Each year, National Underwriter Life & Health salutes the best of the best in the life and health insurance industry, celebrating those who represent game-changing levels of market innovation, regulatory advocacy, industry reputation, community work, and emerging talent. Selecting winners from this year’s unusually strong body of nominations proved challenging, but five winners and five honorable mentions stood out as exemplars of the things that are helping to drive the industry forward to meet its challenges and to seize its opportunities. Congratulations to this year’s winners of the 2012 Industry Elite awards!
The best new product or service introduced in 2011.
President & CEO of Unkefer Associates, for his relentless use of technology to improve customer service and agency support, including his creation of an online agent support system, SuperAgentTools.com.
It is a challenging time to be an agent. Carriers are operating on tighter margins, commissions are dropping, the costs for recruiting agents are increasing, and the need to serve customers faster and more accurately has never been greater. And while that all spells for tough conditions for some, for Andrew Unkefer, winner of the Industry Elite award for Market Innovation, it just spells opportunity. Unkefer is behind the rollout of SuperAgentTools.com, an online support system for agents in the field. Unkefer, along with Greg Griffin, (who heads his tech team), tried to embed in the product all of the behavioral standards and practices of the highly effective agent. SuperAgentTools.com provides a single entry point through which agents can access automatic production tracking, a product search engine, a consumer presentation tool, agent training materials, and illustrations and planning tools. It enables agents not just to draw up product offerings on a laptop or a tablet, but it can crunch out different financial scenarios, concept illustrations and carrier forms. Straight-through processing allows the agent to submit the sales application at the sales meeting, making for a faster, simpler and error-free application process. Agent sales monitoring allows owners and managers to redeploy office resources for more profitable work. Wholesalers have a mass training and marketing tool that requires little training. “We are at an unusual time when something that aids the insurance company doesn’t cost the agent or the marketing people more. Usually, they push such costs to agents. But our data populates their applications,” Unkefer says. “We can have an agent get a quote, go through an hour of training at a coffee shop on a tablet and then go to the client and give them a quote right from the system. This is like having the greatest back office toolbox ready and waiting for you. Right now, we’re waiting for the rest of the industry to catch up.”
AXA Equitable, for its eDelivery electronic document delivery initiative, which has both driven up customer education efforts, and dramatically reduced AXA’s own carbon footprint
The greatest legislative or regulatory advocacy on behalf of a company or the industry.
President of Breadwinners Insurance for his relentless drive to improve transparency in life insurance pricing.
It is not always easy driving regulatory change in the insurance industry, but Brian Fechtel, this year’s winner of the Industry Elite Award for Regulatory Advocacy has never let that stop him. Brian is the president of Breadwinner’s Insurance, where he sells mostly life insurance (half term, half cash value) with a little disability insurance and long-term care as well. But Breadwinner’s Insurance is known separately as the online portal for Fechtel’s prolific writing on the subject of life insurance pricing transparency, a cause he has pursued doggedly. Fechtel has long felt that the lack of transparency in how life insurance products are priced directly impedes the sales process. If people had a better understanding of how their life insurance products are priced, and could better compare life insurance products from different carriers, Fechtel argues, then customers would be more empowered to make a choice that is right for them. But more importantly, they would also be more willing to buy products that don’t strike them as arcane, and from agents they feel they feel are open and trustworthy. Fechtel spent years trying to convince carriers to change how they disclose information to clients. When that did not work, he turned to writing the NAIC, the Consumer Financial Protection Board, to state insurance commissioners and attorneys general, and to political figures ranging from Elizabeth Warren to the Federal Insurance Office’s Michael McRaith. He has also published extensively in insurance media on the importance of pricing transparency. While this has prompted some of his colleagues to consider him an unwanted gadfly, it was also his fellow industry professionals who nominated him for this award. Industry leaders have long acknowledged in private many of the things I say,” Fechtel says. “I know my fellow agents may see me as something of a turncoat but my objective is to turn life insurance agents into financial planning doctors. And I don’t think we can get there if we continue to operate as we have for the past 30 or 40 years. I know a lot of people can’t envision writing six or eight policies a week, but I really think that is what will occur in the future rather than the one a week they are writing now. There could be a tremendous increase in agent productivity once the information everybody needs is out there and people can make confident decisions more quickly, knowing what is on the table.”
The Texas Association of Health Underwriters, for its ongoing engagement on issues pertaining to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
The best effort to raise the reputation of a company or the industry.
Benefits Specialist, Centerville Insurance Agency, for his uncommon and selfless dedication to his clients.
A good reputation takes years to build, day by day, client by client. Henry Stern, this year’s Industry Elite Award winner for Industry Awareness, has proven this with a career that has been built on an intense customer focus that draws on more than just his role as a benefits specialist for the Centerville Insurance Agency in Centerville, Ohio. Stern entered the life business in 1983 right out of college. He sold industrial life policies for Western Southern Life, going door to door every week or every month collecting premiums. It was there that he learned the products he was selling, his sales skills and how to relate to his customers. A year and a half later, he moved to Centerville Insurance Agency, which sells both life & health and property & casualty products. Henry will have been there for 28 years this November. Stern sells about 60/40 health insurance and life insurance, though changing health care laws might change that balance. But he wears two other hats as well. The first is a continuing education educator in Indiana, Ohio and Kentucky, which helps him stay on top of industry developments. He also edits InsureBlog (www.insureblog.net), an online publication where he sounds off on all matters life and health. He has been at that for seven years, and it is currently ranked as the net’s #15 Wikia health blog. It is also ranked as a Lexis-Nexis top 50 law blog. Henry’s client dedication is what won him the Industry Awareness award, and one case in particular highlights how he converges his diverse interests to drive best practices. When a carrier refused to honor a client’s medical claims for a rare and debilitating illness, Stern wrote about it on InsureBlog and let the carrier know the article would go live the next day. Within the hour, he had a senior claims manager on the line, and they got the claim resolved. Stern put up a different post, this time, praising the carrier for stepping up. “I want to be there for my client, first,” Stern says. “And I’ve got this megaphone to help me do that.”
Marvin Meyer, CEO, M&M Brokerage Services, for a 38-year career that has helped to raise the profile of numerous carriers and producers alike.
The best effort by an industry professional or organization to give back to the community at large.
For its ongoing philanthropic efforts, marked in 2011 by its building of playgrounds for children in underserved communities both home and abroad, its twice-annual phonathon to raise funds for families affected by domestic violence, its partnership with Soles4Souls and its support for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
Few organizations in the life and health insurance industry can claim to have done more to help the community at home and abroad as the Million Dollar Round Table Foundation, the 2012 winner of the Industry Elite Community Outreach award. Since its formation in 1959, the Foundation has been led by a committed group of MDRT philanthropic leaders, focusing on financial and volunteer support of efforts around the world against a back drop of giving people a hand up, rather than simple giving handouts to those in need. To date, the MDRT Foundation has awarded more than $27 million in grants to various charitable foundations from 70 different countries. The Foundation also recognizes top volunteers with its Quality of Life award that gives additional money to charities that have received large amounts of MDRT member volunteer support. This year, the Foundation has partnered with charitable organizations to coordinate community development projects; in 2011, the Foundation built two playgrounds for children in underserved communities in Chile and England. More than 25 MDRT volunteers donated their time and talents to assemble playground equipment with the goal of leaving a lasting legacy of hope for children and families in need. Twice a year, approximately 25 MDRT members come together for two days conducting calls, to raise funds to provide emergency shelter services for women and children affected by domestic violence, drug education and prevention programs. At the MDRT’s annual meeting, the Foundation selects a charity to work with to increase the global impact of MDRT. In 2011, MDRT and the MDRT Foundation partnered with Soles4Souls, and made charitable contributions and donated 3,500 pairs of shoes for people in need. This year’s funds raised will support St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. The MDRT Foundation’s mission is to encourage industry and MDRT members in particular to give to worthwhile charities across the globe. The Foundation has no set list of charities it supports; rather it awards grants based on member recommendations and after putting the charities themselves through a rigorous due diligence process. This alone has yielded an interesting side effect: when Japan was rocked by its disastrous earthquake last year, says MDRT Foundation President Barbara Pietrangelo (pictured), companies in the life and health industry came to the MDRT to make donations because they knew that the charities the MDRT supported had already been properly vetted.
Kristen Allison, president and owner, Burnham Benefits Insurance Services for her unusual dedication to charitable organizations such as Insure the Children, the Insurance Industry Charitable Foundation, Orangewood Children’s Foundation, Cal State Fullerton’s Center for Insurance Studies, and Mustard Seed Ranch.
BEST RISING STAR
Most notable industry professional under the age of 40.
President & CEO of Insurance Advisors Direct-Agency, LLC. for his exceptional drive to build his practice and serve his clients, beginning by selling LTC at the age of 18, forming his own agency at only 33 years old, and recruiting over 12,000 agents over the course of his career.
The life and health industry is facing a serious manpower shortage over the next decade as many of the industry’s sales professionals approach retirement age. Getting new blood into the sales force has been a top concern for carriers, brokerages and agencies alike. But for Jason McClellan, this year’s Best Rising Star, he didn’t need to be recruited into the life and health business. He practically grew up in it. His father got into insurance sales when Jason was around eight years old, he grew up around insurance products, and he always found sales to be a compelling line of work. When he was 18, he approached his father, a career agent, about selling life and health products, specifically, long-term care. Told that it would be impossible to sell LTC at only 18 years old, Jason took that as a challenge and went door-to-door, selling LTC one policy at a time. For McClellan, it was easy; he kept a respectful demeanor his clients appreciated, and he was a true believer in the product; his father had sold LTC to all four of Jason’s grandparents, who all needed to use it. By the time Jason was 20, he was managing several agents himself, and had expanded into other fields such as Medicare supplemental, final expense and annuities. Soon he joined the wholesale brokerage distribution side and was traveling the country, recruiting for United Insurance Group. By 24, he had recruited some 12,000 agents, and was a VP at United Insurance Group, managing new products, rollouts, business plans, hiring, manaing daily operations and speaking on the road. A year and a half ago, at the age of 33, McClellan started Insurance Advisors Direct, his own career agency group in Novi, Michigan. McClellan does all training and agent support, and has spent the last year recruiting hundreds of agents, mainly for selling senior market products. “I could never leave behind the insurance industry,” he says. “I love the business aspect of it. I love sales. I believe in the products. It’s a lot of hard work and a lot of hard days, and some of those days can be tough. You have to want it 100%.”
J. Ryan Parker, vice president & general manager, Bankers Annuity Brokerage for having made great strides after only three years in the industry, driving Bankers Annuity Brokerage to record-setting sales and driving down costs by some 50%.