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Assumption Life takes on the major players using the Internet and a growing national presence

By Alain Thériault | January 18 2007 06:27PM

To set itself apart in a Canadian market dominated by three companies that control more than 80% of premiums, Assumption Life is emphasizing its online products to attract advisors from across the country.

On Nov. 1, Paul LeBlanc, director of marketing, sat down with The Insurance Journal for an exclusive interview and shared Assumption Life’s 2007-2009 three-year plan.

Accompanied by Carl Victor, financial products manager, Mr. LeBlanc unveiled the three-year plan on the same day a colleague was presenting it to the company’s board of directors. Assumption Life’s head office is in Moncton, New Brunswick.

At the heart of the Assumption Life three-year plan is a commitment to always have people available on the front lines out in the field. “We do not simply want to be on a list of companies that might be offered by an MGA, we want to associate ourselves with brokerage firms across Canada that sell our products,” explained Mr. LeBlanc.

Market niches

To ensure its plan succeeds, Assumption Life says it will offer unparalleled service to advisors, providing them with products in specific market niches, with particular emphasis on its online products.

And advisors are responding. Since its 2004 launch of five products sold and issued over the Internet, Assumption Life now issues more policies online than on paper. “This year, more than half of all of our issues came via the Internet,” affirmed Mr. LeBlanc.

He added that advisors appreciate the speed with which online policies are processed. “Often, it takes just a few days to issue a policy, which also means the advisors receive their remuneration more quickly.”

Assumption Life allows its advisors to sell their clients online and with no medical examinations the following products: Total Protection and Golden Protection whole life products, the Critical Protection critical illness product, the FlexOptions temporary product, and the FlexTerm product, which combines life, critical illness, and disability insurance. Policies are then issued online.

The advisor is involved throughout the process, particularly when submitting the policy to the client for signing and faxing the signed policy to the head office. “The next step will be the electronic signature,” added Mr. LeBlanc, who stopped short of saying when this might become a reality.

He went on to explain that for group insurance plans, the insurer is able to respond online to a broker’s request for a quotation, which can sometimes mean that Assumption Life is able to provide a quotation the same day.

The increase in Internet issues has nevertheless led to a decrease in the average premium and a slowdown in the sales of certain products, including universal life. “This is intentional,” maintained Mr. LeBlanc. “Our market is not the wealth management market. It is the average market, representing regular people who are seeking adequate personal or family protection.”

Building a presence

In the past, Assumption Life primarily concentrated on the Atlantic provinces, acknowledged Mr. LeBlanc. However, things have changed over the years, and today Canada-wide growth is another pillar of the three-year plan. Realization of this objective is already underway with the company securing a permit to conduct operations in Manitoba and Saskatchewan. With its entry into these two provinces, the company can now call itself a true pan-Canadian player.

As part of its ongoing effort to raise its profile, Assumption Life presented its company to A.M. Best, a financial analysis and ratings firm widely recognized and respected in the personal insurance industry.

The insurer is also focusing on reinforcing its presence in regions that until now have not been considered as part of its “natural” territory – this includes Ontario and British Columbia, where Assumption Life is increasing its sales efforts.

In Ontario, head office employees are actively stimulating group insurance growth by working with consulting companies such as AON and Mercer. “We are seeing strong demand in Ontario and the western provinces for complementary individual and group insurance suppliers,” Mr. LeBlanc added.

In British Columbia, Assumption Life has launched a campaign to attract the Asian community by publishing brochures in Asian languages, as well as in English and French.

In Quebec, rather than looking for new MGAs, the insurer is seeking to strengthen its relationship with those with whom it already works. However, Mr. LeBlanc emphasized that his company will continue to cultivate new links with group insurance agents.

In Ontario and Western Canada, Assumption Life deals with major brokerage firms such as Hub Financial and BridgeForce for individual insurance.

Standing apart

With more than $500 million in premiums under administration in Canada, the New Brunswick based insurer is nevertheless a relatively small player. However, like others of its size, it has made its mark through an ability to react more quickly than the larger firms.

Assumption Life is not the only small to mid-size company seeking to grow by competing with the big companies. Many Quebec insurers have launched a similar offensive in the lucrative Ontario group insurance market (See The Insurance Journal November/ December 2006).

How can Assumption Life best establish itself within this market? “We’re not attempting to offer the same product as everyone else,” stated Mr. LeBlanc. “For example, we will not try to push Industrial Alliance’s T10 off of the advisor’s desk. Instead, we’ll offer them a complementary temporary product that meets specific needs in order to allow them to increase their revenues for a given client.”

Mr. LeBlanc added that consolidation has helped his company. “Manulife Financial is winding down the operations of Equinox Financial Group, which will mean a drop in service for many brokerage firms. The large producers working with these firms will inevitably turn to those insurers who are able to offer them better service.”

And finally, the idea of a niche product will prove very helpful, particularly with respect to group insurance. Assumption Life is focusing on companies with 25 employees or fewer, a market segment generally ignored by the larger players.

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