Eileen McDonnell (Photo: Penn Mutual)

Eileen McDonnell, president of Penn Mutual Life Insurance Company, spoke up for live-human advisors last week in New York, at an insurance conference organized by S&P Global Ratings.

S&P issues credit ratings that help decide what bonds life insurers can buy. S&P ratings also help determine how much interest life insurers have to pay when they borrow money. McDonnell appeared at a conference session in front of an audience full of top-level lenders and investment managers.

McDonnell told those high-powered audience members that advisors continue to play a key role in the financial services sales process, especially for Penn Mutual and other midsize players. 

(Related: Fiduciary Rule Confusion Hangs Over S&P Conference Life Sessions)

“Technology is an enabler on the front end,” McDonnell said.

Consumers do like to use the web to learn about insurance products, but, once consumers are getting ready to make a purchase, they often want an advisor to help make the decision, McDonnell said.

Later, during a discussion about advisor training, McDonnell said her Horsham, Pennsylvania-based company still has a career agent system, and a training program for new career agents.

“I believe there will always be a need for a career system, to help grow and develop advisors,” McDonnell said at a later point.

In theory, large distribution organizations are supposed to be providing the training that large insurers’ career agency systems once provided, but, in the real world, many distribution organizations are finding that they lack the capacity to do a good job of training new advisors, McDonnell said.

“We view ourselves as an advisor brand,” McDonnell added. She said she thinks one key to success for a company like Penn Mutual is to respect the work that advisors do, and to not see advisors as interchangeable parts.

McDonnell said her message for advisors is, “Your success is our success.”

— Read Financial Vigilance Boosts Women’s Security: Study on ThinkAdvisor.