SBLI of Massachusetts 2020 Carrier Forecast

Eyeing 2020 Through An Innovative Lens

On behalf of everyone at SBLI, I wish you all a very Happy New Year. It’s hard to believe we’ve started our third decade of the millennium and, as quickly as time is going by in our everyday lives, the life insurance industry is moving just as fast.

I’ve been in this industry for the better part of three decades, and sometimes I catch myself marveling at the impact that technology is having on our business—particularly in the last five years. The need to be innovative with how we interact with and service our partners and the clients they help us protect is no longer a nice differentiator for a company—it is a business imperative.

There was a time when the industry looked at distribution through the lens of its field agents, almost exclusively. That has evolved into much more of a 360° approach encompassing sales, product, and in today’s market a much more concentrated focus on the end consumer.

Let’s take a minute and look at the factors and changing consumer behaviors that are shaping our view of life insurance in 2020.

Brizfeel, a consumer advocacy and research organization, conducted a survey of over 30,000 people ages 18-65 in September of 2018.1 The survey revealed that 57 percent of consumers prefer to shop online and spend about five hours a week doing so, while an additional 12 percent are as open to online shopping as they are to brick-and-mortar shopping. About a third of consumers cite the “24/7” availability of online shopping as the biggest reason to shop that way, followed by the ability to find a lower price quickly, convenience, and the ability to save time.

Additionally, LIMRA continues to report an insurance gap of $12 trillion nationally, including a $6 trillion gap among Generations X and Y.2 In fact, 41 percent of Gen Xers don’t have any life insurance, while nearly half of Gen Y doesn’t.3 Combined, these two generations represent 61 percent of the adult population in America.4

SBLI’s focus has always been to offer simple, competitive, and convenient products and services, and that won’t ever change. However, we’re now also focused on looking for new and creative ways to deliver on our mission in the most progressive ways possible.

As a start, we introduced an innovative, award-winning accelerated underwriting program for both our term and whole life policies, guaranteed for all applicants between ages 18-60 on all of our risk classes for plans of $500,000 or less. We’ve been offering a paperless, streamlined drop ticket and e-policy delivery to help reduce agency costs and maximize efficiency. We launched a fully-automated upsell program that helps agents sell term policies with higher face amounts with no extra effort, and we provided access to free legacy planning and electronic document storage tools. We also expanded the availability of our drop ticket program last summer.

Our experience in 2019 with a customer-facing drop ticket was extremely successful, and it validated our intention to introduce a full online application to the brokerage market in the second half of 2020.

We believe that all of the innovative steps we’ve taken and will continue to take will allow our partners to more effectively reach an underserved market in Generations X and Y. To help, we recently introduced a turnkey sales program, Protect Gen X and Gen Y with SBLI, complete with a robust set of tools, tips, and tactics.

While the shift toward e-commerce will continue, we understand that it’s not a fit for every situation. The Brizfeel survey revealed that many people still prefer to talk to a person before making a purchase. Not surprisingly, concerns about online scams and fraud were also mentioned as drawbacks to online shopping. There’s no question that for many, the value of sitting with or speaking to a financial professional is perhaps best appreciated when it comes to making a deeply personal decision like buying life insurance.

While succeeding during the “digital revolution” presents its own challenges, we can’t be myopic and ignore other factors that could impact our growth. We continue to operate in a low-interest rate environment, and the term marketplace is arguably more competitive than ever with the addition of insurtech competitors to an already impressive lineup of highly-rated carriers. However, if we can collectively identify underserved groups of people and approach them at the right time in the right manner with the right products, we’ll all look back on 2020 as a year of significant progress in our industry. We look forward to making it happen together.

2. Turn Up The Volume, 2016 LIMRA Report.
3. 2018 Insurance Barometer Report, LIMRA.
4. US Census Bureau Population Division 2018.

Senior Vice President and Chief Distribution Officer at SBLI of Massachusetts | 781-994-4266 | 781-994-4266

Denis Clifford is senior vice president and chief distribution officer at SBLI (The Savings Bank Mutual Life Insurance Company of Massachusetts). In this role, he is responsible for the company’s Independent Distribution channel which operates in both traditional brokerage and alternative distribution markets. He oversees the development of key business relationships, the growth and expansion of insurance sales, and the delivery of a market-leading customer experience.

Clifford joined SBLI in 2000 and held a variety of distribution-related management positions within Sales and Marketing. In 2007, he was named SBLI’s vice president and director of Brokerage and Independent Distribution. As the architect of the Independent channel, he was instrumental in the company’s nationwide expansion and rapid growth in the brokerage general agency and direct marketing agency marketplace.

In 2010, Clifford joined Ash Brokerage Corporation in Fort Wayne, IN, as executive vice president. In this key innovative role he was responsible for managing institutional accounts, brand marketing, and strategic projects. He returned to SBLI in 2013 as senior vice president and chief distribution officer.

Clifford is a member of industry trade associations NAILBA and NAIFA, and is a member of the board of directors of LIDMA.

Clifford can be reached by telephone at 781-994-4266. Email: