From the (virtual) desk of Meryl Rosenthal

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We have a lot of opportunity to revisit and remodel the workplace. This strategic focus has been validated in three important ways: by the study we conducted; by the leaders we spoke with who are putting progressive models and approaches into action; and importantly, by GAMA International, the well-respected professional organization dedicated to leadership in the financial services arena, which is spotlighting this area at its 2018 events and conferences.

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Highlights from my ELC Presentation at GAMA

On January 30, I had the privilege of addressing GAMA’s Executive Leadership Cabinet (ELC), an informative event that brings together industry leaders in a collaborative way. With a focus on “reinventing distribution” and “innovation and change,” the ELC is composed of senior home office executives and top field leaders, representing the industry’s major distribution channels from top companies across the country. These individuals serve as a focus group for GAMA International. Their advice and input help to ensure the relevance and value of GAMA’s programs and services.

I shared some very compelling research about the current state of workplace culture in the insurance industry to an audience of distinguished industry peers from U.S. and Canadian firms. Here are some of the highlights from my presentation, Refreshing Today’s Workplaces: The Time is Now:

Today’s digital, diverse and dispersed talent and clients expect a workplace that speaks to them - a one-size-fits-all experience is no longer acceptable.

Are leaders in tune with this new paradigm? Many of the agencies I’ve spoken with are embracing these changes, while others don’t see the risk of inaction. In particular, some don’t fully appreciate the correlations among a thriving workplace, better retention and a next-gen advisor base that resonates with desired market segments. In this competitive landscape, inaction is simply not an option. We have new models, approaches and next practices to help you move the needle.

A carefully crafted work culture can go a long way to fix some of the chronic challenges facing the industry. Let’s revisit our initial statements: What are the key culture elements?

  • How does my business look and feel? How’s the space? What’s the vibe?
  • What experience does my business project? Does it feel inclusive? Welcoming? Collaborative?
  • What behaviors, attitudes and mindsets do my leaders and advisors project?

State of the Industry – By the Numbers

Here are some compelling stats from our benchmarking study:

✓ 40% of respondents anticipated that Millennials would represent less than 25% of their advisors by 2020 – not a good showing, given that Millennials are here to stay and are our future buyers. Furthermore, when it came to women, 70% of the leaders anticipated little change by 2020, with women only representing less than 25% of the advisor population. A mere 2.5% of the leaders expected that women would finally represent 50% or more of their advisors in four years.

✓ Agency leaders reported that 90% of advisors who left did so because of lack of income (they failed to bring in business). Most, however, do not gather formal feedback, and this is speculation. In a one-on-one interview, one leader shared that based on exit interviews, they found, to their surprise, that more than 80% of those who left the agency STAYED in the business. This misperception can be very costly.

✓ While 92% of the agencies we surveyed reported having mentorship programs in place, only 34% of the women advisors reported having participated in any type of mentorship or teaming program at their agency. Women reported less access to senior leaders, being on boarded by administrative staff, and not having people who look like them in an accessible network during the process. The disparate perceptions between men and women of onboarding elements are shown on the accompanying graph.


Leaders who ignore these hard truths run the risks of slower growth, loss of market share, falling retention rates, and ultimately, an uncertain future as the business changes.

New Models That Are Producing Great Results

Regardless of your business stage, size, years in business, incremental refinements are worth considering. New models are emerging, and we congratulate those of you committed to making workplace culture and workspace modernization progress. Here are two examples:

  • Blueprint is a planning process-based firm that charges monthly planning fees for advice, yet is insurance and investment based with its advice. Blueprint's Charlotte office has a modern, open feel with dedicated space for client workshops and community events. Blueprint sees its greatest success in its ability to attract and plan for clients from across the U.S. through its social media and marketing efforts - a change from the more localized approach that most insurance and investments firms take.
  • The Establishment, a Buffalo, NY firm, renovated a detached space to create a place where people could come grab a drink and a bite to eat in a relaxed environment, socialize, and then take a free class with an educator on a financial topic that interests them. Financial classes cover a range of topics including paying down student loans, planning for retirement, investing options, just to name a few. The payoff has been a large number of new young professional customers at this MassMutual firm. Even the homepage of its website exudes “fresh.” The numbers speak for themselves: Of the 3,500 individuals who took a class with The Establishment over a two-year period, a large number have been converted to customers. They are also doing well retaining their LGBT advisors. Recognizing that young professionals also tend to prefer collaborative work environments and that they value teaming and mentoring, The Establishment has implemented effective practices to meet these needs.

What You Can Do, Now!

As influencers in your organizations, you have the power to drive change. While the agencies are closest to the customer and marketplace, they often don’t have the resources, bandwidth or expertise when it comes to people practices. With that, I’ll leave you with some steps you can take today:

  • Infuse workplace culture into your strategic planning process;
  • Reach out to counterparts who have started the evolution and exchange ideas;
  • Offer training for your current and future leaders so that they have the skillsets needed for success going forward;
  • Keep your finger on the pulse of what is REALLY happening in your organization –insights gleaned from surveys, polls and feedback are instrumental; and
  • Cascade programs and practices, focused on workspace, culture and practices, that work at the Home Office level and make them broadly available.

I welcome hearing from you about your challenges, lessons learned, aha moments, successes, questions and comments, so that they can be considered for subsequent issues of FlexPaths’ Corner. And if you are heading to the LAMP Meeting in Nashville, I look forward to seeing you there!