Staying relevant in an electronic world

By Donna Glasgow | May 12 2010 04:01PM

Banks and insurers are offering insurance to Canadians online. Younger Canadians are increasingly researching their purchases via the Internet. Social media has changed the meaning and experience of networking. And, advisors are requiring better and more effective technology from their managing general agencies.

These technology-linked realities raise a key question for MGAs says Byren Innes, Senior Vice President and Director of NewLink Group, a financial services industry research and strategic consulting firm. "How do you stay relevant in a world that is becoming more electronic?"

Since his father started Copoloff Insurance Agencies 46 years ago, much has changed in the business and technology is rapidly driving further changes, observes Charles Copoloff, Vice President of the Montreal-based MGA.

The whole look and feel of how people do business is in transition, he says. "As we move more into the ‘Blackberry World' the face-to-faces are changing, mediums are changing, requirements, conferences and meetings are changing...I think it is just in its infancy right now as far as how technology is changing the people-to-people interface. I think that is going to be the biggest change and the biggest opportunity for companies like us to stay relevant."

Mr. Copoloff adds that having a back-office system developed by the MGA enables it to respond quickly to advisors needs. "Being in control of the whole system and the whole database allows us to move very quickly and change very quickly. It also lets us experiment with different ideas and bring to market different ways of managing our business and marketing sales ideas and opportunities to our advisors."

He adds that this system is almost an agent's back office as well. For example, it manages all clients on our system, and allows the MGA to notify an advisor when a sales opportunity arises, such as a policy conversion. "You're not just waiting for a renewal notice to come in when possibly the opportunity may have already been missed for a new sale.

Social media

Mr. Innes of NewLink says that MGAs who wish to remain relevant in the future should be taking a serious look at how younger Canadians are networking with each other. They communicate by texting and through social media sites. They often research purchases and products themselves online.

This means MGAs and advisors should consider developing an Internet/social media strategy to see if they can leverage social networking sites and blogging to connect with younger clients.

Mr. Innes says MGAs and advisors should be asking themselves, "As a traditional marketer of insurance, how do we compete in this space? They should be engaging it somehow."

One MGA that is moving forward with a social media strategy is Qualified Financial Services (QFS). Kevin Cott, President of QFS, sees the online world as an opportunity to be embraced by MGAs and advisors. Avoiding it is akin to an advisor refusing to accept faxes. "You better be accepting faxes, you better be accepting email and you better be focused on online communication."

Mr. Cott says he believes it is too early to tell how social networking sites will impact the industry but he knows that there are advisors connected with QFS who are using blogs via Facebook to reach new potential clients. "They are creating a network of friends on Facebook that are there specifically for the insurance aspect."

To help develop QFS' branding and develop its online strategy, last summer the MGA brought a full-time advertising and communications person on board.

Don Hart, Executive Vice-President of Brokerage Development at QFS says, "We've been really focused on creating a different form of awareness and there is no method of advertising or communications that is off the table. Everything from guerrilla marketing to non-traditional social network marketing is all something that we are considering."

He adds that QFS is also looking to help its advisors embrace new ways to reach clients. Social networking was recently part of a recent training program for advisors. "We're always looking at new technologies that help promote the advisors and help them do their business in a more expedient manner.

So Facebook and LinkedIn and the others sites that are available are things that we are looking at in terms of marketing and promoting our advisors and facilitating that."

One of the ways they will be doing this is by offering advisors the services of Nina Hu, QFS' new advertising and communications person. "If an advisor said, ‘I want to rebrand and market myself,' they could go out and spend tens of thousands of dollars. We don't charge for any of these services. An advisor can sit down with Nina and work out a fully integrated marketing program including branding, website, brochure designs, advertisements, etc.," says Mr. Cott.