New York Life Insurance Co. is changing its wholesaling model, citing distributors' desires and the opportunity to increase its sales of investment, annuity and guaranteed-income products.

Starting in January, the company's wholesaler force will be organized so that banks and other distributors will have one generalist to deal with, rather than multiple product experts, said Mike Coffey, who is a senior vice president for third-party distribution in New York Life's retirement income security operation.

"This is what the market is demanding," he said. "And it positions us to better capture future growth opportunities."

New York Life said the new distribution model would also speed sales and service to its distribution partners. Banks are a major distribution outlet for New York Life, which said it has active selling relationships with about 135 of them.

The generalist wholesaler model is not a new one, said Tamiko Toland, managing director for retirement income consulting at the research firm Strategic Insight.

But it appears to be part of an effort by New York Life to grab market share from weakened rivals, she said.

The insurer is the industry leader in fixed annuities, with $2.8 billion in the second quarter, according to Beacon Research. One benefit might be to bolster its other product lines, Toland said.

New York Life's distribution force has been hearing a growing chorus of distributors calling for a single person who can represent its entire suite of products, Coffey said.

"Firms and advisers are really liking the one point of contact in lieu of three or four reps being product focused," he said.

"That time has come and passed."

There is a potential drawback to using generalists, Toland said: Their product knowledge may be broad but not deep.

"They may be jacks of all trades, and masters of none," she said. New York Life plans to address that by backing up the generalists with on call product experts who can provide a deeper level of detail.

New York Life's generalist wholesalers will bring to their distribution partners a consultative approach, which includes helping them figure out which products might suit a client's needs, Coffey said.

Their job is to not just get more business for the insurer, but to help advisers acquire customers and deepen their relationships with the ones they already have, he said.

"Getting additional assets from existing clients is why they want a holistic look," Coffey said.

The insurance and investment distribution business has moved beyond pushing products and toward consulting with clients; and New York Life is likewise encouraging its wholesalers to be more consultative in their approach, he said.

"Distributors want to know who delivers the best ideas around practice management, and how do they get more clients," Coffey said.

Toland agreed that the consultative approach is gaining currency, but she said that employing it is difficult when wholesalers are separated by product.

"It's hard to be consultative when you have product-focused wholesalers going after advisers," she said.

Wholesaler realignments such as New York Life's are fairly common, said Christopher Boyce, senior vice president and chief investment officer at Anchor Bank in Madison, Wis., which is a subsidiary of Anchor BanCorp Wisconsin Inc.

His bank's most important priority in any wholesaler realignment is to get more access to wholesalers, he said.

Community banks, such as Anchor, which had $5.3 billion of assets at June 30, are sometimes overlooked by product manufacturers, he said.

The consultative approach, however, is welcomed, he said. "To be resources to help educate our financial consultants or licensed branch employees, those are real positives," said Boyce, whose bank distributes New York Life products.

New York Life plans to add three wholesalers, for a total of 63. Some of the employees will be "hybrid wholesalers." They are called that because they split their time between working at the home office and calling on distributors; the idea is to gain new business at a lower cost.

That makes sense given the fact that New York Life has been focusing on simplified, less-expensive products, Toland said.

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