You are not only deciding upon the brands, products and solutions in which you’ll specialize, but whose corporate culture you will allow to impact you in the areas of national and online reputation, payouts and vesting, training and office support, and product and market niche.

Twenty years ago, I was fortunate to receive excellent mentoring from two legendary producers at a mid-level captive carrier in the Northeast. It was their principled tutelage from 65 years of combined experience, rather than the above-average features of that carrier’s variable product line, that became the most valuable asset of that employer relationship, as I learned the skills and knowledge to succeed in the investment and insurance profession.

After about seven years with that captive carrier, however, we began to detect changes in its corporate culture, the treatment of clients and producers, and the disposition of management toward both. Although the company’s financials and ratings had remained unchanged, the self-serving designs of the CEO’s team had become visible to all, as fallacious corporate statements were made about the future distribution model of the company, the intended sale of the agent force to an outside broker-dealer, and even planned contractual amendments. Eventually their most tenured agents banded together to sue the carrier, alleging fraud, misrepresentation and breach of contract.

 It should be no surprise that everything soon fell apart after that, especially the corporate reputation of the carrier itself, and I and others left soon thereafter. Today, that insurer has struggled to recover, lost and regained some of its ratings strength, is under all-new management, and has changed both its product niche (IA over VA) and distribution (IMO over captive) model. Once you’ve lied to your revenue source, recovery is always a tenuous process.

Happily, one of the non-captive IA carriers whom I thoroughly vetted and have since become appointed with has been a fantastic addition to our offerings for over a decade. Their Midwestern corporate culture is direct-contract, advisor-focused, and one of accessible management and first-rate field office support. The firm is constantly improving the most innovative products in the market today. Their financials and ratings are top-notch, their reputation excellent, and their debt-free ESOP business model is the envy of other carriers.

Today, credibility-by-association is more important than ever. Those with whom we align ourselves have the potential to make or destroy our careers and livelihood by their actions, and the Internet keeps no secrets. After 24 years in this profession, I’m fully convinced that corporate culture trumps all.

For more from Thomas K. Brueckner, see:

How do you respond to life?

The road warrior handicap … and the home field advantage

Why specialization makes sense