Industry Leader Forum: SBLI

The No Nonsense Life Insurance Company. Having protected hundreds of thousands of families with life insurance since 1907, SBLI (Savings Bank Life Insurance Company of Massachusetts) can hardly be thought of as the new kid on the block, but in a way, we are.
For much of our existence, SBLI has been unique to Massachusetts, like Paul Revere’s ride, Plymouth Rock and the Red Sox Nation. Although less dramatic, our history is nonetheless equally compelling and has propelled us into the company we are today.
It all started with the progressive Boston attorney and eventual Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis, who conceived of SBLI at a time of rampant scandal and abuse within the life insurance industry. Among other things, families were paying too much for their policies and did not trust the companies that were expected to protect their future. Brandeis believed savings banks—highly regarded by families and communities—could also be empowered to provide safe, low-cost life insurance. Thus began SBLI, a social experiment that has grown to be an acknowledged commercial success.
While we have proudly continued our distribution relationship with savings and other banks, we have evolved dramatically. We built a robust direct sales channel; and for 14 years running, we have ranked first in Massachusetts for policies issued, in-force policies, insurance in force and insurance issued. Our brand awareness is extraordinary in New England and the adjacent geographic area, and our spokesman, former New England Patriots linebacker and team captain and current ESPN analyst Tedy Bruschi is an SBLI policyholder.
Along the way, we have practiced a no-nonsense business approach, from our no-frills corporate offices to our conservative investment philosophy for which A.M. Best recognized us as being the only life insurer to maintain a net unrealized gain throughout the recent financial crisis.
A few years ago we embarked on a strategic national expansion plan and began partnering with independent distributors who shared our founding mission of providing affordable, dependable life insurance. We could not be happier with the results. Our recent sales data show California, Texas and Florida as three of our top five producing states. We were not even licensed to sell in those states until 2006, 2007 and 2008, respectively.
Admittedly, we may be relatively new to the brokerage world, but at the same time we realize the challenges that face the industry. We have internalized the latest LIMRA research and react to the number of underinsured households across America. We also know families can only pay so much for coverage, thus making the economics a business challenge.
Whenever SBLI has faced adversity, be it during the Great Depression, world wars or recessions, we have always been guided by Justice Brandeis’ blueprint—offer coverage at a low price, be conservative in operations, simplify the sales process, provide superior customer service and, above all, assure families that we will be there when they need us most. This year will be no different.
We believe the biggest challenges in 2012 are speed of process and price. Once someone has been convinced to buy, the last thing we want to do is keep them and our distribution partners waiting. We are constantly assessing our processes, from the application to the delivery of the policy. Recent initiatives include streamlining our paramed process, refining our underwriting criteria, and enhancing our partner site to include real-time policy status. These and other improvements have allowed us to trim our average issue time by more than 30 percent since 2009.
While it is not easy to keep term rates low in this era of sluggish interest rates, we believe it is a business necessity. Millions of families think they cannot afford life insurance or are under the impression that buying it is not a priority. Term life is the best product to convince them otherwise, as it is the ultimate insurance leverage. It is easy to purchase and understand. Simply put, you give us a little money, we will give you a lot. We—along with our distribution partners—always remind families that life insurance is a necessity, and in most cases the monthly premium on a term policy will cost much less than ordinary household bills.
That said, we realize the cost of term life insurance squeezes profit margins. The onus is on us to remind families that other products should complement their comprehensive insurance plan. Therefore, we are constantly evaluating our potential product lineup to ensure our products meet a family’s needs over the course of their entire lives, as well as providing both our company and our partners a commensurate return.
We take pride in being there for families and our partners. We are not in this business to simply make a sale or make a buck. On the contrary, we are a life insurance company committed to providing long term peace of mind and building trust. Because of this, we are always thinking of ways to add value for our policyholders and partners. For example, we share best practices with new agencies and we’ve built a convenient commissions system, waived policy change fees and developed a policyholder self-service site. Best of all, when calling SBLI, you will always reach a person as opposed to an extension.
Times are indeed challenging in our industry. At the same time, we are proud to be a part of it and encouraged about the long term prospects. This new kid is here to stay, and SBLI looks forward to helping families and our partners for many years to come. [RKS]

January 2012 Issue of Brokerworld Magazine. Author’s Bio Robert K. Sheridan President & CEO, SBLI

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