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Here's What Consumers Want: Allianz Life CEO

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What You Need to Know

  • Jasmine Jirele says consumers want to understand why they need life insurance and annuities.
  • Ed Chanda wonders what will happen if people continue to work from home.
  • Martin Kelly says the supply of annuity blocks on the market far outstrips the would-be buyers' supply of capital.

The head of a major annuity issuer says the nature of life and annuity distribution is changing because that’s what the customers want.

Jasmine Jirele, CEO of Allianz Life of North America, touched on distribution earlier this week, during a session at KPMG’s 33rd annual insurance conference.

Jirele, who was named to succeed Walter White as the leader of the Minneapolis-based arm of Germany’s Allianz, talked about insurance agents, financial advisors and financial planners when Jill Farrington, a KPMG partner, asked her about the topic.

“At one point, we had more traditional insurance agents in our distribution network,” Jirele said. “However, over time, that mix has really shifted.”

Today, she said, Allianz Life has a broad base of distribution relationships that includes financial advisors and planners as well as agents.

“That has certainly helped to bring our insurance products into a more holistic financial planning process, which is one of the things that we hear and see customers demanding,” Jirele added. “Historically, insurance products really were sold and bought on a one-off basis, not necessarily as part of an integrated plan. More and more, customers are looking to advisors to help them make sense of all of the different needs they’re trying to solve for, andall of the different risks they’re trying to manage. And, frankly, where and how insurance best fits.”

Here are some other points that Jirele and other speakers made at the KPMG conference, which attracted about 600 life sector executives, investors and consultants as registrants.

1. Providing a great customer experience takes more than doing better than other life insurers.

Jirele said consumers want a better, simpler experience and are not simply comparing Allianz Life with other financial services companies.

“They’re thinking about, ‘What’s the last product I bought online,’” or about how they resolved a problem by texting, Jirele said.

“We really have to up our game,” she said.

She reported that one way Allianz Life is pursuing that goal is by doing a much better job of getting a customer’s mobile telephone number, email addresses and other “digital ID” at the point of sale.

2. The effects of working from home as a result of COVID-19 may be at least partly positive.

Ed Chanda, the leader of KPMG’s insurance practice, said that he worries about work-from-home mode becoming a habit.

“The longer we stay in it, the more we’re going to get used to it,” he said.

Jirele said the shift has made a big difference at Allianz Life.

Before COVID-19 came along, “Allianz Life was very much an on-campus, face-to-face, you-come-into-the-office-five-days-a-week kind of culture,” she said.

But, now that most workers at Allianz Life are working from home, “we can have talent located virtually anywhere,” she said.

3. Apollo Global Management’s strategy for earning higher investment returns than many traditional insurers is to put up some assets in high-quality investments that are hard to sell.

Apollo is the parent of Athene Holdings, a company that has been winning many big annuity reinsurance deals in recent years.

Martin Kelly, Apollo’s chief financial officer, said Apollo has been able to win many of the bidding processes because it has asset management operations that generate unusually high returns.

“We’ve found that insurance companies have the perfect structure to take illiquidity risk,” Kelly said.

In many cases, he said, Apollo buys high-quality assets that are somewhat less attractive to some other investors because the investments will have to stay in place for years.

4. In spite of growing investor interest, there are plenty of annuity blocks available for purchase.

The market is attractive, and more bidders are coming in, especially for simple blocks of fixed annnuity business, Kelly said.

But, in general, he said, the would-be buyers are having a hard time coming with the capital to acquire all of the available blocks.

Phil Jacobson, KPMG’s tax insurance leader, asked whether the new hunger for life and annuity blocks will shrink if interest rates go back up.

“We think it’s a structural shift and that it’s here forever,” Kelly said.

Jasmine Jirele (Photo: KPMG)