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, industry awareness, community outreach and young talent. Our winners and honorable mentions this year stand out for their leadership, drive and brilliance that only the Industry Elites can offer. It was an especially difficult selection process as each and every entry stood with great merit. But alas, only one can be chosen. With that, we present to you the 2014 National Underwriter Industry Elite Awards.
The best effort by an industry professional or organization to give back to the community at large.
Elizabeth Liechty, financial planner at Lincoln Financial Advisors and senior partner at Charter Financial Group, provides investment advisory services to clientele ranging from Fortune 500 executives to those receiving pro bono services, such as hospice patients and their families. Liechty also serves as volunteer, member and chair of the Foundation Board of Directors for Hospice of the Chesapeake, a nonprofit organization in Maryland that provides physical, psycho-social and spiritual support services to individuals living with and affected by advanced illness.
Her efforts span the globe. Liechty is also chair of the audit committee for the Middle East Investment Initiative, a non-profit organization based in Washington, DC, that delivers assistance programs that stimulate economic activity and job creation in the Middle East and North Africa. Within the company, Liechty participates in several organizations including Lincoln Financial Advisor’s Resource Group, Lincoln’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee and Lincoln’s WISE (women inspiring, supporting, educating) Group, which aims to provide support for female advisors within the firm and female clients in their pursuit of knowledge and services within the financial planning industry. Liechty also volunteers her time to coach other financial planners around LGBT issues. NUL isn’t the only publication taking note of Liechty’s efforts. She was recently named one of Maryland’s Top 100 Women by the Daily Record, a Maryland business newspaper.
“I give my time to all of these causes because I firmly believe that we ALL have a sole purpose on Earth – to serve others,” said Liechty. “All of the organizations that I dedicate my time to are doing amazing work and forever changing the lives of those they serve. In the end, I hope that all of my endeavors will leave the world a better place. As Gandhi said so well, ‘Be the change you wish to see in the world.’”
Honorable Mention: The life division of AIG for teaming up with The Arc Davidson County, a grassroots charitable organization centered on helping people with intellectual and developmental disabilities reach their goals, including the goal of becoming successfully employed, productive members of their communities.
The best new product or service introduced in 2014.
Mitchell Caplan, CEO at Jefferson National, for his role in helping to launch the JNF SSgA Retirement Income Portfolio, which addresses the three biggest retirement income challenges facing advisors and their clients: a low yield environment, maintaining adequate equity exposure and managing volatility. In partnership with State Street Global Advisors, Caplan and Jefferson National use a proprietary risk management methodology known as Target Volatility Triggers (TVT), which helps manage risk in real time. Jefferson National is the first firm in the U.S. to employ TVT methodology. SSgA’s TVT methodology is a rules-based strategy that adjusts the exposure of assets within a portfolio to target a consistent level of portfolio risk. According to a recent whitepaper by Chris Goolgasian of State Street Global Advisors in the Journal of Index Investing, over the past 20 years, a 14 percent TVT strategy outperformed the S&P 500 benchmark by 73 basis points per year while improving a number of risk metrics, including lower standard deviation, lower beta and substantially improved drawdowns.
Using an approach similar to what insurers use to manage risk on their balance sheets, but with lower fees and greater flexibility, the JNF SSgA Retirement Income Portfolio is the only fund publicly available combines TVT with a diversified portfolio of SPDR ETFs and an overlay that ensures adequate equity exposure to achieve growth but moves to the safety of fixed income or cash when prices trend down or volatility rises.
“With our years of experience driving disruptive innovation, we see the real key to success comes from truly knowing your customer and building your business from the ground up to meet their unique needs,” said Caplan. “With advisors’ rapid move to the fee-based and fee-only model, we recognized the need to re-engineer a new solution that gets back to the basics of tax deferral, to help RIAs, Fee-Based advisors and their clients unlock retirement income.”
Honorable Mention: Craig Gaitan, vice president of marketing for TIAA-CREF, for his role in helping to develop a web application, the Life Wizard, that allows prospects to determine what life insurance is, how much they need and how to get it – all in three minutes or less.
Best Rising Star
The most notable industry professional under the age of 40.
Susan Combs, president of Combs & Company, LLC, has turned childhood experiences, a background in entertainment and hospitality, and her insurance expertise into a keen understanding of the overlooked areas of financial vulnerability. Hailing from a small Midwest town didn’t dampen her aspirations. Combs attended the University of Missouri where she earned her BS in hotel and restaurant management. Soon after, she worked as event manager for clients such as Sesame Street Live, Destiny’s Child, Kenny Rogers, Bob Dylan and the University of Missouri Athletic Department.
In 2001, Susan moved to New York to join Paychex as a workers comp expert. From there, she was employed by DeWitt Stern Group as the special advisor to employee benefits. In 2005, Susan decided to branch out on her own, starting Combs & Company, LLC, a full service insurance brokerage firm that specializes in the weird and unusual, or those companies that don’t fit an insurance carrier’s typical profile. Combs & Company has grown to provide services to more than 350 clients worldwide.
But the founder also gives back. Combs serves on the Corporate Wellness Advisory Board for the NYC Department of Health, is a member of the National Association of Health Underwriters (NAHU), a member of New York Women in Film & Television, a Griffiths Society Mentor and the national president-elect of the Women in Insurance & Financial Services (WIFS).
“In my role as chairman of the National Association of Health Underwriters, I have had the unique opportunity to become familiar with 1,000s of dedicated professionals across the United States of America,” said Thomas M. Harte, president of Landmark Benefits, Inc. “However, my introduction to Susan Combs was an opportunity for which I will forever be grateful. You see, Susan is among the most selfless professionals in our industry with a relentless pursuit of delivering extraordinary value to those serving our industry.”
Honorable Mention: Andrew Gilmore, sales supervisor at Disability Insurance Services, for his drive to impact the disability insurance field in a positive way. In the three years since he began at DIS, he has advanced from proposal specialist to sales supervisor to sales manager. In that short time, Andrew has become a known disability insurance expert.
The best effort to raise the reputation of a company or the industry.
Jesse Slome, executive director of the American Association for Long-Term Care Insurance (AALTCI), has taken the initiative to create ongoing, widespread and positive consumer and industry awareness for the importance of long-term care planning and the role of LTC insurance since founding AALTCI in 1998. Slome has developed numerous AALTCI research studies that have been the basis for continual positive media coverage appearing in major print and broadcast media.
Slome has authored and produced more than one dozen consumer awareness and education guides that have been distributed to more than 3.5 million consumers. In 2001, Slome established Long-Term Care Awareness Month (November), which has been adopted by the industry as well as non-insurance industries as a singular focal point for creating LTC awareness. Slome also researches and publishes the annual Long-Term Care Insurance Sourcebook, a compendium of AALTCI and outside research that has become a much referred-to resource for the industry.
He has also produced 11 industry conferences for insurance professionals that focused exclusively on LTC solutions and in 2014, has initiated the first virtual conference for the industry with more than 2,000 registered. In all, Slome’s organization has educated and trained more than 30,000 insurance professionals in effective long-term care insurance marketing and sales strategies. In addition, Slome is the editor of Long-Term Care Insurance Sales Strategies magazine, a monthly e-newsletter aimed at helping the LTCI professional exceed.
Honorable Mention: Jack Duvernay, vice president of Eagan Insurance Agency, LLC, serves as the legislative chairperson of the Louisiana Association of Health Underwriters, working with lawmakers to promote and craft legislation on behalf of Louisiana consumers. Duvernay is also an active member of NAHU and NAIFA.