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Transamerica aims to transform corporate culture to strengthen relationship with distributors

By Donna Glasgow | September 19 2005 02:46PM

Since last spring when he took over the leadership of AEGON Canada and its subsidiary, Transamerica Life Canada, the new president and CEO, Paul Reaburn, says figuring out how best to improve the company’s relationship with its distribution channel has been one of his top priorities.

“This is my first CEO job and I intend to be close to the brokers and to the distributors. I think it’s key to have a strong relationship, but I think you will find our whole team will be close to distribution, or closer. We’re really trying to strengthen the relationships all around,” he told The Insurance Journal in an exclusive interview at the company’s Toronto headquarters.

The first step Mr. Reaburn took to deepen these relationships was to meet with managing general agents and advisors across the country and listen to their concerns. Rather than dwell on past issues, he has been asking them what are their current issues with Transamerica with respect to distribution, products or service.

In general, what he learned from distributors is that while they like Transamerica and the Transamerica name, there are issues that they would like addressed before they give the insurer more business, particularly with respect to service.

“I think service has been an issue where we’ve made mistakes and just haven’t put enough attention to some of those errors,” says Mr. Reaburn. “I would say some of the main concerns are just being there when they need us and having access to us...it’s the decision-making process in the service area and time, time to get policies issued, time to get transactions done, not unlike most other companies in the business actually.”

Elaborating, he says that an important part of serving distributors well is how you deal with problems when they arise. With respect to new business, Transamerica has taken a “black and white” approach to problems; it has either been yes, we can help you with that problem, or no we can’t, he explains. Of course, it is the no response that can frustrate distributors, especially if they sense there has been little effort to find a solution. Mr. Reaburn would like his company to change this way of doing business.

“If it’s a no, why can’t we provide an option? We’ve been slow on the turnaround making those decisions.

What we’re trying to do is get more accountability at the appropriate levels within the organization and really create a culture here that we are problem solvers and whether you are a call centre rep, or an underwriter, you are trying to find solutions.”

Sometimes, the answer is still no, but the reason behind this decision should be communicated back to the producer so that they understand why. Such information, could even lead to another option, or help them with similar cases in the future. “It’s really changing from being black and white, yes and no, to looking at ‘Can I be a solution provider?’ and provide options for the producer.”

Mr. Reaburn doesn’t expect to create a culture that provides solutions overnight. First, he is starting at the senior management level to develop a strategy to achieve this goal. Afterward, the senior management will be talking about accountability and the roles of individuals within the company, he says. He expects that distributors should see progress throughout the year as this strategy is implemented.

Infrastructure investment

To further improve service, Transamerica will be making major investments in its infrastructure over the next three to five years. This infrastructure improvement plan includes, “technology, people, processes and re-examining how we do business. We have a number of initiatives that we’re undertaking,” Mr. Reaburn explains.

The most significant of these investments that will affect service will be the improvement of the company’s imaging workflow process. This involves scanning, imaging and storing files so that staff can have easier access to information when they have an inquiry from a distributor.

One organization

In addition to strengthening his company’s relationship with distributors, another top priority for Mr. Reaburn in his new job as president and CEO is to develop a “single strategy for the organization.”

A single vision for AEGON Canada is a new approach. Aside from Transamerica, AEGON’s subsidiaries also include AEGON Fund Management, AEGON Capital Management, AEGON Dealer Services Canada and Money Concepts. Until a few months ago, these companies were operating quite independently of each other. “It was very much a siloed approach that we had: segregated funds, life insurance, mutual funds, we have a dealership and they all kind of did their own thing...what I want, where I want to go, is to have more of a one-organization-approach.”

This means developing a strategy that takes into consideration what is best for the organization as a whole so that the groups work in a single direction, he says. For example, instead of each separate group worrying over their own sales, all sales and marketing would be coordinated under one umbrella from a management perspective with the objective of better marketing all of the company’s product lines, he explains. By having a cohesive strategy, “I think we have a much better chance of prioritizing our resources and getting the most for our buck.”

This structural change at AEGON is currently being implemented, but won’t necessarily be visible to distributors. What they may notice, however, is that the insurer’s marketing activities are more co-ordinated. For example, they may receive one visit from AEGON to talk life insurance and mutual funds, instead of separate visits, he says. “It’s more of a co-ordination effort than saying we’re changing our activities.”

Branding strategy

One of the advantages of this one-organization strategy is that it will present “a common face” of the company to the distributor, explains Mr. Reaburn. To enhance this common face, AEGON is also evaluating its branding strategy. As the company has been operating, a distributor could get a visit from someone under the name of AEGON Fund Management, and somebody else under Transamerica Life, which does not present a unified image. Mr. Reaburn says that this situation is likely to change. “We are looking at our whole branding strategy...We would like to end up with a strategy that does have more of that common face.”

Does this mean the well known Transamerica name will disappear to be replaced by the AEGON brand? “No,” Mr. Reaburn says, “I think we would be strengthening the Transamerica name.”

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