No CeilingSenior Vice President Sherri DuMond heads up the Distribution Training Group at Allianz Life. We spoke with her about successful women producers and WOMENETWORK, the symposium she founded at Allianz to bring the company’s top women sales professionals to new levels of success.
by Carolyn Ellis
L&HA Features Editor
L&HA: It is clear that training is central to your mission at Allianz. Can you talk about its importance?
SD: At Allianz we offer learning events for all our producers. These include workshops in the field, regional meetings, and universities and symposiums where we bring producers into the home office. My passion is how to help financial professionals succeed. I started the WOMENETWORK Symposium when I came to Allianz to create a unique forum for our top women in sales.
L&HA: What’s your background?
SD: From my years as an advisor in the field, I understand what it’s like to be a financial professional and to be female in this very male-dominated industry. I served in various management and leadership roles in a different home office and moved over to Allianz about four years ago. The WOMENETWORK Symposium gives our top female producers a chance to network, share best practices, and enhance their personal brands.
L&HA: Describe some of the best practices these women use. Are some especially suited to female clients?
SD: In our work with women producers, we see all kinds of networking and client appreciation events, from renting a movie theater and having a private showing for clients to bringing in an industrial-sized shredder right after tax time and having clients come for barbeque and bring the documents they want to shred. One producer rents a nail salon and invites clients for manicures and pedicures. Another gives a party for clients who are retiring, and the retiree gets to invite 10-12 of her closest friends and the word spreads. Transitions are important. When a woman loses her spouse through divorce or death, it’s not uncommon for her to find a new financial professional, and frequently that’s a woman.
L&HA: Who were the keynote speakers at WOMENETWORK this year?
SD: The keynotes focused on sales success and people development. Steve Harvill spoke about Dazzling Blue, his concept of how you make your client experience something truly extraordinary. Sam Richter talked about how to use social media sites and the Internet to be more efficient and more engaged with clients and prospects. Gina Pellegrini addressed how advisors can surround themselves with marketing teams, so they have somebody who doesn’t just answer the phone but who can keep them in front of clients or quality prospects. These presentations addressed the producer’s standpoint.
L&HA: WOMENETWORK is designed to be give-and-take. What does Allianz hope to learn from attendees?
SD: Because these are all independent producers, we want to give them something of value for the time they spend with us and we are looking for their loyalty. We educate them about why we do what we do. We hope that by doing so they can evaluate other carriers they might be using. Our product innovation team meets with some producers to hear more about what’s important for their clients and prospects so we can integrate the voice of the customer into product development.
L&HA: In what unique ways is the symposium geared to women?
SD: Our meeting and events team goes over the top to be sure every detail is something a woman would appreciate. From the save-the-date to the actual invitation all the way through the materials at the event and the follow-up, you see consistency. This year an orchid was our logo; the flower image appeared on notebooks and totes, and orchids were used on the tables. We gave attendees a pen that writes but also has a soft tip that works on smart phones and smart pads, handy if you have long fingernails. Our attendees can take ideas like these back to use with their clients.
L&HA: Are we seeing a response to women’s needs in product development?
SD: Through market research and voice of the customer we have been listening carefully to what women have to say. When you look at longevity we know that most often it’s women who will use the benefits from our products. We consider what the long-term needs might be when you look at the nursing home riders and other benefits that we are adding to our products. Beneficiaries are important, too. Women in particular are concerned about making sure that their heirs, their children are taken care of.
L&HA: You’ve done the symposium for four years. What have you noticed?
SD: We start getting emails and phone calls from repeat attendees as early as November to make sure they lock down the dates on their calendar; they also want to know the threshold to qualify. It’s fun to see this kind of excitement. Two years ago we allowed 85 to attend and the more intimate feeling was lost, so we now keep the group to about 60 attendees. Our FMOs help to promote this; women who are affiliated with FMO offices are eligible to attend.
L&HA: Currently what percentage of advisors are female?
SD: LIMRA is reporting 13 percent of independent producers are female, 22 percent if you look at more captive companies. According to Cerulli Associates, women represent 9.5% of all advisors. What is notable is that on the Investment Advisor platform, women represent 14.8%, and 28.2% are dually registered. This totally fits with what we would expect from female producers. Women are relationship builders and tend to approach the business from a consultative perspective.
L&HA: How can we encourage more young women to enter the business?
SD: As an industry we aren’t doing as good a job as we could in helping young people understand the career opportunities. We pitch the same old, male-oriented story. My female peers at Allianz and I have been going onto college campuses to tell young women and men that there are great opportunities for them in the field, marketing office, and home office. Young women think you have to be an econ, accounting, or finance major to be successful in this field, and that isn’t the case. The key is getting the word out to women while they are in school.
She can be reached at email@example.com