SBLI of Massachusetts 2023 Carrier Forecast

Looking Back While Moving Forward

SBLI has always been a process innovator. Back in 2016 we were one of the first adopters of accelerated underwriting, and our avant-garde approach was a little different from our competitors. Indeed, our guaranteed AU process, within defined parameters, successfully fit into a distinct market niche and was a powerful market influence prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, more recently the industry at large has evolved rapidly with the utilization of new data sources, the reconfiguration of insurance processing fundamentals, and improvements in processing efficiencies. Consequently, we are looking to adjust our accelerated underwriting program to align more closely with today’s competition and be a partner of choice to a broader market.

As we looked to the future, we paused and reflected on the past—evaluating lessons learned, market changes, and the successes we’ve had with developing channel-specific digital products. In this context we observed:

  • InsurTechs have been influential. This term encompasses technological innovations that are created and implemented to improve the efficiency of the insurance industry. And an outcome of the missteps of some and the good or bad timing of others is that the more robust and market-sensitive InsurTechs gained sure footing and are now part of the marketplace fabric for any progressive process, platform, or digital product design. Consequently, a variety of great partners, resources and vendors have emerged.
  • Digitalization and InsurTechs were seen as the next frontier for insurance sales. Initially there was a belief that targeting customers directly and giving them the ability to do things independently would blow the doors off the market and make agents redundant. Our experience indicates that there is a significant reduction in the level of conversions to a product sale when agents are not an integral part of the process. While there is a place for a D2C strategy in specific environments, agents are still the key ingredient in most sales situations.
  • Pre-screening is important. The product fit for the customer depends largely on good pre-screening, which—in many instances—is taking the place of field underwriting. However, it has been made so easy to apply for life insurance that careful upfront screening is often not taking place, creating a potentially negative experience for the customer and a missed opportunity for agents to pivot to an alternative product that is a better fit.
  • Digital tools supporting needs such as pre-screening are part of the future. Tools of this nature, designed to assess the viability of the applicant and the product offering quickly and conveniently, are vital.

With that, we are kicking off 2023 with a new focus on the markets we want to participate in and the platforms, processes, and products we want to develop to gain broader market share and relevance, while being seen as a change agent in the years ahead. Realigning our traditional term product and unveiling a reimagined accelerated underwriting program supporting the agency model will be a major initiative this year.

As always, our objective is to make life insurance easy! Our focus is on providing ease of access, customer-centric processes, and convenience to agents to enable them to deliver coverage as quickly and efficiently as possible while also reestablishing our price competitiveness.

The Future of the Marketplace
In recent years Insurtechs have been the leaders in bringing innovative products to the market. With startups potentially recasting their model, we are going to see more carriers come to this space with their own state-of-the-art digital products.

As that happens, the delta between what was fully underwritten or accelerated underwritten—and now digital simplified issue—will continue to close, with better pricing, better flexibility and process flow, and better economics.

In the term insurance space, premium rates have declined over time because of the quest of insurance carriers for market share and volume. As a result, payouts have been driven downwards and the economics for placing these products have tightened. In many instances, general agents lose money on term business below $1,000 of premium.

While accelerated underwriting and in-session decisions have reduced case management, they have not eliminated it, so the margins for general agents have tightened. This has been countered by the introduction of the digital ecosystem where an agent or an agency can do such things as work with an applicant to do their own fulfillment online and have instant-issue capabilities. This eliminates the majority of the general agency’s overhead, so it becomes a much more beneficial economic model for everyone.

Conclusion: The Need for Diversification
As we position ourselves to move further into the digital space with realigned products and processes, the bottom line is this: We continue to recognize the value of the agent and their customer relationship and the absolute need for agents to have the right products, tools, and processes to diversify their business and take advantage of new opportunities.

To deliver on these needs, we have been working closely with a number of technology providers such as Afficiency and MRS (Management Research Services, Inc.) to support broader market coverage and distribution, develop and deploy products and digital tools that help agents interact more easily and cost-effectively, and help our partners diversify and grow their business.

We are excited about the initiatives being implemented at SBLI in response to slimming term sales margins and the market’s recognition that streamlining agency and agent involvement in the process is imperative. We look forward to making it happen together.

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: