Sun Life slashes its team of long term care specialists

By Alain Thériault | January 24 2012 08:05PM

As part of a series of cost-cutting measures, Sun Life has decimated its LTC specialist team.Sun Life Financial controls more than 50% of the long term care insurance market, senior vice president, individual insurance and investments, Kevin Strain told The Insurance and Investment Journal when interviewed in mid-December. Despite its dominant market presence, the insurer apparently no longer needs a phalanx of specialists.

Mostly made up of health care network professionals, this team helped hoist Sun Life to its dominant position in the long term care insurance market. Life insurance permit holders, LTC specialists sell the product in tandem with career sales force advisors.

Recently, Sun Life extended this expert model to its managing general agents. Since the announcement in December, it is no longer offered to the independent network.

“Following the announcement, the number of our specialists has been reduced from 40 to between 10 and 12,” Mr. Strain says. Yet he confirms Sun Life’s commitment to this market. The product remains intact: there are no plans to raise premiums or cancel guarantees, he says.

Hired to the LTC specialist team in September, Karen Henderson was shown the door after the announcement. Ms. Henderson is the founder and CEO of the Long Term Care Planning Network, a long term care consultancy. Editor of the newsletter LTC News, she also trains advisors to sell the product. She is perplexed by Sun Life’s decision.

“Will advisors sell LTCI without specialists? Some advisors will, some others not. LTCI is not sold as routinely as life insurance is. Not much has changed that way. In my view, I think there are still many advisors who need someone who is an expert in LTCI and the aging process.” She thinks the whole industry should imitate the specialist model. The time is ripe for this change, Kevin Strain says. “Sales have been quite good up to the third quarter. We’re happy with new sales. We have witnessed more sales coming from advisors only,” he says.

He adds that sales were coming from the independent and captive network alike. In previous years, Sun Life was known to generate most of its long term care sales through its agency network, inherited from Clarica. In this network, the specialist model predominated. Back in 2005, the company said it had 150 LTC specialists.

The model has been particularly effective at familiarizing advisors with the product, but times have changed, Mr. Strain explains. “We still believe in the model. With time, more advisors have introduced LTC in their practice. It became more of a core product into their offering. We got to the point where they could sell the product on the road on their own. So, there’s less room for specialists.”

Some distributors of the Sun Life product felt just as ambivalent. Claudine Cloutier, living benefits director at managing general agency Groupe Cloutier, recalls when Sun Life extended this model to independents a few years ago.

“Some independent advisors don’t like having someone else come to their clients. Also, people that invest regularly in this market will tend to take all the steps by themselves,” she points out.