September 2012

Letter From the Chair

By Jeff Johnson

Life can get very busy and disruptive. This is my first chance to wish you happy New Year in an edition of NewsDirect and now that my term on the Marketing and Distribution (MaD) Section Council and my stint as Chairperson are quickly drawing to a close, let me begin this message with a recap of all the transitions.

  • Exiting the MaD Section Council in 2012 was: Mike Kaster (our prior chairperson); Jennifer Brady; and Maria Thomson. All were very active during their terms, including development of and participation in numerous meeting sessions and webinars. Each is thanked for the considerable efforts they made toward the promotion of marketing and distribution knowledge amongst all actuaries and especially MaD Section members.
  • Replacing these outgoing members are three individuals having considerable marketing and distribution experience in their actuarial careers. Adam Vanevenhoven, a senior consultant with Deloitte Consulting LLP in Chicago, is currently focused on life insurance and annuity product development. He previously served on the SOA Life Reserve Working Group Modeling Committee. PW Calfas is very involved in marketing and distribution management activities at Federal Life Insurance Company in Riverwoods, IL. He also helped develop meeting sessions and webinars that were sponsored by the Marketing & Distribution Section. Adam and PW also have prior experience with the MaD Council, having previously blessed us with their assistance as friends of the council. Rick Pretty, who is new to section council activities, currently serves as the head product actuary at TIAA-CREF in Charlotte, N.C., and has held senior product management positions with previous employers.
  • We also thank Jon Nigh, an outgoing board of directors member who acted as our connection to the SOA leadership. At the same time we welcome Sue Blanck, who has broad actuarial and international experience with AFLAC, as our new board liaison.
  • Special thanks also go to Juliet Sandrowicz who has been the MaD Section’s newsletter editor most of the last several years. This is a tough job that isn’t confined to just reading submissions and working with the SOA to get publications printed or posted. Juliet proactively seeks authors and articles to ensure we are delivering valuable content. So just in case Juliet decides to retire from this non-paying post we are actively grooming others to fill her shoes … thanks PW!
  • Other continuing section council members are Jim Harkensee and Rebecca Scotchie, whose terms expire in 2012, and Doug Bennett, Jeff Koll, and Marianne Purushotham, whose terms expire in 2013.

Many of our efforts for 2012 are unchanged from prior years—development of meeting sessions and webinars, timely newsletter articles, relevant research, and other activities aimed at increasing the value of actuaries to their employers. But we are also taking some steps that challenge our status quo, including longer-term themed research, increased focus on fewer external partners, increased interaction with other section councils, and exploration of the impact social media can have as an effective life insurance marketing tool. Following are more in-depth descriptions of some of these activities.

Middle Markets Research—The aim of this project is to develop truly actionable findings that help life insurers identify products that middle market consumers are willing to buy, and marketing and distribution techniques that will be effective in delivering those products. Proposed by Doug Bennett and managed by a Project Oversight Group (POG) led by Adam Vanevenhoven, we will go beyond the usual secondary research compilation or interpretative “think piece.” Instead, using a multi-phase approach over the next 18 to 24 months, we will partner with research professionals who will help us both strategically and tactically as we talk to consumers, distributors, actuaries, and others to gain insights. The initial consumer survey is being conducted as of this writing, and at key points along the way, through interactive meetings and webinars, we will open the process for you to share your interpretations and opinions. The first of these interactive sessions is slated to occur at the MaD Section Hot Breakfast session Monday, October 15 at the SOA Annual Meeting being held in National Harbor, MD. … a perfect reason to attend this SOA meeting!

Thanks go out to the Product Development Section, the Reinsurance Section, and the SOA Committee on Life Insurance Research (CLIR), all of whom contributed funding to the initial phase of this research.

MaD Section Member Satisfaction & Value—We always want to know what your needs are, and we strive to give you opportunities to share those with us through a variety of media. Rick Pretty is our current member satisfaction liaison, but please do not hesitate to contact any section council member if you have questions, suggestions or complaints.

Networking—Consistently, networking opportunities are one of the top named reasons for attending SOA meetings. At every annual SOA meeting and Life & Annuity Symposium, MaD offers you at least two such opportunities and the upcoming SOA Annual Meeting is no exception.

  • Sunday, October 14: A wine and cheese networking reception will be held at a time that’s convenient for afternoon arrivals. The fare and camaraderie are always good at these events, which are perfect for meeting new actuaries having shared interests.
  • Monday, October 15: MaD Section hot breakfast—A standard at each meeting, this is a great opportunity to get your meeting started right with a healthy dose of protein and caffeine. As noted above, a brief presentation and open discussion of our middle market research project will be a bonus.

Social Media—Within actuarial circles I may or may not still be in the majority, but I admit having not yet created a Facebook page. That resistance no doubt stems from my actuarial introversion tendencies, but I choose to add the excuse that my wife very satisfactorily takes care of my social media needs. That said, I have created a Twitter account in an effort to understand how Twitter works and how it might be used in our businesses. So far I have tweeted 18 times, follow 21 people (mostly people who fulfill my non-work information needs), and I have 5 followers (all family members). Not as impressive as Michael Phelps’ 2,044 tweets and 1.1 million followers, but it’s a start.

Now, while this attitude might be one that I can personally take without recourse for the remainder of my life—time will tell—it is one that seems to be not sustainable for businesses in the future. Life insurance is stodgy and slow to change, but I think the generations that will be buying our products in the future will expect technology and social media to play significant parts in the selling process. We need to begin building products and processes that meet those expectations, and MaD section members need to be leaders in this area. To help address this competency MaD is sponsoring an annual meeting session: “Insurance Marketing Through Social Media.”

Volunteerism—The greatest gift that comes from volunteering is the satisfaction that comes from contributing and making a difference, and it’s a great way to expand your network amongst actuarial leaders. That’s certainly been my experience. I’ve also gained a keener and more meaningful insight into the SOA’s strategy and inner workings. Section council participation does take time, but not as much as you would probably guess. I encourage everyone to consider participating on a section council that interests you, whether as an elected council member or as a friend of a council. Please contact any current MaD council member if you are interested in participating with us. By the time this newsletter hits the street we will have elected our 2013 council members, but participating as a “friend of the council” is a great way to look over our shoulders before tossing your name in the hat for a spot on the 2014 council.

Annual Meeting—In addition to the social media session previously mentioned, MaD is sponsoring two more sessions at the upcoming Annual Meeting that I think you’ll find interesting.

  • Interstate Compact – A Tool for Improving Speed and Distributor Satisfaction?
    Panelists will share their experiences, good and bad, enabling you to decide whether you might be able to improve your company’s new product speed to market and thereby boost the satisfaction of your distribution partners.
  • Penetrating the Elusive Middle Market
    Who is the “middle market?” What products does this group want to buy? And how do middle market consumers want to buy them?

I hope to see you at the Annual Meeting, and I hope you find the articles in this newsletter helpful. Your feedback is always appreciated by the authors.

Jeff Johnson, ASA, MAAA, is director of Product Development with Forethought Financial Group. He can be contacted at