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2016 FMO Executive Outlook, Part II: Positioning for the future

Brian Anderson

Insurance Forums recently reached out to top executives at a variety of leading field marketing organizations to get their thoughts on the key issues impacting the independent life insurance and annuity distribution channel.

In last week’s Part I (Questions 1-4), panelists Michael Kalen, CLU, ChFC of Futurity First/Dressander|BHC, Steve Kerns of InsurMark, Andy Unkefer of Unkefer & Associates, and Mark Williams of Brokers International provided insight into the M&A climate for FMOs, the Department of Labor’s controversial and impending Fiduciary Rule, product development and more.

In Part II, panelists tackle what is being done to keep FMOs (and the independent distribution channel) relevant in a changing marketplace; what needs to be accomplished this year for them to consider 2016 a successful year for their FMO, and what gives them their biggest reason for optimism moving forward.

A common theme in many of the responses surrounds the challenge of adapting to and integrating new technologies into the business model, particularly as tech-savvy Millennials increasingly are becoming target market clients.

Taking steps to ramp up recruiting efforts is another common theme, with one even stating a goal of recruiting 500 new producers before the end of the year.

Questions 5-7 follow the brief panelist bios, and again, Part I can be accessed here.

About the panelists:

Michael Kalen, CLU, ChFC, isPresident and CEO of the Futurity First Financial Corporation, an independent, nationwide insurance distribution organization specializing in retirement income and insurance protection solutions. The businesses include Houston-based Dressander|BHC, a life brokerage general agency and recently sold its hybrid career agency distribution company. The company represents leading annuity and life insurance carriers and is a top 5 producer for 6 different insurance carriers. Its producer network includes over 2,500 independent agents, 15 agencies and 14 broker-dealer firms.

Steve Kerns is the Founder & CEO of Houston-based InsurMark, which he started with his wife, Becky, in 1983.InsurMark has grown into a well-established and respected national insurance marketing organization with thousands of advisor-partners in all 50 states. In the past 10 years alone, InsurMark advisors placed nearly $5 billion in fixed and fixed-indexed annuity premium.

Steve is also a founding partner of LifeUSA, known today as Allianz, of The Annexus Group, Market Synergy Group, and Collabrix – all influential organizations in the FIA space. Throughout his career, Steve has served on numerous insurance company advisory boards and is a proud member of NAFA, NAIFA, the National Ethics Bureau (NEB), AIMCOR and AIMCOR Enterprise Insurance Group.

W. Andrew (Andy) Unkefer is the President of Glendale, Ariz.-based Unkefer & Associates, which he foundedin 1994. Unkefer & Associates is a national annuity and life insurance marketing organization involved in product design and national sales distribution. The company’s goal is to be the No. 1 resource for independent agents in their annuity and life insurance sales effort. Along with serving independent agents, agencies and mid-sized insurance marketing firms, Andy has contributed consulting services to several insurance companies. He is Unkefer & Associates’ visionary leader, creating a service organization dedicated to the needs of the agents they serve.

Mark Williams serves as the President of Brokers International, Ltd., a national insurance marketing organization based in Panora, Iowa. In this role, Mark is responsible for recruiting financial professionals to one of over 20 insurance companies Brokers International represents. Mark also oversees marketing, producer programs and distribution of life insurance and annuity products offered to the thousands of agents that work with Brokers International. His career in the financial services business spans over 25 years and has always been focused on insurance product distribution and marketing.



Insurance Forums: As the independent agent base continues to age and the target markets for both product sales and new recruits become more tech-savvy, what does the independent distribution channel need to be doing to adapt to and secure its place in the chain, and is enough being done right now?

Steve Kerns, Founder & CEO, InsurMark: No, we aren’t doing enough for next generation marketing and the Millennials demand a technological platform for information, meetings, and product purchase and service. Our industry has always lagged in this area. Relationships still matter but the Millennials like to use technology around the margins to gather information and affect the purchase. We need, and InsurMark is leading in this, to integrate the onboarding of agents and advisors with the solutions selling platforms and steer away from single product solutions.

We also need to get more investment advisory services integrated with insurance advisory services both on the customer technology side but on the agent education and training side as well. We are seeing more and younger people enter the marketplace and, as we turn to more holistic solutions versus product selling, we will drive even younger recruits to become income planners and retirement advisors and we will be here to support them with integrated platforms and technology solutions.

Also demographics are driving distribution with more minorities entering the field. With about 4 out of 5 families today defined as “non-traditional” (traditional being two parents and kids), more planners to serve those markets will be needed too!

Mark Williams, President, Brokers International: I firmly believe the independent agent will always have a place in the industry. However, I believe the industry needs to do more to entice younger advisors into the business. This should be an easy presentation. The aging population, fluctuating economy and the increased need for our insurance solutions creates an incredible opportunity. I also think the independent advisor will become more valuable as consumers increasingly use technology to research retirement options. With all the information at their disposal, they’ll need someone on their side who can decipher the competing financial strategies they find online.

Recruiting is going to become key to secure the future of our industry. For these reasons, Brokers International is doing more training and face-to-face meetings with our producers.


Michael Kalen, CLU, ChFC, President & CEO, Futurity First/Dressander|BHC: We don’t believe that there is an imminent demise of the independent distribution channel. While there certainly is an aging sales force and new advisors and the next generation of clients will be more tech savvy, the fundamentals are the same. We’ll continue to see traditional sales for years to come. Face-to-face, personal selling will continue to be strong in the foreseeable future.

We see changes in three areas as particularly important to FMOs and their agents:

• First, using technology for prospecting and branding. A strong social media footprint for consumer awareness and prospecting is critical. New technologies are emerging that make this easier and compliant.

• Second, the ability to communicate with prospects and clients through the sales process electronically is so important. Clients want information by email and online. They want access to information when they want and where they want, not just when the producer sends it.

• Third, business-tracking tools like CRM and electronic files will help improve efficiency and improve compliance.

W. Andrew Unkefer, President, Unkefer & Associates: First, address the immediate need. Consumers need more help sorting out their future and our industry needs more representatives to professionally guide folks to winning choices. We need to reinvest in the recruitment and training of younger advisers and show them how to accumulate the necessary knowledge while coaching them on the steps needed to survive in a highly competitive entrepreneurial environment.

Second and more long-term, advisors will need to utilize communication technology to educate consumers and be available at any time. I would expect online platforms to become more important with the ability to connect the consumer to an advisor in real time. Technology platforms will need to include video, data capture, and other resources necessary to fulfill a possible transaction right on the spot. Advisers will run the risk of becoming just a part of the machine in this future model and may find the opportunities to create extraordinary value become somewhat diminished.



Insurance Forums: If I’m asking you a year from now about what a great year 2016 was for your FMO, what did your company achieve and how did it happen?

Andy Unkefer: For those who remember the fight against SEC Rule 151a, you will recall our firm spent a great deal of time and resources to serve the industry and make a positive impact. A great 2016 would include driving national activity toward the defeat of the DOL proposed rule.

Beyond that, we continue to invest in growth and new ideas to help our business partners gain traction, reduce costs and gain fingertip access to the keys of success in the annuity and life insurance industry. Regardless of the outcome, we will be prepared to protect and defend the business of those who affiliate with us.

Michael Kalen: Success for us is measured in three ways. First, have we helped our existing producers do more business? We are focused on diversifying their products and sources of business. Second, did we recruit new producers? We’d like to have 500 new producers before the end of the year. Third, we want to be positioned for the new world, especially if the DOL fiduciary rule goes through.

Mark Williams: If I’m looking back a year from now, I would say we continued our successful growth rate by solidifying existing relationships and establishing new ones. We met those goals by listening to the concerns of our field partners and giving them specific solutions to help grow their business. We know the success of Brokers International is defined by the success of our field partners. We also know if we help them get to where they want to be, we’ll get to where we want to be.

Steve Kerns: We moved in many new directions as we continue to providing solutions for American’s financial security. We will continue to innovate and seek new solutions for our advisors and their clients.



Insurance Forums: What gives you the greatest reason for optimism about the future prospects of the FMO’s place in the life insurance and annuity product distribution channel?


Mark Williams: As I mentioned earlier, I believe the independent distribution channel will continue to thrive due to the current economic climate, an aging population and the public’s need for unbiased financial advice. Carriers and large broker-dealers will have a harder time adapting to these factors. FMOs are smaller, more nimble and better equipped to meet the changing needs of advisors and consumers. Providing timely sales training, creating marketing systems and responding to the needs of the independent advisor is what an FMO does best. For those reasons, I feel confident about the future prospects of the FMO industry.

Steve Kerns: With more regulation and oversight of the advisor and the pressure that is being placed on the carrier to warrant compliance and monitoring, we are their lifeline to that advisor and their eyes and ears on the advisor marketplace. More FMOs have their own compliance departments and experts in place than ever before and we’re finding unique ways to differentiate ourselves, our product offerings and our product providers, for the producer. Carriers will rely on firms like ours to get their products in front of the producer and ultimately into the customer’s financial plan.

Michael Kalen: Registered reps selling FIAs and producers looking to FMOs to provide more services and make their lives easier.

Andy Unkefer: The macro-demographic and macro-economic reality is driving the future of good financial advice and many are out of position to properly address this fact. American’s with money are consistently exposed to the following major issues…

• Volatility

• Low Yields

• Longevity – running out of money & rising healthcare costs

• Taxation

When you truly understand the fixed annuity and life insurance industry, you discover we are often in the best position to help people overcome the greatest challenges to a successful retirement.

• See also: 2016 FMO Executive Outlook, Part I: The M&A climate, DOL Fiduciary Rule and other key challenges



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