David Long looked like one of the youngest people in the room, but he knows he’s in an industry dominated by old, er, “experienced” professionals.
Long, who is 43, was representing BGAs in a wide-ranging “State of the Industry” panel discussion in front of about 200 people during NAILBA 32 on Thursday afternoon at the Gaylord Texan resort in Dallas. Joining Long, of CPS Sacramento/Long Insurance, on the panel were Jimmy Atkins of Legal & General America, LL Global Services President Jim Kerley, and Warren May of Principal Financial Group.
Long hit on one of the industry’s biggest issues by revealing that his top-producing agent is 80 years old. It’s a problem he and the industry have been facing for more than a decade now, and one that was talked about frequently during the panel discussion: The already advanced average age of producers continues to rise, and what can the industry do to bring new (ie: young) people into the business.
Atkins related a story about a BGA that works with Legal & General. All of this BGA’s brokers were in their 70s, and none of them had a succession plan – it was like they all had a pact to one day just hang it up. This, as Atkins pointed out, is terrible for business. “Every month a lot of people are just hanging it up,” he said, and the impact is being felt throughout the industry.
National Underwriter’s recent Independent Producer Research Study found that an alarming 68 percent of producers currently have no business succession plan in place, and 27 percent said they had no plans to create one before retiring. This creates a lot of orphaned clients and a lot of headaches for the industry.
The problem is making some BGAs rethink their distribution strategies. Long mentioned that some are toying with creating a career-type system with a BGA platform instead of a carrier platform. An obvious drawback to this captive production would be actually competing with your independents, but Long said he thinks this and other non-traditional distribution methods are trends that will continue as the industry struggles to solve the problem of an aging producer workforce.
Panelists also reinforced the power and consumer preference of face-to-face selling (LIMRA research reveals 60 percent of consumers still prefer to buy life insurance face-to-face), with the BGA channel remaining the dominant form of distribution. Still, the interests of carriers, BGAs and producers are not always aligned, and there needs to be a rebalancing to keep the distribution channel working effectively. Level commissions could be part of the realignment.
While most people still prefer buying life insurance from an agent face-to-face, panelists noted the emergence of “omni-channel” buying: the ability to buy 24/7 from any channel that is the most convenient at the time. Consumers are already used to this, as they might order something online and pick it up at the store closest to them. The life insurance industry needs to improve its ability to deal with today’s consumers that have this expectation.