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How Full-Service Brokers Could Start Highlighting Protection Products Online

Ongoing market volatility, combined with economic and national security uncertainty, has created opportunities for full-service investment firms and their affiliated financial advisors to interact with customers and strengthen client relationships.

By Greg Davies, Gomez, Inc.

Insurers take note: Ongoing market volatility, combined with economic and national security uncertainty, has created opportunities for full-service investment firms and their affiliated financial advisors to interact with customers and strengthen client relationships by discussing the important role insurance and annuity products play in successful wealth management strategies.

Gomez's recent report, "Advisory Clients and the Internet," reveals that real-time account and market data, as well as the ability to manage multiple accounts from a single log-in, top the list of expected functionality at an advisory firm's online offering. As full-service brokers evolve towards a wealth-management model, incorporating insurance product information into their customer-facing Web interfaces provides opportunities to better meet customers' needs and increases relationship-building interactions.

Although full-service brokers have begun only recently to make inroads incorporating insurance product information into the advisory client interface, a survey of leading online offerings reveals UBS PaineWebber, Merrill Lynch and Prudential stand out from their peers in supporting protection products. Here are several (early) best practices they reflect:

1. Insurance-related educational content must be accessible to "logged-in" clients. Prudential incorporates a tremendous amount of insurance-related educational content into the password-protected account area of the site. Rather than requiring existing customers (who are likely to have "bookmarked" the log-in screen) to navigate to the public areas of the site to learn about insurance, Prudential includes key protection-related planning information on the secure site.

Additionally, Prudential represents this content in a solution-oriented manner rather than taking a product-driven approach. Case studies, oriented around particular life events such as childbirth, job change, marriage, and retirement, as well as relevant articles and product information, serve as "conversation starters," ultimately serving to educate the client and enrich the interchange between client and advisor.

2. Tools and calculators should be designed to prompt client inquiries. Like Prudential, UBS PaineWebber incorporates educational information into the secure account look-up area of its Web offering. Additionally, UBS PaineWebber offers a selection of insurance "calculators" designed to help clients and advisors discuss the appropriateness of different types of insurance products. To facilitate this interaction, UBS PaineWebber provides a persistent "link" on each page of the account look-up area to a client's financial advisor. Although not all advisors, UBS PaineWebber or otherwise, will possess appropriate licensing to directly address their clients' life insurance needs, the Internet will allow these advisors to play a part in serving their clients' broader financial needs.

3. Integrated account information is mandatory. UBS PaineWebber also stands out by allowing advisory clients to view information on insurance policies and annuities they have purchased through their brokerage firm--again with the goal of promoting ongoing discussion between client and advisor. UBS PaineWebber, the number-two brokerage house in terms of life insurance sales (on a per-advisor basis), has made progress in facilitating online access to insurance information. Four of the top-five life insurance companies whose policies it sells (including Lincoln National, Pacific Life, The Hartford, and Sun Financial) are now providing data feeds that allow UBS PaineWebber customers to view cash values on their life insurance policies and annuities.

As full-service brokers continue to move away from transaction-related Internet initiatives and take a relationship-centric approach that supports advisor/client interaction, insurance will become a more important piece of the online puzzle. Today, however, full-service brokerage firms have only begun to make inroads in incorporating insurance product information into the advisory-client interface.

Greg Davies is a senior analyst at Gomez, Inc., an Internet quality measurement research and advisory services firm in Waltham, MA. He can be reached at [email protected].

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