Improved technology and training are key to unlocking the potential for insurance sales through financial institutions, according to a newly released study.

“Changes in Reg E (the Electronic Fund Transfer Act) have led to lots more sales of insurance,” says Carmen Effron, president of C F Effron Co., LLC, and the author of The 2011 Bridging the Cultural Divide Study. “Now is the time to make bank programs really dynamite.”

Based on the research, three keys to that are improved technology and training as well as a new way of measuring success, she says. Effron’s report, the fourth in a series stretching back several years, measures differences in perceptions between financial institutions and insurers.

A third of the top 25 financial institutions and more than half of the life insurers in the financial institution marketplace participated in the 2011 study, as did 32 managing general agents, who perform tasks typically performed by insurers.

The idea, says Effron, is to bring perceptions into the open where they can be acted on. For example, financial institutions expressed significant dissatisfaction with how insurers’ products are integrated into the banks’ procedures and systems at the point of sale, according to the report.

Banks want and need automated underwriting solutions at the point of sale in order to speed the process, Effron says, adding that those systems should be “carrier agnostic.”

“No matter who the carrier was—or even if there were five or six of them—they could all use the same system,” she says.

Meanwhile, both insurers and financial institutions share frustration over the lack of a common administrative platform between the two types of companies, as well as disconnects in their back-end systems, such as billing.

And on the training side, financial institutions expressed disappointment in the training that insurers offer to both their sales and customer service teams, and complained of a lack of tools to easily differentiate products.

“Part of the financial institutions’ dissatisfaction comes with the training they get for their sales personal at the point of sale,” says Effron. “And there’s confusion among advisers regarding which product makes the most sense and how they refer that appropriately.”

Financial institutions want more back-office support training. And new-product rollout training is “huge,” says Effron. There is a special need for those hired post-training to be able to “go back and access that training,” she adds.

“That’s a huge challenge, and there’s a lot of dissatisfaction there,” she says.

Effron advocates a change in the way that insurance revenues are measured. Respondents in the study indicated that many programs’ insurance revenue was between 1% and 5% of non-interest fee income. Such numbers can look uninspiring alongside the corresponding numbers from big contributors such as investment banking, Effron notes.

A better measure of an insurance program’s health is to link it to a percentage of assets under management in the investment side of the institution, she argues.

That approach makes sense in part because of the trend in which financial institutions’ investment, insurance and wealth management are closely aligned and often report to the same individual, according to Effron.

“Net interest income is too high a bar … to be able to get senior management’s attention,” she says. “But if insurance becomes 10% of (aum), it’s a very worthwhile goal.”

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