Robert Powell helps the annuity writers talk to the annuity distributors.
Powell is vice president of wealth management sales at iPipeline, a financial services distribution technology company based in Exton, Pennsylvania. The teams he leads support wealth management and insurance distributors.
He joined iPipeline in 2017, following the financial services technology company’s acquisition of Laser App software.
Powell has a bachelor’s degree in marketing and advertising from California State Polytechnic University-Pomona. He entered the financial services technology arena as an intern at Laser App, when Laser App was a tiny startup. He became Laser App’s fifth full-time employee and spent the next 15 years working in sales and marketing at the company.
Today, in his free time, he takes his family camping, hiking, fishing, to Dodger games, and to every other outdoor activity involving sunshine.
He answered a set of questions about how he sees annuity distribution and annuity distribution technology evolving.
THINKADVISOR: How has the world of financial services distribution technology changed since you got that Laser App internship?
Robert Powell: When I started two decades ago, no one really talked about RIAs, and the industry was very different.
The software, in general, was very different. Back then, we had just come out of the dot-com bubble, and then six years later, we had the housing market crash and the market tanked.
We had a lot of down times that we had to come up through.
What took up the most time and energy in connection with annuity distribution technology last year, and what did you learn from that?
With a lot of our larger distributors, a big focus this past year has been on electronic signatures, or e-signatures, which may sound kind of behind the curve in some senses, and ahead of it in others.
Everyone has been using e-signatures for quite a while now, but when you’re dealing with annuities, the adoption has historically been very low.
This past year, however, we have tremendously increased e-sign adoption. From even just the year before, there has been a four-fold increase.
A lot of annuities are funded by existing products, so you have a transfer process that may need to occur. When you do that, you must know a lot about the company that has the annuity product and the funds today, and whether they accept e-signatures.
Historically, there have been a lot of complexities involved, and we’ve been focused on simplifying them across the board.
When you have a simple concept like, “Hey, the broker-dealer says, ‘I want to increase my e-sign adoption,’” then we can inquire further to find out what is causing the lack of adoption today.
It’s not that the people are not accepting the signatures, because everybody accepts the signatures.
So, why the lack of adoption?
We spend a lot of time identifying all those pieces, getting them addressed, and then smoothed out.
We make general enhancements throughout the year, but one of the biggest ongoing themes is getting that adoption rate up.
Coinciding with this is a mandate from the Insured Retirement Institute (IRI) for all members to increase their e-sign adoption to 80%. They’ve basically set up a benchmark, and now everyone is very heavily focused on pushing that adoption rate up.
What are you focusing on the most right now?
The e-sign adoption is definitely a big part of our focus, even now.
Our focus for annuities is on unearthing those specific causes for our distributors.
Our focus for the big financial institutions we serve is on helping them understand what e-sign adoption challenges exist and how we can help address and solve them.
What forces out there are helping, and what forces are hurting?
In general, there’s a lot going on in the annuity marketplace right now. You have new entrants, but they’re not all alike.
Some of them are complementary to us, while others are pseudo-competitive to us. But everybody’s got to integrate with everybody, so there’s that dynamic.
There’s also a lot of messaging and confusion in the broker-dealer space.
Annuities overall are inherently super complex.
One of the things we do at iPipeline is make annuities simple to understand. We try to demystify all the stuff that goes into an annuity, but you don’t really have to be an expert to process one.