Genworth Financial Inc. is bolstering its wholesaler corps, in part to differentiate itself as an insurance firm committed to training and assisting platform bankers.
"Bankers need more value-added training and marketing support, not just discussion around products," said Stewart Lander, Genworth's national sales leader for the bank channel.
Genworth, the former consumer insurance unit of General Electric Co., wants what companies such as Allstate Life Insurance Co. and Jackson National Life Insurance Co. have: a reputation for helping platform bankers sell more annuities by providing extensive training and sales materials, among other things.
Genworth's bank channel is sound — it sold $1.5 billion of annuities through banks last year, Mr. Lander said. Its distribution partners include Wachovia Corp., HSBC, SunTrust Banks Inc., and First Horizon National Corp.'s First Tennessee Bank, he said.
But most of its bank sales have been through dedicated brokers rather than platform bankers, Mr. Lander said. Genworth's platform push partly explains the large increase in its bank wholesaler force. It started adding external wholesalers several weeks ago and now has 19, with plans to have 33 by the end of June.
It has 18 internal wholesalers and plans to have 30 by the end of June, Mr. Lander said. He would not describe sales goals to be set for the enlarged team other than to say, "We are definitely committed to continuing to grow our market share."
Genworth has made what Mr. Lander would only call "a large investment" in training its wholesalers to coach and mentor platform bankers.
Kenneth Kehrer, the research director at the consulting firm Kehrer-Limra in Princeton, N.J., said banks' platform people could use more help. The typical platform banker is generating "probably half" the sales of two years ago, he said, as the interest rate environment has hurt sales of fixed annuities.
"There is certainly a need for support to get productivity back up," Mr. Kehrer said.
Heywood Sloane, a managing director at the Bank Insurance and Securities Association, said interest rates have led customers to redirect funds from annuities into certificates of deposit in recent years.
Meanwhile, annuity distributors have focused mainly on dedicated reps because "they are producing more business," he said.
Banks generally see great potential for platform sales of annuities, Mr. Sloane said, "but I think they have a realistic view — they have seen that potential wax and wane." As a result, many banks this decade have settled on a hybrid model in which both dedicated reps and platform bankers sell annuities and investments.
Genworth, of Richmond, Va., recently split its bank wholesaling organization into two arms to provide more expertise on particular products.
Caren Palmquist, hired in March from Symetra Financial, leads the fixed annuity group. The other group focuses on variable annuities, retirement income products, and single-premium immediate annuities. Having two sales forces will let Genworth offer "more focused support to our bank partners," Mr. Lander said.
In helping platform bankers' annuity sales, insurers need to focus on training and sales support and to make a long-term commitment to it, said Michael White, a bank insurance program consultant in Radnor, Pa.
"This isn't something you do once and go away," he said. "It has to be consistently repeated, adapted, and upgraded."