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We Want You! Chubb's Voluntary Biz Builds an Army of Agents

By Warren S. Hersch June 26, 2017

The supplemental insurance arm of Chubb has been on a tear of late recruitment-wise. And it’s turning to highly disciplined, battled-hardened troops to fuel its continuing expansion in a high-growth market: voluntary benefits.

Combined Insurance, based in Chicago, has disclosed plans to hire 500 Spanish-speaking insurance agents — mainly military veterans — to work in key markets nationwide, including Arizona, Florida, Illinois and Texas, by year-end 2017. The announcement is the latest in a series detailing a push to significantly boost the company's ranks of former members of the armed services, both to work as producers in the field and in the company’s home offices.

“Our company’s sales grew by 5% last year and is on pace to increase by about the same percentage this year,” says Bob Wiedower, Combined’s VP of sales development and military programs. “Our continuing growth will require more employees. And veterans make fantastic employees because of their initiative, drive, work ethic, integrity and ability to overcome obstacles.”

Recruitment of the Spanish-speaking contingent follows on the heels of a company announcement earlier this month unveiling plans to recruit 1,600 sales agents (of which Latino agents will make up a portion) nationwide by year-end 2017. In May, Combined also disclosed its intention to hire 2,000 veterans by year-end 2019.

Since debuting a veteran recruitment program in 2010, the carrier has brought on board 4,200 veterans and “their family members.” The military focus has secured plaudits for the voluntary benefits provider, including an award from Hispanic Network Magazine as a “top diversity producer;” as well as a fifth-place ranking in Military Spouse magazine’s “2017 Top 10 List of Military Spouse-Friendly Employers” in the $500 million to $1 billion category.

The company brings a focus to its hiring and training initiatives as regimented as its prospective agents. Led by a military recruiter, company representatives (including Wiedower) regularly attend jobs fairs and other events held nationwide for veterans. To identify and reach agent prospects, the company also partners with organizations catering to vets, including the Military Spouse Employment Partnership, GI Jobs and RecruitMilitary.

Once onboarded, veterans are enrolled in a rigorous training program. That starts, says Wiedower, with a company school where they learn the sales process: how to uncover client needs, present and recommend products, address objections and close the sale.

Newbies are then sent into the field with a manager to assist during client engagements, share best practices and provide feedback. After acquiring the skills and experience to work independently, producers are offered continuing education, including virtual (online) seminars, as well as access to a support network of fellow producers and managers to whom they can turn for tips, best practices and moral support.

“The training is highly structured, thorough, and ongoing — a key reason why our work environment is so suitable for veterans,” says Wiedower. “We have a tried-and-true sales process.

“Not only do we want to be known as a veteran hiring organization, but also as a leader in a field of companies that recruit ex-armed services members,” he adds. “To that end, we participate in blogs, seminars, panel discussions and working groups to help other potential employers see the value of veterans as employees.”

The Spanish-speaking contingent avails Combined of an expanding demographic for its voluntary offerings: an Hispanic population of more than 50 million people. Growing at a 40%-plus clip, that population is expected to reach nearly 133 million by 2050, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Latinos currently represent 16% of new sales, Chubb’s 2016 annual report notes.

Founded in 1922 by W. Clement Stone, Combined can tap deep pockets to help fund its continuing expansion. The carrier had been since 2008 a unit of P&C insurer ACE when, in July 2015, the Zurich-based titan bought Chubb for $29.5 billion, then adopted Chubb as the brand for the merged companies. In 2016, Chubb — now the world’s largest P&C insurer — generated $34.9 billion in gross premiums, the annual report reveals, up a whopping 46.9% from the $23.8 billion posted in 2015.

With that kind of financial muscle, Combined is positioning itself to compete head-on with other major insurers targeting the voluntary benefits arena. The list of competitors include The Hartford, Metlife, Northwestern Mutual, Unum and (not least) Aflac, which is endeavoring to separate itself from the pack through venture capital-funded technology initiatives. Tussling among the players is likely to be fierce in the Midwest, where voluntary sales are now especially brisk. Eastbridge Consulting Group pegged industry-wide sales in 2016 at $7.6 billion, up almost 7% from the prior year.

In 2015 (the most recent year for which the carrier offers statutory results), Combined reported $440 million in direct premiums written and nearly $207 million in revenue. The company has 3 million-plus supplemental insurance policies and $5 billion worth life insurance policies in force in North America.

The Chubb unit sports a diverse portfolio of supplemental, employee-paid products, including accident, accident & sickness, cancer, disability and critical illness insurance. The company also markets whole life insurance, offering up to $50,000 in face amount ($100,000 with an accidental death benefit rider attached).

Of the various products, Wiedower flags the Accident and Sickness Protector as a top-seller. Available to both individuals and families, the offering provides coverage 24x7 (both on and off the job), pays an indemnity directly to policyholders and is portable between employers.

Why the robust sales for the product?

“The growth in our agent workforce is one factor,” says Wiedower. “Another is the fact that there is so much uncertainty in the health care market right now. People are hedging — trying to manage risk — by buying supplemental insurance.”

Indeed they are, as evidenced by the company’s results, and its standing against competitors.

Combined secured a coveted spot in Ward’s 2016 list of top life and health insurers, a group of companies that outperformed over 650 other U.S.-domiciled carriers on several benchmarks, such as return on equity and growth in net premium income. The U.S. Voluntary/Worksite Sales Report of Eastbridge Consulting also flagged Combined in 2017 as a leader in its mid-sized category ($50 to $100 million in new business sales).

According to Chubb's 2016 annual report, Combined generated a 4.5% increase in gross premiums last year. Chubb attributes the gain in part to the addition of a dedicated broker-dealer channel (Chubb Workplace Benefits) to serve large and mid-size customers in alliance with agents, benefit brokers and consultants.

“We continue to invest in the voluntary benefits space, which is one of the fastest areas of growth in the benefit broker channel,” says Edward Clancy, Chubb's executive VP of Global Accident & Health and Life, in the annual report. “Now that we can leverage Chubb’s strong reputation in the independent agency community and our extensive national branch office infrastructure, we have an even broader platform for growth available to us.”

Echoing the comment, Wiedower expresses confidence that Combined Insurance will continue to increase its penetration of the voluntary benefits market. And, he says, the company will do so with a growing field force of producers who bring the same no-nonsense dedication and professionalism to the employee benefits space as they do to the battlefield.

“We're going to hire as many veterans as we can in the coming months,” he says. “And we’ll be going to market with the backing of the world’s largest P&C insurer. We’re well positioned for the future.”

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