Life Happens, formerly the Life Foundation, has carved out a unique industry niche: The 21-year-old organization coordinates campaigns designed to raise consumer awareness about the value of life, disability income and long-term care insurance. The not-for-profit also serves as a resource to agents and brokers who sell these products.
What many of those producers don’t know is that Life Happens will be soon be unveiling a website where all of its marketing and education tools will be available online. To learn more about the portal and other initiatives underway, LifeHealthPro Senior Editor Warren Hersch recently spoke with Life Happens President and CEO Marvin Feldman. The following are excerpts.
Hersch: How did you come to Life Happens? What skills and expertise do you bring to your position?
Feldman (pictured at right): After completing my term as president of the Million Dollar Round Table in 2002, I arrived at Life Happens, and thereafter joined the organization’s Executive Committee. While serving as chairman of the board, a volunteer position, the current CEO retired. The Executive Committee’s Search Committee asked that I serve an interim CEO for a temporary period until a permanent replacement could be found.
That was 8 years ago. After 6 months on the job, the committee asked if I would join as permanent president and CEO, and I agreed. So I’ve held this position since 2007.
Hersch: How is the organization’s mission and, in particular, its focus on helping agents and brokers educate consumers about the value of insurance, evolving?
Feldman: Much has changed since I joined the board, when our focus was print advertising. The problem with print is that it’s very hard to collect metrics indicating how effective an ad campaign is.
We no longer do print advertising; we’re now an all-digital organization, one with a dual function: We’re outwardly focused on consumer education and motivation to get the public to use our industry’s products and services; and we’re inwardly focused on educating industry professionals on how to use those resources.
We’ve also revised our marketing resources, including our Real Life stories. These videos — true stories that show why it’s so crucial to include insurance in financial plans — may be viewed in both a traditional 3- to 5-minute format and in a shorter, 15- to 30-second version.
The transition to digital from print has also empowered our consumer outreach efforts. Last year, we connected with over 611 million consumers — the highest number ever.
And because of the enhanced industry input we’ve been receiving following changes to our governance structure, we’re able to generate metrics — the number of people contacted through an awareness campaign, the effect of the initiatives, what works and why — the companies need to help make marketing and product decisions. So by going digital, we not only have enhanced the ability to educate and connect with consumers; we’re also much better positioned to understand and address their concerns.
Hersch: How many advisors does Life Happens reach? How do you stay in contact with them as they transition in their careers?
Feldman: On the advisor side, about 40,000 life insurance professionals out of more than 300,000 nationwide are in our database. Half of them are employed by an insurer and half are independent.
What we don’t always know now is who is affiliated with which company. An advisor may, for example, be a Prudential Financial agent but use John Smith Financial as his dba. But with the new digital platform we’re getting ready to release, we expect to be able to better address this issue.
Hersch: How would you grade the organization’s performance under your tenure? What would you identify as Life Happens’ chief accomplishments?
Feldman: I think we’re doing very well. As part of a strategic plan implemented in 2012, we restructured our 18-member board of directors. The members include representatives from 7 of the insurance industry’s producer organizations and five Life Happens member companies.
Because we now enjoy a wider diversity of perspectives in board meetings, we’ve become a more effective organization. We’re better able to educate consumers and provide the marketing tools and resources the companies, agents and advisors need to reach to consumers and generate sales.
Hersch: Do you measure organizational gains chiefly in terms of heightened consumer awareness or sales of life, disability income and long-term care insurance? What results have you observed from Life Happens’ signature initiatives: September’s Life Insurance Awareness Month and Real Life Stories?
Feldman: As I mentioned before, we can now track how many consumers we’re reaching through different programs. But correlating increased product sales to our consumer outreach initiatives depends on the companies’ willingness and ability to provide us with sales figures, such as those connected to September’s Life Insurance Awareness Month.
And this remains a challenge. In part for competitive reasons, insurers are hesitant to give out sales figures.
What we want to do is show the companies that, as a result of our combined efforts — the delivery of our resources and advertising programs in conjunction with the companies’ distribution initiatives during a specified period — certain objectives were achieved. We do have some metrics to draw conclusions about campaign effectiveness, but not yet enough.
Hersch: Sales metrics aside, what continuing challenges does Life Happens face? What obstacles are preventing or slowing progress towards meeting objectives?
Feldman: One advantage of Life Happens is that we have a small, fast and nimble team. But whereas we can spearhead initiatives quickly, the companies have a slower decision-making process, and so there often is a lag time in adopting new programs.
When the companies do, they see results. And a big reason why is the unique role we play in the industry.
Because we’re an independent, 501(c)(3) non-profit, our resources carry great weight with consumers. We don’t brand our education materials. Nor do we endorse specific companies or products.
As a neutral third-party, we put a humanitarian face on education and the industry through public affairs and corporate responsibility. So what we do is a social good: educating consumers about the benefits of our industry’s solutions; and motivating them to work with an agent or advisor to fulfill their protection needs.
Hersch: Regarding your point about Life Happens as small, fast and nimble, who all do you have on staff?
Feldman: Internally, we have nine people, but we also work with PR agency and ad agencies, a web development firm and a research team.
Matt Derrick, executive vice president of marketing & programs at Life Happens, is in charge of the new web platform we’re developing. He brings to Life Happens a strong understanding of digital marketing solutions, an area of expertise we previously lacked.
The web platform, Life Happens Pro, comes in two versions: one for agents and advisors; the other for home offices. Now in beta testing, the platform is generating a lot of excitement among users because of all the easily accessible resources we aggregate there: widgets, videos, social media and infographics, calculator apps, industry research and a store.
Derrick: To be formally unveiled in June, the online platform avails producers of all of the educational content and resources we’ve developed over the years, includes hundreds of videos that we’ve invested millions of dollars producing.
Feldman: The new platform will also offer compliance departments the ability to make changes to online marketing materials they think necessary. So agents will no longer have to wait weeks or months to get company approval to use our resources. We’ve really streamlined the process.
Hersch: How many life insurers are helping to fund Life Happens’ programs?
Feldman: The 166 organizations that are supporting us financially, including about 135 companies, are listed on our website. Financial support is always an issue: Every year, we have to justify the amounts of money we receive from the companies.
But we’re hoping that Life Happens Pro, among other initiatives we’ve spearheaded, will make it easier for the companies to say “Yes, we’ll continue to fund Life Happens — and do so at a higher level.” That will allow us to continue to innovate, motivate consumers to buy our industry’s products, and help increase the bottom-line productivity of the field agents and advisors.
Hersch: Speaking of the field, how you are reaching out to the producers you serve?
Feldman: Because the bulk of our funding comes from major companies that have large field forces — both the big mutual companies and the stock companies — we’re able to connect with their career agents directly. As for independent producers, we link up with them through additional channels: MDRT, AALU, NAIFA, LIDMA and other industry associations. We enjoy very good support from these organizations, as they help to promote our tools and resources to their members.
Hersch: Can you also speak to collaboration with individual companies? What new partnerships are you forging?
Feldman: We have research initiatives underway with several companies — I won’t name them — to see if they get a brand lift by tying their marketing programs to our digital advertising pieces. Much of the industry doesn’t yet know about these branding initiatives; we first want to see if they work. If they do, it will be a big story because other companies will want to use them.
This touches on another value-added benefit of Life Happens: Our ability to conduct research the companies might be reluctant to do. Because we’re a non-profit, we’re better positioned to do market testing and gauge the impact of a pilot project on specific brands and products.
Hersch: You earlier described Life Happens as unique in the insurance space. Might the industry benefit by having other organizations like yours helping to increase consumer awareness and insurance sales? Or do you feel you can do the job alone?
Feldman: We can’t be all things to all people. We’ve chosen to limit our scope to life insurance, disability income insurance — which is being promoted by a small number of companies — and long-term care insurance, which has the same issue.
We feel very strongly that these three risk-based products need to be included in a financial planning.
Hersch: Why are so few companies marketing DI insurance? What’s the issue?
Feldman: Companies that once marketed DI exited the market because it wasn’t profitable for them. There are still a handful of carriers that sell the product. The DI space remains a viable niche for these insurers.
And this brings us to DI Insurance Awareness Month in May, which we’re coordinating. The campaign is geared to educating consumers about the importance of DI.
The companies that still manufacture and distribute the product are tied in heavily to that campaign. And they have told us they’ve enjoyed significant increases in the number of products sales and premium revenue generated as a result of our resources.
Hersch: Gazing three to five years into the future, what more do you hope to achieve for Life Happens? In this same time line, what do you see for the industry in general?
Feldman: Most life insurance professionals are now in their mid-to-late 50s, and about 40 percent of them will retire in the next 10 years. If we have 300,000 agents and independent brokers, and 40 percent are planning to retire, then the industry will lose 120,000 producers in the next 10 years.
My concern is this: How do we hire enough people to replace those 120,000 individuals? To do so, we need to recruit 12,000 people each year. But given a 4-year industry retention rate of 15 percent, that means we have to hire 60,000 people annually to stay level — a tall order.
So we have to do a much better job with recruitment and retention. Our organization can help with both objectives by showing individuals considering a career in the profession — most especially young millennials — how our products have helped keep families and businesses together.
Our Real Life Stories help people to understand and appreciate the importance of what we do as agents and advisors. We at Life Happens can’t hire life insurance professionals directly, but we can help motivate people to join and stay in the business.