Newly established Financial Advisory under AIA is aggressively building up its strength by offering to buy out more than 300 Great Eastern agents at the sum of $100M. The package offered included sign-on bonuses and the agents are bonded for a period of 5 years. During this period, these bonuses could be clawed back if the agents fail to meet established sales quotas.
So what does this all mean for the consumer?
1. Financial Advisory (FA) is the future.
For those unfamiliar with the term, FA firms are companies that can provide the whole range of financial advisory services by offering products and services available from the firms that partner with. Unlike traditional tied agents of individual insurance companies, consultants of FA firms will have access to different companies’ products. Since the start of the Financial Advisors Act, and the growing success of Independently-Owned Financial Advisory Firms, many insurance companies have since jumped on the bandwagon by starting their own FA arms.
This obviously indicates a growing recognition that consumers are getting more savvy and demand greater transparency and access to different firm’s products rather than getting all their plans from one single firm. Just like how consumers now like to compare products before they purchase, the same applies for financial products.
2. Growing number of tied agents moving into FA firms tells a story too.
While this cannot be confirmed, but the fact that increasing numbers of tied agents are moving into the FA space should give us a strong indication of the message that is stated above. I believe that tied agents are also feeling the pressure and the need to be able to offer different options to their clients. One company cannot have the best products in every category. I suspect it is hard for tied agents to offer only products from their own companies when they know there are cheaper or better plans out there in the market.
3. Bonuses and claw-backs increase the risk of mis-selling.
I personally am concerned with this group of agents who were offered probably attractive incentives and bonuses to move. There is nothing inherently wrong with trying to attract talent to one’s company, but when sales agents are forced to face with a potential loss of the huge bonus they already enjoyed, there will be a lot more pressure for them to do whatever it takes to make the sale. Of course I am generalizing and surely there will be ethical agents out there who will still do what is best for their clients. But you cannot deny the immense pressure that one will face if the $10k, $20k or even $50k bonus given to you might be taken back after a year if your sales targets are not met.
To this point, I would advice consumers to be more careful and to do your own due diligence when speaking with agents who have such pressures working on them behind the scenes.
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