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Will integration work or fail, the jury is still out

By Eric Walker

(reprinted with permission from ci Canadian Insurance Magazine, December 2001 issue)

More than ever property and casualty
insurance brokers are embracing the concept of providing integrated financial services to
their clients. For at least twelve years the idea of providing financial services such as
property and casualty, life, group life and health, funds, GICs/deposits and mortgage
loans to a single or combined client base has been talked about and kicked around, and has
been implemented in a few cases, as a successful approach to the sale of multi-line
financial services. In spite of the length of time described, this model of doing business
is still not the norm. Further, whether or not it will be the norm in the future is not
certain. There are signs in the marketplace that suggest there are a growing number of
integrated financial service brokers. The question is, are these brokers providing
multi-line services successfully. This article discusses some of the benefits, critical
success factors and approaches to establishing a fully integrated financial service brokerage.

Market Conditions

A number of conditions are now present in
the Canadian marketplace, which have not been present at the same time in the recent past,
that may foster growth in brokerages that offer multi-line financial services. These
conditions include; (i) a large group of Canadians who are aged between 35 to 49, with the
financial needs and resources to purchase the various financial services described; (ii)
the emergence, in a post consolidation era of larger brokerages with larger client bases
to which other non-property and casualty financial services could be profitably provided,
and; (iii) the emergence of property and casualty carriers that have designed and packaged
programs that support and enable their brokerage distribution force to sell non-property
and casualty lines of business.

The Benefits

Everyone has long believed that the
customer list of a property and casualty insurance broker provides an excellent base of
existing clients who would buy financial products because a business relationship has
already been established. The successful sale of these products to existing clients over
the long term should result in increased profits and a corresponding increase in the value
of the brokerage. In addition, an increase in profits and in value should result from the
positive effect on account retention for multi-line clients. As a business concept, it
sounds simple but, it may not be simple to accomplish.

In respect of non-property and casualty
business, pre-tax profit margins, expressed as a percentage of revenue, tend to have a
wide range, on average between 10% and 25%. The margin is primarily dependent on volume
and mix of business, with, for example, group life and health business at the high end of the range.

Similar to property and casualty business,
average values on the sale of other financial service businesses are expressed in terms of
multiples of commission income (but determined based on many factors including
profitability) in a range of 1.0 to 1.5 times revenue.

Critical Success Factors

If you are considering redefining your
brokerage to provide comprehensive financial services, a number of key critical success
factors should be considered in the planning process.

Formulate a Strategy

Reorganizing your brokerage from selling
primarily property and casualty lines of business to also selling life, group life and
health, funds, GICs/deposits, and mortgage loans requires long term strategic planning and
a commitment on an annual basis to implementing the strategy. Such an endeavour carries
risks and real costs. In effect, to be successful it requires changing the nature of how
your brokerage operates (“its Mission”) from providing property and casualty
insurance solutions to providing comprehensive financial service solutions to meet your
clients’ needs. This is not minor tinkering to achieve operational efficiencies; it
represents a major change in the manner in which you do business.

Before any brokerage embarks on a change in
strategy, senior management must assess whether the brokerage has or can get the
management and sales skills required to produce a significant volume of other financial
service business. In this process, management must obtain an answer to the hard question
of whether or not it is worth the effort (time, money, training, etc.) to commence selling
a complex range of financial services, or is it more profitable in the long run to
concentrate on what the brokerage knows best, property and casualty insurance.

Set out action plans to achieve strategy

Design and operate the reorganized brokerage with systems and procedures in place to
support the strategy to sell integrated financial services.

  • Invest in growth

    Understand the profitability relating to the products available and choose to invest
    in and sell those that achieve target profit margins.

    Many non-property and casualty products
    attract low commission revenue. For these types of products, volume growth and retention
    is important combined with the resources to invest in growth until volume levels are
    achieved that result in targeted profit margins.

    The chart set out below highlights average commission rates for
    typical financial service products.

  % Premium
New Renewal
  Front Load (i) 0 – 5% 0.5 – 1%
Rear Load 5% 0.5%
No Load 1% 1%
GICs/Deposits 0.2% 0.2%
Term Life 75.0% 5.0%
Universal Life 100.0% 10.0%
Group Life & Health 10.0% 10.0%
(i) Front load and renewal
(trailer) are inversely related.
  • Control Costs

    Any action plan should be reflected in an
    annual operating budget in terms of its effect on revenue and expenses and monitored by
    key management. Variances from budget should be reviewed monthly and corrective action
    should be taken if appropriate.

    Most expenses relating to financial service
    products are incurred on the initial sale with minimal expense occurring in the renewal periods.

    It is therefore, critical to control costs in
    the renewal periods if target profit margins are to be achieved.

  • Sales

    Identify and sell products that are
    appropriate to the needs of your clients. For example, if you have large commercial and
    association accounts it may make more sense to sell group life and health products. If you
    deal with owner-operators who have succession issues, the sale of life products may be more relevant.

    Initially take advantage of cross selling. It
    should be the easiest sale. It should result in improving existing client relationships,
    corresponding retention, long term profitability and the value of the brokerage.

    Sell products that attract renewal commissions. This type of business stabilizes and
    improves profitability levels over the long term and creates value.

    Develop relationships with clients that
    relate to service. These clients will be loyal if the service is provided and will not
    move because of price. Again client retention improves profitability and value.

  • Human Resources

    Hire, train and develop a staff that is
    technically strong and appropriately licensed. Products must be delivered competently.

    Reinforce and foster staff adherence to the
    mission to provide integrated financial service solutions. Ideally, new and existing
    production staff should be cross-trained and comfortable in selling “the whole deal”.

    Develop staff that provide advice-based
    service in order to attract desirable loyal clientele.

  • Contracts

    Seek out contracts with underwriters that
    reward success (overrides and bonuses) and by so doing enhance profitability. Sales staff,
    especially life producers, tend to be highly paid (e.g. 75% of commission income).
    Integrated financial service brokers may not make a reasonable profit margin on life
    business unless an MGA contract is in place, which pays override/bonus commission based on volume.


There are four common approaches to establishing an integrated financial service brokerage.
The approaches that appear to be succeeding involve careful planning, implementation and investment.

  • Hire experienced life producers
    This is the traditional approach adopted by property and casualty brokers to sell other
    financial products. Usually, this approach does not entail a change in a brokerage’s
    business strategy to one focused on selling integrated financial services. Consequently,
    it has generally met with failure because of a lack of planning and management commitment.
    The focus is usually on short term sales from working the existing client list. Property
    and casualty staff tend to guard their client relationships too closely. This inhibits the
    sales process. A sense of separation develops between the respective staff. Consequently,
    the property and casualty and life cultures do not merge to one of selling financial
    services, production is low, producer draws exceed production and finally the brokerage
    and the producers go their separate ways.

  • Buy an established business – Some
    brokers have purchased financial service brokerages that sell life, group life and health,
    GIC/deposits, funds and mortgage loans. This approach to creating an integrated financial
    service brokerage has the advantage of instantly creating capacity including revenue,
    profits, management, experienced staff, and licensing.
    The difficulty has been in the planning, the subsequent integration of the “two
    brokerages” into one “financial service brokerage”. This part of the
    purchase process is key. As these brokers work through these challenges they should
    realize the profits and value increases resulting from cross-selling and improved retention.

  • Start-up – Other brokers have
    created financial service divisions. These brokers started slowly and had large property
    and casualty client bases. Management was committed to a strategy and these brokerages had
    the resources to invest in its implementation over the long term. Initially, only group
    life and health products were selected for sale because of the similarity to property and
    casualty profit margins, its annuity characteristics and the fit to the property and
    casualty client base (e.g. association business, critical mass of larger commercial
    accounts). After four to five years, these divisions were significant contributors to
    these brokers’ operations.

  • Packaged programs – Many brokers
    have been setting up financial service divisions with the help and support of insurers.
    The insurers, of course, are promoting their own products. Nevertheless, these programs
    help to reduce the costs of investing in start-up and sales development. The packaged
    programs offered by the insurers often include planning, budgeting, sales, hiring,
    training, technology, and licensing assistance.
    An added benefit from these programs may be the strengthening of the relationship the
    broker has with one of its key suppliers on the property and casualty side of the business.


It is not easy for a property and casualty brokerage to sell other financial services.
To provide integrated financial services successfully, requires planning and commitment and a fundamental
change in the purpose of the business, its mission.

Larger brokerages appear to have significant
opportunities to benefit from increasing profits and business value through developing or
purchasing financial service brokerages. These brokerages have the resources to invest in
developing multi-line business and have the number and types of accounts to achieve the
sales volume necessary to attract suitable profit margins.

The risks associated with setting up or
buying a financial service business can be reduced by all sizes of brokerages, through
obtaining the support from the property and casualty underwriters who are promoting the
sale of their non-property and casualty financial service products. This promotion is
occurring via assisting brokers in setting up turn-key “packaged” solutions for
selling other financial services.

The existence of these trends in the
marketplace suggest the concept of property and casualty brokerages reorganizing to
provide integrated financial services may be emerging as a significant form of
distribution. It is still too soon to tell, but the conditions for change suggest the
trend will continue.

Short List of Critical Success Factors

  1. Redefine business strategy and change
    mission to sell comprehensive “financial services”.

  2. Complete action plans to implement strategy on an annual basis.

  3. Be prepared for short term contingencies
    and set backs associated with investing in long term growth.

  4. Establish a budget, monitor and control costs.

  5. Focus initial sales efforts on existing clients.

  6. Hire, license and train the right people.

  7. Contract for appropriate financial
    products accompanied by enhanced override and bonus plans.

Eric Walker is a partner in Cookson Walker Consulting, which has offices in Toronto and
Calgary. He can be reached at (416) 368-7990.