NAILBA Brokerage in Motion Insurbrief - Episode 2

Audio transcription – July 2, 2021 


  • Katie Fehlinger, NAILBA
  • Dan LaBert, NAILBA
  • Keith Bexell, Prudential
  • Tim Klusas, The Marketing Alliance 
  • Kathryn Loheide, Formstack


Katie: Hello and welcome to Brokerage in Motion, your one-stop guide to everything you need to know from across independent distribution. I'm Katie Fehlinger. In industry headlines, life insurance saw a sales boom in the first quarter, and experts say that could be an indicator of a record year. According to a recent survey from LIMRA, products did well almost across the board in the first quarter, compared to 2020, with an 11% increase in total policy sold and a 15% increase in the total amount of associated annualized premiums. Meanwhile, variable universal life policy sales were especially strong. VUL policies only account for about 10% of all U.S. individual life premiums. However, new VUL sales were 31% higher in the latest quarter than in the first quarter of 2020.

Katie: After a flood of criticism, the National Association of Insurance Commissioners has approved a definition of accelerated underwriting. The NAIC had postponed a June 1st deadline to deliver definitions and data elements to Market Conduct Annual Statement Blanks Working Group, leading to an uproar from consumer reps. Moving forward, if the criteria passes a further vote, accelerated underwriting data would be on track for 2023 reporting. In product news, John Hancock has introduced a variable universal life insurance policy, Protection VUL. The policy can provide guaranteed death benefits up to age 100, and can be combined with long-term care and critical illness benefits riders.

Katie: Finally, some acquisition news. Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company has announced the completion of its acquisition of Great American Life Insurance Company. The $3.5 billion purchase includes Great American Life and its two subsidiaries, a broker dealer affiliate and insurance distributor. With this new acquisition, MassMutual is among the top five individual annuity writers in the U.S. If you have any carrier or industry announcements, or some news to share, we'd love to hear about it. Feel free to email us at [email protected]. Turning now to a discussion on the pandemic pivot, NAILBA CEO Dan LaBert sat down with Keith Bexell from Prudential to talk about how the company responded in 2020 and priorities for the future. Take a look.

Dan: Keith, what are some of the biggest advances that have taken place in the life insurance buying experience over the past year?

Keith: Thank you, Dan. In two general buckets, I would say both in terms of process and customization. At Prudential, we've had a suite of electronic capabilities that we've been building and developing over the last several years to help with the process, and help the process flow better. The pandemic has really accelerated those efforts. We're very consistent with our longer-term broader strategy as well, but we were able to sort of take these tools, these electronic tools, and create an electronic platform where we could pivot to that during the pandemic, and that allowed us to be able to really do business in an end-to-end way, mostly electronic, for the vast majority of our flow and most of our products and policies.

Keith: We have very, very good results from that. It worked very, very well, and it continues to work well. We have a lot of momentum. We certainly plan to continue to move forward as we think about the road ahead. We kind of moved from a lot of paper processes to electronic processes, and where I see us going is the now further digitization, and what that could mean and what that could look like, and I'll talk more about that a little bit later.

Dan: Well, let's dive into that, because anytime I have an open door to the home office, I want to ask the questions. If I don't, you know the members of NAILBA will hold me accountable. So, let's talk about that. How are you engaging customers? Everyone knows that there's been tons of changes in the past year, and that's what we're trying to accomplish here with NAILBA, getting those changes out. How are you engaging customers?

Keith: Well, by being available in as many places as we can in terms of meeting customer's needs and meeting them where they are. I think we all hear that a lot in different ways in different circles, but what does that really mean? We want to be available in lots of different product types, lots of different entry points into the insurance process, and kind of meet people where they are with their insurance needs. We're seeing a lot of that. We've seen growth in applications and applicants during the pandemic. Just as the industry has, our business has grown as well. We're seeing certainly more interest in insurance with younger generations, millennials in particular. We're seeing growth in that marketplace, and we're also seeing the desire for people to do business in a more digitized way.

Keith: More are expecting to say, "How do we get information to people?" "How do I find out more about a policy?" We talk about the business of underwriting a lot, and the other part that I think we should also mention is the servicing component of this. We've seen many new ways to engage customers during the past year, because we've seen a lot more phone calls coming in, and people really are talking about their policies and what their policies can do for them. We've had the opportunity to help people with payment plans, and in cases, being able to delay payments or stop payments, being able to put their life insurance policy to work for them, understand the terms of loans, or in some cases, maybe partial surrenders. It's been a great opportunity that we've found to really kind of help educate people, but also let them know that their insurance policy can help them with a lot more than just death benefit coverage.

Katie: Thanks, Dan. We're going to take just a short break. Don't go anywhere. There's more Brokerage in Motion coming up.

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Katie: Right now on Brokerage in Motion, our ID why segment, where we shine the spotlight on the people that make up independent distribution, to put a face on the profession and learn their why. Why they do what they do, and what drives them. In this ID Why installment, we learn just how much one NAILBA member has in common with a man known to the world as Rudy. Take a look.

Katie: When it comes to leadership philosophy...

Tim: It's the kind of thing where you get up every day and think, "How could I do more, and how can I do better?" And as long as we keep asking ourselves those questions, we're going to keep being successful.

Katie: Tim Klusas draws on his own experience, the philosophy to play like a champion today, and a personal history painted blue and gold.

Tim: I don't talk about it a lot, but since you asked.

Katie: Yep, that's a Notre Dame varsity jacket, and you're looking at a man who walked on as a running back for one of the top teams in college football. No easy feat.

Tim: A lot of times I got the, "What are you doing here?" "Oh, you're still showing up," "Oh, great. You're back again."

Katie: Summer tryouts, interhall football against the other dorms in the fall, rigorous winter conditioning, spring practice, physical tests, and then one day at practice, Tim got noticed.

Tim: Well, I'm running down as fast as I can. As I'm getting close to the bulk carrier, he zigged, I zagged, and I don't think he was used to seeing the kind of speed I had, because I was a lot slower than most of the people out there, and we ran into each other. I laid him out, just laid him out, by running into him. And then all of a sudden practice stops. Everybody just looks around. I'm thinking, "I'm going to get kicked out of here today."

Katie: Quite the opposite that practice drill officially sealed Tim's spot on the Notre Dame football team during the '92, '93 and '94 seasons. This was during one of the most storied eras for the Fighting Irish. When all this was happening for you, what was the experience like being part of that?

Tim: Getting past being star struck as a big Fighting Irish fan as a student was the first thing, walking the field with some of those folks. But then the other part of it was, Katie, they're trying to kill me. I've got to really be careful here, especially when they give you the ball and they all come at you at once. This is a hazardous thing. I got to really pay attention.

Katie: That attention to detail helped earn him playing time on special teams. Some of Tim's story may sound familiar. Understandably, it's similar to that of Rudy Ruettiger who famously walked on for Notre Dame in the '70s, and whose story became a major motion picture. I got to bring up the Rudy comparison. How often does that come up in conversation for you?

Tim: Well, lucky for me, Katie, when I was there, it was when the movie "Rudy" came out, and they were actually filming "Rudy" when I was on campus. Rudy's a great example for a lot of people who just had a dream and pursued it, and found a way to make it happen.

Katie: A motivational voice Tim brought to his own membership, when Rudy spoke at a meeting of The Marketing Alliance where Tim serves as president. But there was another voice that had profound impact for Tim, his former coach, Lou Holtz, with whom he was reunited at NAILBA 37.

Tim: I was really thankful, Katie, that everybody at NAILBA got to hear from Coach Holtz, because he's got a great message and he's a great leader, and there's a lot of things he says that if people would just really try to emulate some of those things, treating people well, pursuing each day as a means to a better tomorrow, I think world and the industry would be much better off.

Katie: Tim says looking back on his Notre Dame experience seems surreal, but at the time, Coach Holtz always managed to keep his team focused with the message, "Simply win," which meant far more than beating the opposing team.

Tim: Win is an acronym that stands for "What's important now," and it was all about staying focused in the moment.

Katie: A series of moments and life experience that Tim draws from and applies to his own leadership role, that every team member on the field, or in the office, is valuable.

Tim: I think about all things we do in our business. Agents make sales, and sure, in our business, maybe it's the CEO that's on stage. Maybe it's the Chief Marketing Officer that gets all the credit. But in fact, all the people behind them have to do their jobs to make that person look good, and I really got an appreciation for that. The fact that Coach Holtz made people like me on the team feel important, I think made us a great team.

Dan: I think in the insurance market, they love to hold on to paper, right? They love their paper. We've seen some progress around in digital transformation this past year, but that was because of a pandemic. Obviously, there's no interest in going back. So, you have the NAILBA brokerage general agency, and they work with hundreds of independent advisors, right? They're both holding onto paper, applications, you name it. When the brokerage general agency and the advisor are starting to make this transformation, what do they prioritize? In other words, how do you get started? It's like eating an elephant one bite at a time. So, which bite's first?

Kathryn: Yeah. Well, I think you start by assessing what's most important to your agency, to your business, and focus your digital transformation then by adding automation, wherever the greatest impact could be. For example, if you are dedicated to improving the customer experience, if that is the broader customer experience, start your digital transformation efforts by digitizing how your customers interact with the business. Use digital forms to file the claims rather than the paper, or automate documents to generate customer policies, then the customers can receive those policies digitally, which is probably where they want to store them anyway. I don't think file cabinets are the thing that people are buying anymore. Think about how your customers want to interact with you, and choose those methods to really start digitizing that.

Katie: Right now, I am joined by CEO Dan LaBert, and Dan, in the last episode of Brokerage in Motion, we talked about the 2021 annual meeting. Do you have any more details for us about registration?

Dan: Yes. Registration is open, so that's exciting. The feedback has been tremendous. Sponsor and exhibitor tables are down to less than a dozen available. It is going extremely well. NAILBA played the leadership role in getting out in front of the pandemic and scheduling our event. The response has been tremendous. We can't wait to welcome everyone, but if you are interested in having a presence that you support independent distribution, your opportunities are limited. Now, we still will talk at some point about the hybrid version, the three hybrid days that we have in November and December, but in-person, get your registration in.

Katie: Yeah, I think it's going to be a really exciting year just because there's that craving of human interaction that we have missed out on for so, so long.

Dan: Yes.

Katie: And Dan, a lot of people know that this is the time of year for the NAILBA Charitable Foundation. Grant applications, IMO fundraising, what's the latest on what's happening there?

Dan: Well, let me back up to NAILBA 40. There are two specific events dedicated to the NAILBA Charitable Foundation, actually three, but let me just explain that. The first one, we have a golf tournament on Wednesday, November 18th, that's going to be a fundraiser for the foundation. That'll be a great opportunity. We had an IMO, AimcoR, which we're very appreciative to have. They're wonderful partners. John Ziambras is a great guy. He has opted to have his annual meeting for AimcoR on the tail end of the NAILBA annual meeting, so there's a nice little window in there for the carrier reps and some of the other participants to stick around and play golf and support the foundation. After the Mooers Dinner though, on November 16th, there will be casino Night. We're already all dressed up. It's not Monte Carlo, it's Orlando, but we will have a fun casino night for two hours.

Dan: You do need a ticket to enter both the casino night, and obviously a golf registration to play in the tournament. And the last thing that was sort of the faux number three is the special spotlight on foundation activity. Who's awarded the grants, et cetera, will be done during the Mooers Dinner, so that's all exciting. But most importantly, grant applications are open, and we love and are so appreciative of the support from IMOs. Many IMOs do matching programs, so they have that information. Check with your IMO. They may be matching your support to the NAILBA Charitable Foundation.

Katie: Some really great things happening with the Charitable Foundation right now, so that sounds like a blast. I actually didn't know until just now about the-

Dan: Casino night, right?

Katie: The casino. Ooh! That sounds fun.

Dan: Open bar, DJ, poker tables. We can probably ensure Steve Katz will be in the casino night.

Katie: Oh, and he'll be easy to spot as we all well know.

Dan: Yes.

Katie: All right, so the NAILBA publication Perspectives just reached a very exciting milestone as well. Can you tell us about that?

Dan: It did. Last year, NAILBA Perspectives was voted by ASAE as the number one e-publication in all of the association space. The content is fantastic, the engagement is fantastic, but it is now being distributed to over 410,000 recipients of that e-magazine, so independent advisors, broker general agencies, carrier teams, product teams, service providers. It is the largest footprint and the most effective delivery to get your message out. It's exciting times for NAILBA right now. Things are just really clicking.

Katie: That's awesome. Fantastic news. Big congrats to the team behind the scenes on that one as well. Dan, thank you so much.

Dan: All right. See you soon.

Katie: That is going to do it for this episode of Brokerage in Motion. We look forward to seeing you next time. Thanks for watching.

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