By Cyril Tuohy
The 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, holds a lesson about the importance of insurance advisors embracing the consumer.
Years ago, traditional skiers looked down on snowboarders. Snowboarders – surfers they were called – were disheveled, undisciplined, not technically proficient. They were young, untrained in proper skiing etiquette.
Still, they battled their way onto the winter sports scene. Now there are more snowboarders than skiers at some resorts and the Olympics includes three snowboarding events – halfpipe, slopestyle and slalom racing.
Instead of resisting change, resorts and international sports organizations embraced a growing trend. This receptiveness has converted new fans and boosted participation and revenue.
The moral of the story: Trust the consumer.
It’s a lesson that resonates with James L. Kerley, president of LL Global Services and chief membership officer of LIMRA, LOMA and LL Global, as well as with other insurance industry leaders. Industry leaders have been making a push to connect with consumers via mobile apps and to market their services through social media.
The consumer is an agent’s friend, Kerley said. Insurance agents, advisors and the industry at large need to embrace the direct-to-consumer channel.
“We usually think of different channels but in the greater world today, it’s the consumer channel and multichannel,” Kerley said in an interview. “The single most important trend in distribution today is the shift to the consumer having more control.”
For the first time, LIMRA’s annual distribution conference will feature a direct-to-consumer track, in addition to the regular agency, producer and brokerage tracks. The meeting, targeted at high-level insurance marketing and distribution executives, will be held Feb. 19-21 in Wesley Chapel, Fla.
“We introduced the direct-to-consumer channel because more companies are deploying the direct-to-consumer strategy and people want to understand what that is,” he said. “And those not using direct-to-consumer ought to learn want’s going on.”
Fears that agents were on the path to “disintermediation” because of the ability of companies to sell directly to consumers were way overblown, even false. When the Internet upended many business models in the financial services sector, advisors simply adapted.
LIMRA surveys show that people want advice to help them navigate the sea of information and choices the Internet has brought, and that makes the future bright for advisors. “Consumers want to have choice,” Kerley said. “Companies that expand choice for consumers are able to expand sales but can introduce the advisor into the relationship. We’re seeing lots of synergy around that.”
In addition to the traditional sales pep talks delivered by sales superstars and authors, Mark Hug, executive vice president of product and marketing for Prudential, will deliver a presentation titled “The New Age of Marketing and Sales.”
Hug will brief his insurance distribution audience on how insurers are using innovation, technology, predictive analytics and new distribution channels to create a smoother and more efficient customer experience, according to LIMRA.
Clara Shih, chief executive officer and founder of Hearsay Social, will also address the conference on the subject of "The Social Web and Implications for Financial Services Distribution."
Country Financial, Modern Woodmen Fraternal Financial, Primerica, AXA, Farmers Insurance Group, Northwestern Mutual, Raymond James and Western & Southern Financial Group use Hearsay’s social media platform to power their social media presence.
“We’re seeing a shift in marketing away from marketing collateral to segmentation and building a brand in social communities,” Kerley said.
Content experts at the conference will also cover mobile as it is “the new face of the sales model,” Kerley added.
Life insurers, broker/dealers and retirement services companies have been releasing their own apps for the last several months. Consumers can view account balances and even conduct limited transactions over their smartphones at moments that were never possible before: in a movie theater or even on a ski lift.
Conversely, the apps allow carriers to gather location data about where consumers are checking into their accounts and what they are doing once they log in. Kerley also called the activity around mobile technology one of several “megatrends” that distribution executives need to be aware of.
Cyril Tuohy is a writer based in Pennsylvania. He has covered the financial services industry for more than 15 years. Cyril may be reached at [email protected].
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