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Transformations in the insurance industry, combined with the Covid-19 pandemic, have put firms’ strategic focus to the test. Many turned to technology tools and other innovations to remain competitive.

Despite ongoing uncertainty, advisors who worked for the three dedicated sales agencies (DSAs) or operated the majority of their business through the four managing general agencies (MGAs) included in the 2021 Insurance Advisors’ Report Card were generally pleased with their firms’ direction and identity.

The “Strategic focus” category was among the nine categories that saw their performance averages rise significantly (by 0.5 or more) in 2021 compared with 2019, when the previous Report Card was conducted. In 2019, respondents rated the category, on average, 8.3 for performance and 8.7 for importance. This year, those averages were both 8.8 — a sign that advisors are more satisfied with their respective firms’ focus.

The leading agency for the category was Hub Financial Inc., with an average performance rating of 9.5, followed closely by PPI Management Inc., which received a rating of 9.3.

Hub saw significant improvement in this category compared with two years ago, when its strategic focus rating was 8.5.

“[Hub is] a female-led, top-tier organization. It’s corporate, but it’s family,” said a Hub advisor in Alberta.

Terri Botosan, Hub’s CEO, said this past year has allowed the MGA to clarify its strategic focus. “The pandemic has really [helped us] focus on the tools, the education and the support that our advisors need to operate in this new world,” Botosan said.

PPI’s strategic focus rating remained stable compared with 2019, and its rating in the category “Leadership stability’’ rose slightly to 9.7 from 9.6 in 2019.

“I think they’re number one; that’s why I’ve been here over 30 years. If it wasn’t stable, nothing would work, but everything is so smooth here,” said a PPI advisor in British Columbia.

Jim Virtue, president and chief operating officer with PPI, said the firm’s strategy hasn’t changed from offering “the best support in both the broad market and the high-net-worth market.” He added that his firm prioritizes improving processes and keeping up with industry change.

Virtue said the agency hired a new senior vice-president in January, Cathy Hiscott, to manage innovation at the MGA. “We’re continuing to focus on innovation, particularly in the area of technology,” he said.

Among the DSAs, RBC Life Insurance Co. (RBCI) received the highest rating for both the strategy and leadership stability categories. That firm received 9.0 and 9.1 in the categories, respectively, and was up significantly in the strategy category (from 8.4 in 2019).

“We’re getting there,” said an RBCI advisor in B.C. “They care about us and about our clients, and it’s obvious.”

“They’re efficient and forward-thinking,” said an RBCI advisor in Ontario. “It’s good to know that they’re on our side and have our backs. They’ve engaged quite a bit [amid] Covid to support us in any way that we need.”

In the “DSA’s reputation with clients & prospects” category, which applies only to the DSAs, RBCI ranked highest out of the three firms assessed, receiving a rating of 9.5 from its advisors.

“Not many people knew about the insurance branch [within RBC], but in the past couple of years, we’re starting to really build up that street cred,” said an RBCI advisor in B.C.

For Canada Life advisors (a group that includes both Freedom 55 Financial agents and those from Canada Life’s WISE network), the past year was full of ups and downs — and not just because of the pandemic. The company consolidated its three insurance subsidiaries under the Canada Life banner in 2019, and then made changes to products, wholesaling and teams. In 2021, Canada Life debuted a new distribution platform, Advisor Solutions.

Through such platforms, the firm wants to “offer support based on the needs and characteristics of advisors’ individual practices rather than their alignment to Freedom 55 or WISE channels,” said Rob DeMott, senior vice-president, Advisor Solutions, with Canada Life.

In this year’s Report Card, Canada Life received ratings of 8.0 and 8.2 for strategic focus and leadership stability, respectively. (Due to consolidation in the Report Card of the two advisor groups, comparable data from 2019 is unavailable.)

“I feel very comfortable about where they are going,” said a Canada Life advisor in Ontario.

“They did a good job guiding us through the last crazy year,” said a Canada Life advisor in Alberta.

The lesson? Having a stable firm that offers strong support and a clear path forward, especially when emergencies arise, is important even to the most independent of advisors.