Who reigns supreme when it comes to the best practices in the life and health insurance industry? This year's nominations for the National Underwriter Industry Elite Awards were stronger than ever, a who's who of the best and brightest in the realms of market innovation, regulatory advocacy, industry awareness, community outreach and young talent. Our winners and honorable mentions this year stand out at a time when the industry is undergoing unprecedented challenges and needs the kind if leadership, drive and brilliance that only the Industry Elites can offer.
The best new product or service introduced in 2012
Managing Director, Affinity Group Underwriters, for his conceptualization of cutting-edge accident coverage for cyclists. His product, Balance For Cyclists, pays lump sum cash benefits to those seriously injured while biking.
Jay has been in the industry for 25 years and he draws on a rich insurance lineage. He began working for an agency his grandfather founded before it was sold to a bank. He went on to work as a commercial Property and Casualty producer. It was then that Jay realized he wanted to create and design products. His active life and participation in a wide array of activities led him to view an opportunity where no one before him had: With millions of middle-aged adults continuing to participate in potentially debilitating “gravity sports,” Jay came up with the first-ever insurance coverage to provide benefits for severe traumatic brain injury. After drawing up preliminary concepts for the product and formalizing a seemingly obvious pitch, Jay went on to shop around Balance For Cyclists. Even though the product is within the low risk/high severity parameters many carriers crave, there were no takers. Zurich American Insurance Company finally came on board, however. Now the product has been approved in 39 states and Jay hopes to expand and cover other sports such as horseback riding and skiers.
Jack Simon, Chief Product Actuary, and Kurt Guske, Life Product Manager, at Protective Life Corporation, for their development of the Customer Choice Universal Life Product (CCUL) designed to respond to customer complaints about premium increases in level term products. CCUL keeps premiums level by decreasing the face amount after the initial benefit period.
The best effort to raise the reputation of a company or the industry
Daniel C. Steenerson
President and CEO of Disability Insurance Services, for his dogged efforts to educate industry professionals and the clients they serve on the importance of paycheck protection through disability insurance.
Dan has spent his whole career in the disability insurance (DI) world. Starting out with Paul Revere Insurance in Los Angeles as a brokerage representative, Dan quickly rose to become the youngest general manager in the history of the company at only 27. Dan spent 17 years there until he formed Disability Insurance Services in 1997. Dan wears his devotion and passion for DI on his sleeve and he is quick to enumerate the many reasons why DI is a crucial component to protecting oneself. Another passion of Dan’s — and perhaps one that is a harder sell — is getting young people interested in a career in DI insurance. He is quick to admit that bringing in youth is a challenge but he is focused on recruiting a younger staff. Dan remains hopeful and feels that the entrepreneurial aspect of the industry is something the youth value — it just needs to be explained to them. A constant advocate and educator of DI and insurance as a whole, Dan is an industry veteran with his eyes to the future.
Bob Vineyard, founder and owner of Georgia Insurance Shop and contributing writer on InsureBlog, for his ceaseless quest to educate consumers and industry professionals about health insurance and the Medicare supplements industry.
The best effort by an industry professional or organization to give back to the community at large
President and Owner of Burnham Benefits Insurance Services, for her relentless approach to philanthropy and incorporating that spirit into the core of her company.
After four years with John Burnham & Company, Kristin acquired the benefits practice of the business in 1995 and has been at the helm ever since. But an acute knowledge of all things benefits-related is not the only thing she brings to the table. Kristin is deeply involved in her community — devoting her time, resources and money to deserving not-for-profit organizations. Kristin even incorporated her philanthropic passion into her business operations. She gives as much as $100,000 in corporate gifts annually and matches employee donations up to $500, hoping to nurture a spirit of charitable giving in her staff. Kirstin is a chairperson for Insuring the Children and a board member of the Insurance Industry Charitable Foundation, among her many other efforts.
James A. Mallon, President of American General Life Companies and President of Life & Accident & Health at AIG Life and Retirement, for his leadership and dedication to myriad industry and charitable organizations. Mallon is active with the American Cancer Society’s CEOs Against Cancer, among other charities.
Best Rising Star
Most notable industry professional under the age of 40
J. Ryan Parker
Vice President and General Manager at Bankers Annuity Brokerage, for his energy, initiative and comprehensive knowledge of annuity products.
After a short stint in real estate and a family business, the always-enterprising Parker decided to pursue a career in the financial services industry the hard way: He printed up resumes and began walking through the front doors of financial firms in downtown St. Petersburg, Fla. As fortune would have it, Parker made contact with someone from Northwestern Mutual in an elevator. He was training with the company two weeks later. Parker then jumped to Bankers in May of 2009. At Bankers he set sales records while simultaneously driving down costs by 50 percent. Parker’s innovative approach to retirement solutions has impressed producers and clients alike. Parker was promoted to Vice President, General Manager earlier this year and he is looking forward to what the future holds.
Nolan Baker of NEXT Financial Group, Inc. for his drive, focus and dedication to educating Americans on financial independence. Getting his first license at age 18, Nolan always knew insurance was the career for him. He co-founded Retirement Guys Network and continues to educate and speak at industry events while remaining active in various charities.
The greatest legislative or regulatory advocacy on behalf of a company or the industry
President and CEO of M Holdings Securities for his insight regarding the impact the SEC’s proposed universal fiduciary standard would have on the producer community.
Ken has testified in front of Congress twice on the universal fiduciary standard issue, most recently at Congresses’ request. A veteran of the industry, Ken has been immersed in the insurance world in various capacities for 37 years. Prior to joining M Holdings, Ken was with National Life of Vermont. He is a proud member of the Association for Advanced Life Underwriting and was recently named chair of their Regulatory Reform Committee. Ken’s relationship and active involvement in various industry groups allowed him to cultivate in-depth regulatory knowledge. Closely following the fiduciary standard issue since its infancy in proposed Dodd-Frank language, Ken has kept a finger on the pulse of the topic and has been a highly-valued voice for the producer community. Ken is quick to say that this is really a team effort, and is effusive in his praise of his colleagues.