Sunday, November 28, 2010

(No.124) Names to ponder: Great-West Life, Joseph Belth, Alan Press, Primerica

Joseph Belth
, editor of THE INSURANCE FORUM (Ellettsville, Indiana), has long been regarded by many people in and out of the North American life insurance industry as one of the most effective, informed and fearless critics the industry has. He has long been an inspiration for me.

Joe and I first met years ago in Toronto at a hearing of the Ontario Legislature's Select Committee on Company Law. He was testifying as an expert witness because the Committee was looking into the life insurance business.

I have always thought that one of the keys to Joe's effectiveness as a critic of the life insurance business as well as to his understanding of its reality lies with his experience in the business. Before Joe did his graduate academic work and began his long career as a professor of insurance studies, he was an agent. [His Ph.D dissertation was on the subject of participating life insurance issued by stock life insurance companies.]

Unlike too many of the life insurance industry's critics and 'analysts' as well as far too many of its senior executives, Joe Belth learned early on that the business is at the end of the day -- as I never tire of pointing out -- about "selling stuff".

After Joe saw my Oct.8, 2010 column " Great West 0, par policyholders 1 " on (No. 118) about Bill Rudd's successful challenge to Great-West over the use of money from London Life's par policyholder fund to help finance its takeover of London, he invited me to do an article on the subject for his INSURANCE FORUM. It is the monthly publication he's been editing for nearly four decades.

I was pleased to do so and the article, an adaptation for a mainly American audience of my column on, is entitled " An Important Court Decision Relating to Rights of Participating Policyholders in Canadian Stock Companies". It appears in the Dec 2010 issue (VOL.37, NO.12) of the INSURANCE FORUM.

I am pleased to appear in the pages of Joe's publication not only with him but also with another American friend from the life insurance business: Alan Press, CLU. He is today the senior v-p of Wealth Advisory Group and was for 34 years a general agent in New York City for Guardian Life. He is a distinguished and much honoured member of the U.S. life insurance industry.

The first time I recall reading any serious criticism and comment about the A.L. Williams life insurance organization in the U.S. (now called Primerica) was more than three decades ago and it was written by Joe Belth and published in his INSURANCE FORUM.

His work on the subject of A.L. Williams caused me to pay particular attention to the Williams bunch when they came to Canada at the beginning of the 1980s. I editorialized about ALW in the pages of my Canadian Journal of Life Insurance, gave speeches and a guide to ALW in Canada which I prepared enjoyed some popularity with Canadian agents.

Meanwhile in the U.S. Alan Press became the most energetic and hard-hitting industry critic of the Williams/Primerica organization and its distribution strategy revolving (then as now) around systematic and indiscriminate policy replacement. As I recall I got to know Alan at the time of our joint assistance to a Canadian freelance magazine writer in her writing of what turned out to be an award-winning article on ALW in Canada.

I well remember attending an industry meeting of life insurance agents in Ontario some years ago at which Alan was the featured speaker on the subject of ALW/Primerica. A phalanx of ALW people arrived and tried to give him a hard time with their aggressive questioning and heckling; in short they tried to intimidate him in front of an industry audience -- but they did not know him. He handled them with ease.

I mention this anecdote here because Alan Press recently wrote a very interesting update and critique of the Primerica operation in the U.S. today. It too appeared as an article in the INSURANCE FORUM: "The Primerica Replacement Empire", in the Nov. 2010 issue (Vol. 37, No.11).

For those interested in how much or how little ALW/Primerica has changed as a life insurance distribution organization: contact the INSURANCE FORUM for a copy of the article. To give you a taste of its flavour here are several numbers from Alan's article concerning Primerica's 2009 performance in the U.S.:

-- number of new Primerica recruits in the year: 221,920

-- average number of life insurance licensed Primerica sales reps in the year: 100,569

-- number of policies issued in 2009 per licensed Primerica sales rep: 2.3 [2007 - 2.5]

-- fee income to Primerica derived from its new recruits in 2009: $27.5 million

Joe Belth and Alan Press: two men I am pleased to know and with whom I am happy to appear in any forum.

contact information for the INSURANCE FORUM:

PO Box 245,
Ellettsville, Indiana 47429
(812) 876-6502
Alastair Rickard