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Push-Pull Dynamic Heats Up Annuity Awareness Month

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There’s momentum building around annuities, and that’s good news for the annuity industry, which this month celebrates its second annual National Annuity Awareness Month (NAAM). Call it a “rise and shine” moment for guaranteed income products.

As the sun rises on its way to solstice on June 21, the Society for Annuity Facts and Education (SAFE) plans to shine the light on annuities by “pushing” articles and factual information about annuities out to consumers.

“The idea is to get this information in front of consumers so that people will know about annuities,” said SAFE President Sheryl J. Moore, who is also president and CEO of Wink Inc. and Moore Market Intelligence, a leading source of annuity industry data.

“What that means for agents is that consumers are better-informed before they get into a conversation about these products with an agent or a financial advisor,” Moore said.

Included in the SAFE marketing push are videos, articles and information blasted through social media channels. “Social media is integral to the delivery of this message,” she said.

Eventually, SAFE may harness other channels such as TV, print media or other forms of advertising, but for now SAFE is looking to get the most out of its promotional dollars, and that means using the Web and social media channels.

Moore said that the best way for agents to take advantage of NAAM is to send links to articles and information on annuities they see or receive from SAFE or a partner like the National Association for Fixed Annuities (NAFA) that is part of the Coalition for Annuity Awareness.

“They can piggy back on NAFA and SAFE, and we want to remind them that if they get an email or a message from NAFA or SAFE, they should pass it on to others,” Moore said.

“The idea is to take the message of NAAM viral and that’s something that agents can really help with,” she said. “We want to have agents get some skin in the game when it comes to NAAM.”

That’s the “push” half of the story. The other half consists of the “pull” marketing through which SAFE and its coalition partners want to generate traction.

By pushing information out to consumers, and kindling consumer interest in annuities, there’s an opportunity for agents to do potentially less prospecting so that would-be annuity buyers, “pulled” into thinking about a future secured through guaranteed income, will approach advisors and say, “Help me out with my situation.”

The idea is to draw consumers in and have them call their agents directly, or to reach out to trusted sources of information about annuities who will then refer consumers to a licensed agent qualified to sell an annuity.

Consumers may even find themselves asking friends and relatives for advisor referrals, or resorting to Facebook and other social media “friends” to refer them to trusted financial professionals that friends work with.

SAFE board member Pat Simasko, a partner at Simasko Law in Mount Clemens, Mich., says that what SAFE wants to do is have consumers ask their advisors about annuities, or even put advisors on the spot and ask why advisors haven’t mentioned or recommended annuities.

“Having an awareness of what an annuity is is a good thing and hugely important,” he said.

The need for accurate information around annuities has never been greater, especially with lawmakers discussing the need for guaranteed income, and NAAM will provide some buzz to get people thinking about annuities and approaching their advisors.

Moore said that’s an opportunity for advisors, not necessarily to sell to clients, but to educate clients and have them walk out of an agent’s office and say, “This guy cares about me.”

“Suitability is a big issue these days now, so if you want to make a suitable sale, the best thing you can do is lock up the relationship (not the sale, necessarily) with the client,” Moore said. “Talk to the client about what an annuity is and how it works.”

Janet Terpening, senior director of operations for NAFA, said advisors and industry professionals should consult www.annuretirement.com, the new online home of NAAM and a repository of information and resources about the value of annuities.

“We believe it is critical to provide consumers with accurate and complete information regarding what annuities are, how annuities work and how annuities might benefit them,” Terpening said.

NAFA has three monthly webcasts planned for 10:30 a.m. Central Time on June 4, June 11 and June 25.

Terpening said the first webcast will feature annuity expert Jack Marrion, the second will feature a coffee talk from Capitol Hill and the third will feature NAFA’s new executive director, Charles “Chip” Anderson.

NAFA’s Annuity Leadership Forum is scheduled from June 17 to 19 in Washington, D.C.

Terpening also said that this year NAFA targeted its monthly webcasts on agent and financial advisors education, what issues they face in the field, and some of the compliance issues agents are coming up against.

Agents are encouraged to download white papers from NAFA’s home page at www.NAFA.com, and the website’s Annuity Marketing Portal allows agents to cobrand the white papers, which agents can bring with them to client briefings.

Pam Heinrich, general legal counsel for NAFA, said the coalition has also asked governors to declare June 2015 as Annuity Awareness Month.

She said Iowa, home to some of the nation’s largest life and annuity companies, is the first state to approve the request, and Moore will receive the proclamation at a signing ceremony with Gov. Terry Branstad.

Proclamations are pending in Arizona, Georgia, Kansas, Kentucky, Minnesota, North Carolina, Texas, Utah and Wisconsin. The submission process is active in four more states.

Heinrich also urged NAFA members to participate in the Annuity Leadership Forum by traveling to Washington for the Forum’s Hill Walk scheduled for June 18.

Virginia Harriett, a New Jersey-based financial planner and member of the national board of the Society for Financial Service Professionals, which belongs to the coalition, said many people are “nervous” about annuities, and June is a perfect opportunity for advisors to step in, set the annuity record straight and calm people.

“Some people are nervous about what they are buying, and that’s why education is important, because there is such a variety of annuities out there,” she said.

NAAM is in its second year, and SAFE hopes to get more agents and consumers involved with the education campaign. The more people get involved, the more value NAAM will bring to the marketplace, SAFE officials said.

Philip L. Holstein, a member of SAFE’s board, said advisors can spread the word about the value of annuities with the “safety first” mantra.

“You can’t talk about a guaranteed mutual fund or a guaranteed private investment account, but you can talk about guaranteed income from an annuity,” Holstein said.

Holstein says annuities are backed by companies that are tightly regulated. The people who run annuity companies take their responsibilities seriously, he said. Annuity companies are well-capitalized and the products they sell are designed not to fail.

Holstein, president of Mountaintop Capital and a former financial advisor, said annuities can be understood, “but professional guidance is necessary” — all the more reason for advisors to brush up on the latest developments in the sector.

When people object that annuities are too complicated, financial advisors would do well to remind them — gently — that mutual funds, life insurance and even many bank accounts can be complicated.

Demand for annuities is increasing as baby boomers move deeper into retirement age and more of them look for ways to guarantee income. It’s important, therefore, for advisors to be familiar with retirement products people are likely to ask about.

U.S. annuity sales in 2014 rose only 3 percent to $235.8 billion, according to LIMRA’s Secure Retirement Institute’s Individual Annuities Sales Survey, but niches within the annuity market experienced double-digit increases.

Fixed indexed annuity sales surged to a record $48 billion last year, an increase of 23.9 percent from 2013, according to Beacon Research.

Sales of income annuities last year reached a record $13 billion, an increase of 18 percent over 2013, Beacon also said.

 

 

Cyril Tuohy is a writer based in Pennsylvania. He has covered the financial services industry for more than 15 years. He can be reached at [email protected] [email protected].


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