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Three insurance agencies experienced significant changes in their performance ratings in Investment Executive‘s 2018 Insurance Advisors’ Report Card compared with last year’s edition. Specifically, the fortunes of one firm in the survey took a turn for the better while those of two firms took a turn for the worse.

Hub Financial Inc.’s results stood out this year after a relatively poor performance in last year’s Report Card, when the firm’s ratings declined by half a point or more in eight categories as well as in the firm’s “IE rating.” (That rating is an average of all the performance ratings given to a company.) Insurance advisors who work with the Woodbridge, Ont.-based managing general agency (MGA) rated the firm higher by that margin in 11 categories in 2018. The MGA’s IE rating also rose by more than half a point.

Hub’s improved ratings are a result of the firm’s new “know your broker” process, which was implemented in response to last year’s Report Card and focuses on increasing the level of communication and collaboration between management and advisors.

“What we’ve changed is our outbound activity to advisors: who we reach out to; how we reach out to them; and the follow-up, too,” says Terri Botosan, president of Hub. “Our goal in [late] 2017 and into 2018 was to talk to our advisors, understand their business, understand their issues and present them with solutions through to completion.”

As part of these efforts, the MGA placed more responsibility on its regional sales managers to communicate extensively with advisors, Botosan adds: “We just kept saying to [our regional sales managers], ‘We don’t want you to be reactive; you need to be proactive. Our job is to support the advisors in building their practices’.”

Hub advisors surveyed for this year’s Report Card certainly noticed and, as a result, they rated their regional sales managers at 9.0, up notably from 8.0 last year.

“[My regional sales manager] is just unbelievable,” says a Hub advisor in Ontario. “She helps in areas that alleviate things for the advisor, so that we can focus on what we need to focus on.”

In contrast, Winnipeg-based Great-West Life Assurance Co.’s (GWL) ratings declined by half a point or more in 21 categories – as well as in the IE rating and “overall rating by advisors.” (This last rating is the rating advisors gave their firm as a whole.) Advisors with the personal producing general agency’s new Wealth and Insurance Solutions Enterprise (WISE) network believe they still are in the dark regarding the reorganization of GWL’s Gold Key distribution network last year, which created the WISE network.

This dissatisfaction was most evident in the comments and performance rating that GWL’s advisors gave their firm in the “firm’s strategic focus” category, which declined to 5.9 from 7.9 year-over-year.

“We don’t know what [the strategic focus] is right now,” says an advisor in Ontario with GWL’s WISE network. “I think they’ll get their act together, but they don’t seem to be very transparent about where they’re going now.”

Mark Foris, vice president, WISE network, acknowledges that there have been growing pains during the transition to the new network, but says that the company’s top focus is getting advisors informed and on board with the changes.

“My sense is that [there are] advisors who have been on the fence with what the WISE offering is all about,” he says, “and we are working hard to make sure that we deliver on what they expect.”

Although Foris recognizes the “urgency of the situation,” he notes that the past eight months have been a learning process regarding what advisors want from the WISE network.

“I’ve been going across the country [for] a series of advisor meetings – smaller ones – getting a much better sense [of what advisors’ issues are],” Foris says. “We still have to make sure advisors know who their contact points are, and that’s a big focus for us.”

Similar to GWL’s case, Waterloo, Ont.-based dedicated sales agency Sun Life Financial (Canada) Inc. garnered significant drops in many performance ratings: 20 categories were rated lower by half a point or more year-over-year, as were the firm’s IE rating and overall rating by advisors.

Much of Sun Life’s advisors’ dissatisfaction stems from the belief they’re being treated less as entrepreneurs with their own businesses and more like employees. Advisors perceive lack of understanding and support on the part of management for the wide variety of Sun Life’s advisors’ business sizes and styles.

“I like running my own business,” says a Sun Life advisor in Alberta. “They could respect this a bit more by staying out of my way and treating me more as a self-employed practitioner. I don’t like to be made to feel like an employee.”

“They should understand that advisors have different focuses,” says a colleague in Ontario.

Sun Life executives declined to comment on these concerns.