Proving that no one has cracked the code on selling insurance through banks, three sales executives from prominent underwriters showed markedly different approaches to the bank market during a forum here.
Will long-term care insurance take over? How about variable annuities that guarantee income? Could life insurance sold directly to mortgage lenders dominate bank sales?
The answers could depend on which product pitches impressed the more than 300 bankers, mortgage and life insurance executives who attended a session Monday at the Financial Institutions Insurance Association Conference.
The speakers were from John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Co. of Boston, Equitable Cos. of New York, and Homevest Financial Group Inc. of San Francisco. They delivered what some listeners said were advertisements for their companies' different approaches to the bank market.
*John Hancock is betting on its Advantage Gold, a long-term care insurance product.
*Equitable chose the banking conference to announce a new feature in its Income Manager variable annuity that guarantees a minimum income to its contract holders.
*Homevest hawked a life insurance policy that mortgage lenders could offer to their customers.
Hollie Darwall, director of financial institutions sales for Hancock, said long-term care - which pays nursing-home costs - is increasingly popular. Sales are growing 25% a year, "and that market is untapped," she said.
As investors think about retirement planning, she said, they are not only concerned with accumulating assets, but they want to decrease their costs if they get ill in their retirement years.
Ms. Darwall said the average nursing home stay costs $36,000, a statistic that is sure to get the attention of a bank customer who is typically on the cusp of retirement.
"We really believe that long-term-care insurance is the next hot product in the bank channel," she said.
But she acknowledged that many insurance sales executives have little confidence that their products will sell well at banks. She told the following joke to attendees:
Two insurance sales representatives are playing golf, and one finds a frog in the woods that says, "If you kiss me I will tell you how to make a fortune selling insurance through banks."
The sales rep sticks the frog in his golf bag. When his partner complains that he should kiss the frog, the first golfer says, "Are you crazy? I can make a lot more money from a talking frog."
Ms. Darwall then said, "I don't really believe that."
Jerry Golden, who oversees sales through banks, brokers, and financial planners for Equitable, said its new variable annuity will suit the conservative investor who requires a guaranteed minimum income during retirement before making risky investments in the stock market.
"The guaranteed minimum income will facilitate all other strategies, such as investing in mutual funds," Mr. Golden said.
Andrew Singer, an insurance consultant in Mamaroneck, N.Y., said it remains to be seen whether the product will fly. But he added, "Jerry Golden has a reputation of being an innovative and clever actuary."
Homevest's product allows customers to invest money into a life insurance product that they normally would use for a down payment on a house.
One banker, Kevin P. Hennessy, a senior vice president who oversees annuity sales at UMB Bank, Kansas City, Mo., called Homevest's product "fascinating."
"It's very different," he said.