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Life Agents Face Internal Awareness Threat: Marvin Feldman

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Agents and brokers who specialize in selling life insurance and annuities may need to spend some time marketing themselves to other players in the life insurance market.

Marvin Feldman, president of Life Happens, talked about the need for professional-to-professional outreach last week in an interview about the Life Insurance Awareness Month 2017 campaign.

(Related: Foundation Kicks Off Life Awareness Month)

Life Happens, an Arlington, Virginia-based nonprofit group, is getting ready to kick off its 15th annual life awareness effort Sept. 1.

This year, the group is putting some of the consumer-oriented videos and marketing materials it offers agents behind a log-in wall, and making access available only to agents affiliated with life insurers or other companies that are helping to pay for the campaign. The goal is to make the agents aware that home offices have cut off campaign funding, and to mobilize the agents to educate the home office personnel about the importance of supporting the campaign, Feldman said.

“We’ve had to tell [agents], ‘Your company chose not to fund us for 2017,” Feldman said.

In some cases, home office workers seem to have cut off funding without talking to the field agents, and without understanding how the field agents use the campaign materials, Feldman said.

Feldman said Life Happens has reports that show how its work increases consumer awareness of the value of life insurance.

“People do listen to us,” Feldman said.

Life Happens’ status as a nonprofit that is not promoting any specific product or brand increases its credibility, Feldman said.

Changes Squeeze Support

Seven life distribution groups started Life Happens, under the name Life Insurance Foundation for Education, in 1994. At that time, plunging interest rates were hurting the performance of interest-based life insurance products. Foundation organizers wanted to improve the industry’s reputation, and to help consumers, policymakers and others understand how life insurance can help improve a family’s financial security.

The group started the awareness month effort in 2004. Feldman has been in the life insurance industry for more than 50 years, and he’s been running Life Happens for 10 years.

Some giant life insurers that were on the group’s list of member companies 10 years ago are missing now.

Wall Street sign (Photo: Allison Bell/TA)

(Photo: Allison Bell/TA)

Low interest rates, regulatory pressure, demutualizations, and moves to combine life insurance underwriting and distribution with other types of financial services organizations have all affected awareness campaign support, Feldman said.

Around 2000, several large, policyholder-owned mutual life insurers organized initial public offerings. The IPOs transferred control of the companies from policyholders to public investors. The company managers now have to watch the prices of their stocks fluctuate minute by minute on stock tickers, and they have to face quarterly earnings calls with securities analysts.

Given the pressure to maximize earnings and keep public investors happy, “doing anything for the good of the industry doesn’t seem to resonate as well,” Feldman said.

Meanwhile, efforts to combine life insurance with banking or securities sales may give companies new ways to reach consumers, but they also increase the number of financial professionals who have life agent licenses along with little first-hand experience with life insurance, Feldman said.

In some cases, Feldman said, those newcomers to life insurance have little understanding of why anyone would ever buy permanent life insurance, or may even see insurance premium bills mainly as competition for money that could be flowing into non-insurance products.

To counteract that kind of thinking, “we’re trying to get information out to the industry,” Feldman said.

The 2017 Campaign

For the 2017 campaign, month organizers are bringing back Danica Patrick, one of the most successful female race car drivers of all time, as the campaign spokesperson.

Patrick, a woman who believes in keeping herself fit, will talk about how life insurance can improve a family’s financial security, Feldman said.

Feldman noted that LIMRA and the American Council of Life Insurers have been moving away from the idea of protecting against risk, and toward an emphasis on the theme of promoting financial wellness.

Patrick, and Life Happens’ 2017 campaign materials, will also emphasize the financial wellness message, Feldman said.

Life Happens is also working to improve the impact data it can provide for life insurers, insurance distributors and other supporters.

Life Happens has data showing how the Life Happens campaigns increase search activity for specific companies’ brands, Feldman said.

— Read Glass Half Full: Seismic Shifts in the Life Insurance Industry on ThinkAdvisor.