Robert Baranoff, senior vice president, member benefits, LIMRA, LOMA and LL Global, Inc., is responsible for LIMRA's global research program. In this interview, Baranoff discusses themes from LIMRA’s annual meeting and the latest in research.
INN: What do you think were the important themes that kind of resonated with people at your annual conference?
BARANOFF:It’s not the world that most people grew up in. Technology is a game changer. In terms of underwriting, you’re seeing quicker turnaround. And over time, you will see more self-service or use of technology to provide service. Everybody says life insurance is sold not bought, and an advisor will still be part of the equation. More of that will happen “face-to-face” using a piece of technology, rather than physically in the same room.
INN: That’s interesting. I can imagine, though, that when older producers hear this, they think this is their carriers going around them and going direct.
BARANOFF:Not necessarily. When I say face-to-face via the computer screen or an iPhone, I’m talking about an agent. I’m not talking about the carrier necessarily going around them. Also, the older producers will be thinking of retirement, and this technology shift will take a number of years to play out.
INN: What other changes do you foresee?
BARANOFF: We showed a video of what a life insurance transaction might look like in the year 2015. I narrated it and said, “OK, there are likely some things that you think are pretty outlandish, but let me tell you why I don’t think they’re so outlandish.” We had an agent in the video ask the client for blood work because there was a history of diabetes in the family. They downloaded this app to scan the client’s wrist or arm. It seems kind of outrageous to do blood work that way, but in fact, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is working on just that kind of thing, so that they can go with cell phones into remote, Third World countries and diagnose malaria and other diseases. We also talked about a national database where you could look up somebody’s health, and frankly, that’s already forming as we speak. Another developing technology is fingerprint authorization. That’s where the client can sign a contract with a fingerprint. That technology exists today as well.
INN: That’s interesting stuff.
BARANOFF:That’s how we dealt with this young couple, Gen-Yers or late Gen-Xers, in this video, but that’s not to say that the producer wouldn’t deal with their parents in a more traditional fashion with the prospect of a larger sale. But technology would grow the producer’s reach.
INN: And certainly you folks have been saying for years there is an enormous underserved market. On that subject, are there new company strategies to bring in new business?
BARANOFF:Companies have been experimenting with different models there. One of the things in terms of the middle market is banks actually have seen more growth in life insurance this past year than in any other channel, proportionally. It was a very small base to start with and it remains to be seen if it will be a permanent trend. They’ve done it with annuities, but with life insurance it’s a relatively new phenomenon. Companies are also looking into potentially having employees salaried for the first year or so. Of course, we all generalize and stereotype, and I’m about to do it, as much as I hate doing it. But part of me believes that in general the Gen-Yers, who might be the next generation of agents, aren’t going to be motivated to be those entrepreneurs for commission. I think to a larger extent, they will be hardworking and doing an honest day’s job for honest pay, but wanting the security of a more reliable paycheck. So I think some companies are seeing that and perhaps thinking at least of trying it on a limited basis and seeing if it works.
INN: What research do you have in development right now that’s really exciting you?
BARANOFF:We’re doing a lot in the retirement area these days. We’re looking at how unprepared people are for retirement and how unrealistic their expectations are. We’ve also done some modeling which shows that if 30 percent of a person’s assets go into an immediate annuity it makes all the difference in the world regarding whether their money will last their lifetime. It doesn’t have to be 100 percent; just 30 percent will do, if you do all the Monte Carlo modeling. It’s amazing. If you do that, then the likelihood of the assets running out is virtually nil.
INN: That is intriguing. How much money would you need to have 30 percent available that will do that? Or is it any level?
BARANOFF:It’s at any level. It’s proportional. Obviously, the person who’s used to living on less money will have less money.
INN: On the subject of retirees, I am guessing longevity is an issue.
BARANOFF:It isn’t the top concern, but to me, that’s a semantics issue. If you ask consumers about their biggest concern about retirement, it’s health care or health, or paying for health care. Inflation was second, taxes were third and longevity was fourth. On the other hand, if you ask producers what’s the biggest risk, they have longevity as No. 1. So there’s a disconnect between how consumers are viewing it versus how agents are viewing it. But, quite frankly, again, it’s a semantics issue, because if you look at why longevity is an issue to the agents, it’s because you might run out of money. And why is health care an issue for the consumer? Because you might have to use up all your money. So they’re both talking about having the money last the rest of their lives. It’s just a matter of where’s it going to go, what’s going to eat it up. It’s significant because if all the producer does is go in and talk about longevity and a consumer is obsessed with health care, they’re never going to connect.
INN: That’s such a good point, that they’re talking about the same thing but not in the same language.
BARANOFF:They’re not using the same words, exactly. So producers have to adapt to the way consumers are thinking, and once they talk about the cost of health care, they can pivot to the longevity issue. But they’ve got to go in where the consumer’s head is at, and that’s with health care.
INN: Anything else in research?
BARANOFF:A couple things in the area of distribution. If you look at the number of people in affiliated channels versus independent channels from ’98 to 2004, the affiliated channels were declining and the independent channels were increasing just in terms of sheer number of people. But that has reversed itself since 2004. From 2004 to 2007, it was just the opposite. The actual number of independent producers has shrunk and the number of affiliated has increased. So that’s a distribution channel trend that’s kind of new, and it is counter to what people were thinking. And the other thing in the distribution area worth mentioning is that we’ve done some research where we found that different models of agencies affect productivity, so when producers work in teams, they’re far more productive than working as lone producers out there. We have some new research coming out very shortly that talks about that in the mentorship.
INN: That seems to be the mutuals model, where you have people come up with mentors and people who train them. And, like Northwestern, they have their methods and systems. So, is the research basically endorsing that?
BARANOFF:No, because it need not be in the career model. In other words, if producers affiliate among themselves and have offices that replicate that, they can be independent agents. But the idea of teaming, mentoring and going through those kinds of exercises that yield productivity, it’s not a matter of being affiliated versus an independent system.
INN: How does that work? How many people do you need?