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Managing general agents (MGAs) can choose to operate primarily as transactional intermediaries between insurance carriers and advisors selling policies.  

But as the demands of clients, the industry and regulators have grown, it’s important for MGAs to become “indispensable” for the advisors in their networks, said Cathy Hiscott, president of Toronto-based PPI Management Inc.  

“When I put myself in an advisor’s shoes, there’s a whole lot of stuff flying at me,” she added. “Not only from my MGA, but from carriers and regulators and [industry] associations.”  

Much pressure also comes from digital innovation across financial services, which has altered the expectations and needs of investors.  

For PPI, these types of developments sparked a full review of its digital tools and advisor support programs, which include continuing education around advanced insurance planning as well as business development resources tied to marketing and prospecting. PPI’s leaders have been travelling to speak with advisors, Hiscott said, and the agency created a national, six-person team of technology specialists.  

Mona Wahab-Standaert, chief sales officer with Woodbridge, Ont.-based Hub Financial Inc., said the agency has tailored its training to advisors at multiple career stages. 

Young advisors get insights on prospecting and how to run professional, compliant client meetings, while mature advisors can receive training from the executive vice-president of broker development.  

Advisors can get stuck in “a certain pattern of behaviour when it comes to their process or the product that they’re selling or the carrier they’re selling [for],” Wahab-Standaert said. Hub’s programs aim to help advisors consider new information and tools, and the MGA offers an online resource hub containing business and technology tips, compliance materials, and needs-analysis and illustration software. 

Investment Executive’s new Insurance Advisor Report found the average respondent was age 57.0 and had been in the industry for nearly 25 years. (Executives commenting in this piece had not seen this data and weren’t directly commenting on the findings of the report.)  

On the carrier side, both Sun Life Financial Inc. and RBC Life Insurance Co. are investing in technology and advisor development, with recent top-level changes reflecting that focus.  

For new career advisors with Sun Life (where both captive and independent insurance advisors work under Sun Life Financial Distributors (Canada) Inc., or SLFD), an 18-month training program includes guidance from a development partner who also attends client meetings, said Rowena Chan, president of SLFD and senior vice-president of retail advice and solutions, in an email. The company employs more than 50 development partners. 

To further support training, two roles were created within Sun Life’s retail advice and solutions business in the past year. One of those positions, a senior vice-president role in distribution and channel management that’s held by Daniele Farinaccia, involves “improving the advisor experience” through boosting client-facing processes and resources, said Chan. 

The company works with nearly 17,000 insurance advisors, 2,600 of whom are SLFD career agents across Canada. Both streams receive digital support plus training and education specific to their role, Chan explained. Career advisors have been asked to prioritize holistic planning following Sun Life’s partnership in 2021 with Winnipeg-based Conquest Planning Inc. 

Those career agents were provided in 2023 with more than 100 sessions on executing planning discussions with clients — and, said Chan, there was a resulting increase in the number of new financial plans crafted by attendees. That coaching effort has coincided with investments in “a modern CRM, automated processes, accelerated underwriting, mobile and web capabilities, and predictive analytics.”  

Educational summits and presentations around practice themes, including how to approach family legacy conversations with clients, are also offered to Sun Life’s independent distribution advisors. This group uses proprietary e-application and dashboard tools, which Chan said were redesigned in 2023.  

At RBC Insurance, CEO Jennifer Publicover is enacting a revamped growth strategy and streamlining advisor-client processes. One goal is to better scale resources, and another is to balance digital with human-led advice. New software is tested with small groups of advisors before rollouts, the carrier said in a statement, noting that a mix of in-house and external tools are used.  

RBC Insurance advisors also receive support from regional vice-presidents, directors and development managers, whom periodically attend client meetings.  

As for Canada Life, the carrier plans to improve its insurance illustration software and goals-based planning platform this year. This follows previous work to: provide more educational and compliance support; launch a new digital segregated fund application for investments in RRSP and TFSA accounts; and improve crucial administration and transaction processing steps for advisors, the firm said in a statement. 

A main driver has been advisors’ demand for greater business growth support that helps them spend more time improving client relationships, said Canada Life’s statement. 

To learn about insurance advisor sentiment, view the full Insurance Advisor Report data.