The Advisory Career

LIMRA Advances 'Connection in a Distracted World'

Annual convention challenges industry to define, embrace leadership

by P.E. Kelley

Mr. Kelley is managing editor of Advisor Magazine and L&HA e-newsLink, its daily affiliate. Connect with him by e-mail:

An international audience of 500-plus, representing 19 countries, convened for the 2014 LIMRA Annual Conference in New York City this week, under the banner ‘The Leadership Challenge: Connecting in a Distracted World.’ Attendance here marked one of the association’s largest events ever, validating its mission to provide the broadest scope of research and data to the financial services industry.

The overarching theme for this year’s meeting established a directive to all practitioners to reach down to a younger audience, Gen-X, Gen-Y and the emerging Millennial demographic, to help make sense of this industry’s historic mission of financial security. Moreover, defining the parameters of a ‘distracted world,’ with its new and varied channels of access and communication, remains a daunting task for an industry that is still defining its own evolution through the modern day.

Bob Kerzner, LIMRA president and CEO, expressed this underlying theme from the start, in his opening remarks. He talked about how companies need to do new and different things to reach consumers because competition can no longer be looked at as coming from just within the industry. In a world that has become so inter-connected, and as those channels of access become so intertwined, competition today is coming from every company out there that is trying to gain market share.

Mark Morris, LIMRA’s senior public-relations consultant, explained that LIMRA research has identified striking differences between the life-patterns of Boomers and of Gen-Y, which suggests that in order to meaningfully connect with this generation, the industry may have to alter its own perceptions of what is meaningful to this generation at this present time. “Gen-Y is not where Baby-Boomers were at the same age,” he said, suggesting that a 35 year old Gen-Y might present an entirely different set of facts to an advisor’s than a 35 year old Baby Boomer would.

The rhetoric of ‘being connected’, and how an industry effectively practices what it will preach, draws a fine line for advisors trying to reach an audience as diffuse as Millennials. LIMRA establishes a clear mission in its introductory statements to the audience this week:

  • From Millennials to Baby Boomers, today’s consumers live online with a constant inundation of information and product choices that have an impact on their financial priorities and their buying behaviors. Yet, this does not change their need to address risks such as premature death or outliving their assets

Clearly, while the message has not substantively changed over the years, getting through today’s wiry, circuitous range of channels poses a daunting challenge.

I Trust The Kids

It's all about mobile... because you're not going to grab them with 10-page presentations anymore

David Plouffe was a senior advisor to President Obama and his campaign manager in 2008. He delivered a riveting presentation on how the campaign made a decisive shift in approach to how it would attract voters. Using the innovation of predictive modelling, the campaign chose to go off the beaten path and direct its campaign messages to millennials. This was a demographic group that had been identified as ‘not active in the political process’ and within the management of the campaign, a rift occured concerning which direction to go. According to Plouffe, Obama provided the tie-breaker by saying “I trust the kids.” For Plouffe, and many others, this was a defining moment of the campaign, ratifying the emergence of not just a new voting bloc, but a demographic profile with sudden and impressive credibility.

Plouffe quoted a mantra that had emerged out of this moment in the campaign: ‘mobile first, with video or visuals,’ and it now just might be a rally-cry for anyone seeking access to the younger market. Later in the program, Jason Dorsey, a presenter known as ‘the Gen-Y Guy,’ reiterated the glaring simplicity how millennial’s are listening, and taking in, the world. “It’s all about mobile,” Dorsey said, “because you’re not going to grab them with 10-page presentations anymore.”

Morris believes that LIMRA, and by extension the advisors who listen to LIMRA and absorb the conclusions of its research, has identified a subtle shift in approach to guiding consumers toward financial security. “For advisors today, it’s not about just looking at account balances,” he said, “it’s about looking at their client’s needs.” The battle is won, it appears, when you get your client engaged in this discussion.

The Success Syndrome

The ability to effect change, systemic change, within an organization, such as the entirety of the financial services industry, would require a broad-based vision and deep understanding of the mechanics of that industry. Lou Gerstner was IBM’s Chairman and CEO, and the architect of the company’s historic turnaround. With a keen understanding of his company’s internal structure, he has said “I came to see, in my time at IBM, that culture isn’t just one aspect of the game; it IS the game. In the end, an organization is nothing more than the collective capacity of its people to create value.”

STREAMING: A must-see video:
A Conversation With Louis V. Gerstner Jr., at LIMRA’s 2014 Annual Conference

So, in his effort to change the culture of his company, Gerstner said that he had to turn IBM from a ‘geographic fiefdom’ into a ‘customer-facing’ organization. Success, he implied, bred inertia. What he called ‘the success syndrome’ was preventing the company from progressing. It was looking “to much inward and not enough outward.”

When he first came into IBM, Gerstner was quoted as saying “customers want solutions, they don’t want bits and bytes.” This shook things up, because the old way, which would look to add another product to try to solve problems, was not the way he thought the company should go. The customers don’t care what the technology is, they just want to know that it works.