Everything Everywhere All At Once—In The Life Brokerage Business!

Similar to our great brokerage business, my last 45 years in the life insurance business seems like there are many similarities to the winner of this year’s best film, a wild, crazy and ever-changing ride.

As you may know, I retired from ASG, an Amerilife Company, in November to spend some time with my family and think about my next chapter.

It has been a wild ride and I can tell you; I have seen changes in the business and have some thoughts on the future.

I started in the business in 1977 out of college as a career agent for Equitable Life and moved to the marketing department at what was Beneficial National Life in 1979. Those days were the days of individual major medical, large clumpy rate books, standard and rated underwriting classes and doing minimum deposit illustrations by hand. My, has the world of illustrations changed!

These were the initial days of life brokerage and I was fortunate enough to have met the great leaders of our industry including Tony Pascotti, Jim Ash, Marty Greenberg, Sam Kaufman and many many more of those who started to really grow what we now know as the BGA.

These years were formidable and I was fortunate to be one of those who attended early NAILBA meetings and of course what was then AALU. In or around the years of 2001-2002, there were many changes already being made in brokerage, including universal life, level term products and the land was shifting in terms of distribution. If a company wrote 40-50 million of brokerage premium it was considered a great feat—today most carriers cannot compete with those types of numbers and there are now many BGAs who write those figures. This period was also a time when the IMO started to emerge. BRAMCO and LifeMark were two of the leaders in this new form of distribution and relationships with BGAs and carriers.

After I was the National Sales VP at National Benefit Life, I continued in brokerage, spent a few years at Crown Life of New York and got a great opportunity in 1992 to work with Mike Hefferon, an up and coming BGA in the New York market. Mike had great insight into brokerage and we built a very large following as well as began to pioneer the IMO marketplace through BRAMCO. This was a great experience and in the years of 1992-2007 there was fantastic growth and change in the BGA marketplace. I can remember two memorable situations: First, where we were BGAs for Traveler’s at the time and brought the company to NAILBA—that was quite a ride; and a few years later, lunch with Warren May from Principal turned into a lifelong relationship with BRAMCO, NAILBA and others.

In 2007 I looked for another BGA opportunity where I knew most of the people and really got the experience of being a principal and building ASG with Sam Kaufman and Jay Scheiner. These years were where I began to really see major changes in the industry. The foreign national market heated up, there were new products, new ways to illustrate them and new underwriting processes. There were firms growing like crazy, UL, VUL, IUL, regulation changes, AG 49 et al, demutualization, IMO mergers, BGA buyouts from PE firms, and especially electronic underwriting and processing.

You may be asking, “So what does this all mean to us in the future?” Well I wish I had a crystal ball. Change is not always good but a necessary part of life in order to move forward.
I have really seen it all, from working at carriers, to working the BGA market, chair of NAILBA membership when we needed to grow the organization, forming a NAILBA industry task force to become more inclusive with industry partners, AALU meetings on the Hill, and most especially the transformation of traditional underwriting in brokerage to digital and submission to commission electronic processing.

COVID, while it has been devastating to our entire world, taught us our business could hold its own, stay in its lane and grow with the proper resources, technology and people—not robots. While I am not a real fan of AI in our business, I believe it is something we all need to face as the next several years will be pivotal.

So, what have I learned? Here are a few of my own prognostications for the future of brokerage and the BGA world:

  • Brokerage will survive, thrive and grow in areas of distribution via RIA’s, wirehouses, some career agents and independent and P&C agents.
  • Consolidation will continue, especially with BGAs, and IMOs as well as our industry organizations—look at Finseca, Forum, NAILBA, and AALU.
  • PE firms, while the financial factors have a lot to do with this, will continue to purchase BGAs, maybe more IMOs, and the future of these ventures will be up for very close financial reviews all the time.
  • I believe there may be a few more demutualizations, and many more stock companies will merge/be purchased.
  • Brokerage underwriting will continue to evolve and we will see even the most conservative mutual carriers jump into this arena.
  • I see more regulation from all sides, including the SEC, Finra and NAIC—and some of this is needed to keep our balance in the business.
  • Most importantly, I see the need for life, annuity, DI and LTCI to continue to be sold by qualified advisors—now and in the future. While technology will of course be needed, the life insurance broker will be needed even more to provide the necessary expertise to handle the billions of dollars of wealth that will be transferred from generation to generation as well as business planning opportunities.

So this is why I see our great business similar to the title of the film, Everything Everywhere All At Once—it has been the ride of a lifetime and hope that my next chapter will be as enriching and fun as the first few.

Gary Bleetstein has more than 45 years of experience in the BGA marketplace and is an independent consultant in the distribution, product and underwriting space. Bleetstein recently retired from Agent Support Group, an AmeriLife Company—a multi-office LIBRA Insurance Partner agency located in New York and New Jersey. He is a past board member of NAILBA, and presently a member of Finseca, Forum 400, New York City Life Underwriters and NJ FPA.

Bleetstein can be reached by telephone: 908-347-6260. Email: gbleetstein@gmail.com.