Advisors polled for the 2021 Insurance Advisors’ Report Card continue to value highly their freedom to choose diverse products for clients.
The “Freedom to make objective product choices” category was rated most important to advisors’ businesses (9.8) out of all categories. This category has been consistently rated in the top three for at least five years. It was also rated second-highest among all categories for performance (9.4, up from 9.3 in 2019 when the most recent Report Card was conducted).
One related category, “Quality of product offering,” also remained one of the top-10 best-performing and most important. That category was rated 8.8 and 9.3, for performance and importance, respectively, compared with 8.7 and 9.4 two years ago.
In both areas, the ratings of the managing general agencies (MGAs) outpaced those of the three dedicated sales agencies (DSAs). The four MGAs each received near-perfect product freedom results, with both IDC Worldsource Insurance Network Inc. (IDC WIN) and PPI Management Inc. netting unchanged ratings of 9.9.
“I feel zero pressure to put any product in front of a client,” said an IDC WIN advisor in Atlantic Canada. (The firm had no product quality rating for 2021 due to insufficient data, but the firm was rated highest out of all MGAs at 9.2 for “MGA’s help in positioning a product.”)
PPI was also rated well in the MGA product positioning category, at 9.0 — up from 8.9 in 2019. Beyond being impressed with the freedom they’re given, PPI advisors noted the expertise and product support offered by their agency.
“If advisors need help, they’ll jump in and supply the answers,” said one PPI advisor in B.C. Another advisor, in Alberta, said, “They have tools […] that help us put together a pretty awesome report in five minutes. We completely trust their research.”
Jim Virtue, president and COO at PPI, listed several resources available to advisors at the firm, including: online toolkits as well as tax and estate planning guides; a group of lawyers, actuaries and accountants; and an online underwriting tool called “Know the Risk,” for advisors dealing with both medical and non-medical complex cases.
Hub Financial Inc., rated 9.4 for product quality and 9.8 for product freedom, also received a significantly higher rating (by 0.5 or more) in the MGA product positioning category (8.6, up from 8.0 two years ago).
“They’re very fair and quick to act on any issues that we may have with the carriers,” said a Hub advisor in B.C. Regarding product freedom, an advisor in Quebec said, “They have knowledgeable staff in different areas, but you can always do things on your own.”
At an event called Hub Day, which advisors described as useful, executives present industry research and showcase a wide range of carriers, said Terri Botosan, CEO of Hub Financial. “We really want to make sure that our agents are looking for those gems at every carrier we do business with,” she said.
Among the DSAs, results in the product categories were mixed. For example, RBC Life Insurance Co. (RBCI) was rated highest among its DSA peers for product quality at 8.6 (a significant improvement of 0.5 compared with 2019), yet it had a middling — but still strong — rating of 8.9 for product freedom. Meanwhile, Canada Life was rated above-average for product freedom (9.5; no comparable rating in 2019) despite having the lowest product quality rating among all agencies in the Report Card for 2021.
A major highlight noted by RBCI advisors was the addition of a new participating whole life product, released in January 2021, which allowed for term insurance clients to convert. As one of RBCI’s advisors in Ontario put it, “I feel like their product offering is [now] complete. I’ve completed a lot of whole life policies since it came out and it worked smoothly.”
“We always want to be competitive. We’re constantly enhancing and looking at [our product offering],” said Mike Hamilton, senior vice-president of insurance sales, distribution and marketing with RBCI. Further participating life launches are expected in November, he added.
Despite Canada Life’s lagging product quality rating, advisors at that agency said that recent shelf improvements were welcomed. In 2019, Canada Life moved to one product shelf for its WISE and Freedom 55 Financial advisors, and in 2020, it modified its segregated fund shelf and launched mutual funds.
Sun Life Financial Distributors (Canada) Inc. (SLFD) ranked the lowest among all agencies for the product freedom category (8.2, down from 8.4 in 2019) and it had a middling rating for product quality (8.5, compared with 8.4).
But responses among advisors were mixed, with some pointing to strong product training and support, and others feeling constrained by regulations. One SLFD advisor in Atlantic Canada said there’s “a number of [new] analysts to help make recommendations and to support us in [know-your-product].”
The insurer reviews its product shelf often, said Rowena Chan, president of SLFD, which has led to such recent improvements as more flexible underwriting and medical requirements for both term and whole life products. She added that the firm launched a new digital hub for advisors in May that includes product support.