A Michigan firm is combining an independent marketing organization (IMO) with emerging technology to offer financial advisors coaching, infrastructure and financing options surrounding  insurance and annuity distribution.

Detroit-based Signal Advisors officially announced its launch on Tuesday after several months in “stealth mode” working with a select number of advisor clients.

“I think advisors are missing the opportunities around insurance, for a couple of reasons,” said Patrick Kelly, CEO of Signal Advisors. “There’s an opportunity on the life insurance side for tax diversification that people who aren’t looking at insurance are missing altogether – in some cases insurance might be better than a Roth conversion. On the annuity side, annuities may help enhance the overall portfolio. Asset allocation is more of a commodity, people give that away for free. Being able to build and construct a plan that includes insurance and/or annuities has become a way to differentiate in the marketplace, because clients will not know how to do this on their own.”

Traditionally, IMOs act as distributors of annuities and insurance for independent advisors, serving as a go-between for advisors and insurance providers.

The hybrid insuretech and IMO consists of three pillars:
  • Marketing and sales consultation from high-producing advisor peers to help catalyze an advisors’ production.
  • A technology platform that can carry the insurance and annuity process from marketing, policy-writing and submission to tracking commissions and reporting the results of a marketing campaign.
  • Financing via a “commission advance” program to shorten the time between application submission and the payment of commissions to one-day or less.

The current IMO structure is not able to serve advisors with the technology and support they need to effectively sell insurance and annuities, said Kelly.

“There’s part of the insurance industry that has been left behind when it comes to investing in technology, so we are trying to bring advisors who sell annuities and life insurance innovative technology,” said Jacob Cohen, Signal Advisors president. “We’re dead-focused on the independent advisor. There are those who think that roboadvisors offering investment solutions are the future and that independent advisors are going away, but people want real advice from real people in retirement, and need real solutions. Advisors need to be empowered by technology, not replaced.”

One of the more significant differences between Signal Advisors and other independent marketing organizations is that it does away with professional marketing consultants altogether in the form of a peer-to-peer approach. This eliminates one of the largest expenses that IMOs contend with – paying marketers to recruit new advisors and coach those new recruits on how to grow their practices.

According to Signal Advisors, marketer compensation can account for 20% to 50% of a traditional IMO’s expenses. Rather than rely on marketers for recruitment, the firm will rely on referrals from agents and advisors.

Instead of paying marketers to coach advisors, top-producing advisors in the industry will serve as coaches, and Signal will compensate them for their coaching efforts.

“A marketer might have 100 advisors that they’re working with,” said Kelly. “Our coaches will only work with 10-12 producers at a time, so advisors are going to get more personalized attention.Advisors need to operate and scale their business, not just sell insurance and annuities, so they need more personalized attention to allow them to do it.”

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