By Douglas Bennett
An actuary is not the first professional one would normally think to seek out if they had a marketing or distribution question. One of my goals for this year was to begin to change that thinking. To do that I felt we had to broaden MaD’s appeal to the SOA membership. In looking at prior MaD offerings we decided that we were doing a pretty good job of offering useful and timely marketing and distribution related topics. We have a viable value proposition. The problem, despite the name of our section, was our marketing.
Growing the Marketing and Distribution Section and making it relevant to a larger audience is a little bit like selling life insurance in general. Most people don’t even want to talk about what you have to offer since it is unlikely to have an immediate impact; in our case, on an actuary’s day-to-day job. And in both cases, the target audience often claim to already know all about the offering, but when pushed they don’t really. As salesmen we haven’t helped by trying to make the product offering so general so as to not present an obvious fit for any particular situation. So, just like insurance agents who first spend time educating their clients on their need for and value of life insurance, this year MaD focused on educating our current and potential members on concepts of marketing and distribution and the impact they might have on their day-to-day jobs.
Last year MaD completed a research project looking at how a significant segment of the middle market went about purchasing life insurance. Not only did we discover why they bought, but how they wanted to buy. This year we spent time on webcasts, articles and presentations at meetings helping the membership better understand the results and how they might be applied in given situations.
Continuing our efforts to educate MaD membership, we have initiated a research project, with the help of the International Section, to collect the same information about the Chinese middle market. As a member of the project oversight group for this project, I can say a significant amount of effort is being spent upfront on research design parameters to ensure they are being defined in a way that is appropriate for the Chinese market while maintaining consistency with our prior research methodology. The consistency of the research methodology and definitions should enhance our ability to compare and contrast these two markets once this new research is completed.
In addition to presenting webcasts on the middle market research and issues facing distribution—both topics are clearly appropriate for MaD—we have sponsored webcasts on less obvious marketing and distribution related issues. For example we sponsored underwriting and final expense webcasts. As it turns out, much of the innovation in underwriting is in response to challenges faced by distribution channels. And final expense product innovation has been driven by changing markets as well as distribution channel needs. Both of these sessions illustrated how marketing and distribution-driven issues were indirectly impacting product development activities.
Finally, there is the newsletter sponsored by MaD, News Direct. Individual section council members took responsibility for either writing articles or recruiting authors to cover a wide range of topics related to marketing or distribution. This format has let us offer information focused on topics specific to a particular market or distribution channel which hopefully provides more actionable information for segments of our membership than if we presented a broad treatment of the subject as webcast or meeting presentation.
We believe we have laid the groundwork for MaD to broaden its appeal to the SOA membership, even to those who aren’t someone’s first choice when seeking marketing or distribution advice. Feel free to contact any of the council members if you have an idea for related research or topic for a future webcast or article.
Douglas Bennett, FSA, is consulting actuary, Ideation Insurance Services. He can be contacted at email@example.com.