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Following a year of improved marketing support from insurance firms in 2018, advisors surveyed in the 2019 Insurance Advisors’ Report Card indicated that both the quality and importance of such support has declined. In fact, both the average performance and importance ratings for the marketing support category have reverted to 2017 levels.

In 2017, respondents rated “firm’s/MGA’s marketing support for advisor’s practice” an average of 7.3 for performance and 8.0 for importance. This year, those averages were 7.2 and 8.0, respectively, dropping from 7.7 and 8.4 in 2018.

In 2018, advisors praised their firms for providing financial support for marketing — as well as for helping them to create their own marketing plans, and supplying materials advisors could use with clients. Yet many respondents to the 2019 survey cited issues. Those included lack of communication from marketing departments and poor guidance overall from firms and MGAs, leading to advisors being unfamiliar with available tools.

“They give us some marketing credits to put towards [marketing], but there isn’t a lot of guidance or expertise in that area,” says an advisor in Atlantic Canada with London, Ont.-based Freedom 55 Financial.

“We just went through a whole branding change. They are just in a bad place, [and] need to figure out who they are marketing to,” says an advisor in Alberta who works through Winnipeg-based Great-West Life Assurance Co.’s (GWL) Wealth and Insurance Solutions Enterprise (WISE) network. This person was one of several to mention GWL’s plan to rebrand as Canada Life, a move that could affect WISE network respondents.

These two agencies, alongside Woodbridge, Ont.-based Hub Financial Inc., saw significant year-over-year dips (of 0.5 or more) in their ratings for the marketing support category. Freedom 55, rated 5.6 vs 6.8 in 2018, and GWL, rated 5.9 vs 6.9 in 2018, were rated lowest and second-lowest in the category out of all firms in the Report Card. Meanwhile, Hub Financial came in fourth-last overall but saw the largest drop (6.9 this year vs 8.3 in 2018).

Some Freedom 55 advisors said marketing experts in their local offices were “excellent” and that the agency’s department was efficient overall, but others complained about the firm’s touting of its own brand alongside, or instead of, the individual advisor’s. There’s “lots of proprietary branding [support] within Freedom […] but not for branding ourselves or our own practice — that’s up to us,” says a Freedom 55 advisor in Manitoba.

“There are lots of resources, but they tell us to just find them on advisor sites or the learning centre. They have material and you can brand it with your own stuff, but it’s very difficult,” says a Freedom 55 advisor in Ontario.

Advisors also criticized the agency’s public image and allocation of resources. “Some of the billboards they have up are so goofy,” says a Freedom 55 advisor in Ontario.

“We self-brand. They spend too much money on pamphlet stuff,” says another Freedom 55 advisor in Ontario.

Lack of interest in getting help was also evident. Multiple advisors said marketing support was either “not something they were seeking” or that they didn’t see it as a priority. (Freedom 55 advisors rated the importance of marketing support a 7.9, just below the 8.0 category average.)

Abbie MacMillan, vice president of Freedom 55 Financial, says that one hurdle with marketing is “advisors sometimes define [it] differently.” To help “them market themselves individually, we do have support through a team that’s called field marketing. [They] would support an advisor, [whether] they’re doing their website or any print or digital advertising, or [if] they’re developing some sort of marketing campaign,” she says. There are also digital tools for social media, she adds.

The feedback was similar regarding GWL’s WISE network (GWL owns London Life, of which Freedom 55 is a division).

Some advisors mentioned that marketing materials are available, but the majority of respondents said they either didn’t use or benefit from that support. “They don’t really help us with marketing our practice — it’s all on us,” says an advisor in Alberta with the WISE network. Another in Quebec says, “They throw a lot of stuff at us. It’s not personal[ized] though.”

Mark Foris, vice president of WISE, says, “We really want to help advisers promote their own brand.” The agency has a team similar to that of Freedom 55’s, as well as “business solutions consultants that WISE firms [and advisors] can tap into to build out a marketing strategy.”

Two MGAs performed best in the marketing category. Toronto-based PPI Management Inc. (8.9) and Mississauga, Ont.-based IDC Worldsource Insurance Network Inc. (IDC WIN; 8.8, up from 8.1 in 2018) finished first and second, respectively. A couple of IDC WIN advisors highlighted marketing-related events, such as training days and insurance carrier-specific events. One PPI advisor in Alberta noted how the firm’s marketing team is “always” in contact with them, on a weekly basis.

Even at these firms, there were challenges, with advisors also not seeing the relevance of marketing tools: one PPI advisor in Ontario says they “cannot think of an example where we have need[ed] to receive marketing support,” while another PPI advisor, in Alberta, says they “self-market.”

One PPI advisor in Alberta noted the difference between the MGA’s support on the Advisory vs Solutions side of the business: “Advisory’s [support] is superior. On the Solutions side, they deal with bigger volume and the expertise is not as strong,” the advisor says.

Jim Virtue, president and COO of PPI, doesn’t make the same distinction. “We don’t call it PPI Solutions anymore; we just call it PPI,” he says. Across the whole agency, “we want to provide advisors with tools and assistance that will help them elevate and grow their business.” That includes the PPI toolkit, which, he says, is being expanded to better integrate social media and technology tools. (PPI ranked second in a tie with Mississauga, Ont.-based RBC Life Insurance Co. in the “firm’s support for using social media” category.)

In the case of IDC WIN, advisors highlighted educational marketing events that the MGA offers. The agency was the only one to see its marketing support rating rise significantly. Still, some respondents couldn’t elaborate on the marketing support provided. One IDC WIN advisor in Ontario says, “The insurance companies are the ones that provide the direct support.”