As if the insurance industry wasn’t confusing enough, Field Marketing Organization (FMO), Independent (or Insurance) Marketing Organization (IMO), Independent Distribution Company (IDC), National Marketing Organization (NMO), General Agency (GA), Brokerage Agency, or Wholesaler are just some of the terms used—often interchangeably—to describe firms that are intermediaries between insurance carriers and agents/advisors.
But before we get into what they are and what they do, here is a little background about the insurance industry itself.
Consolidation of Insurance Carriers
By the end of 2016, there were 797 life insurance companies in business in the United States, representing a steady decline from the peak of 2,343 active companies in 1988, mostly due to company mergers and consolidations. According to the American Council of Life Insurers, this streamlining has helped to reduce operating costs and general overhead, and has significantly increased efficiency.1
Who Sells Life Insurance Products Now
In addition to consolidation, fewer and fewer life insurance carriers sell policies directly through what are called “captive agents” anymore. Nationwide is one of the largest carriers to recently announce that they would be completely moving away from the captive agent business model and selling exclusively through independent agents by July of 2020.2
According to LIMRA, independent agents (including brokers, stockbrokers and RIAs) were responsible for the highest volume of sales in 2016, and have been for more than a decade.3
Insurance Carriers Created FMOs and IMOs, and Some Require Them
As they began consolidating starting back in the 1980s, insurance carriers began using independent marketing agencies to distribute, market and sell their products while reducing their overhead. As a result, the FMO and IMO usually has decades-long established carrier relationships, insider product knowledge and back office support that can get quicker results for financial and investment advisors.
Some investment and financial advisors set up direct relationships with insurance carriers, but most use IMOs or FMOs to gain access to certain insurance carriers.
Financial Advisors Rely on IMOs and FMOs for Product Comparison, Selection and Training
The IRI says, “Distributors lean fairly heavily on product manufacturers, wholesalers and/or IMOs for support, particularly when products are complex. About 78% of distributors consider IMOs to be extremely or very helpful to the sales process, and three in four find them to be extremely or very helpful.” 4
Other FMO and IMO Value Offerings
So to get back to our original question—what is an FMO or IMO—first and foremost, they offer access to insurance products from multiple carriers. They focus on their area of insurance (life, health and/or property/casualty) and are able to stay on top of new products, product features and benefits as well as the latest pricing in order to make life easier for the independent investment advisors, independent agents and financial advisors they serve.
Rather than managing multiple relationships (and the enormous amount of paperwork and back office follow-up required), FMOs/IMOs usually have one application you fill out to get appointed with the various carriers you want, and provide one point of contact for all your policy submissions, commissions (if applicable) and issues/questions.
IMOs/FMOs often have dedicated support consultants who will work on individual case designs and illustrations with you, and offer help with pros and cons so that you can fully explain a recommended policy or policies to your client.
Some, like Shurwest, offer proprietary software that can sort through the universe of options provided by all insurance carriers, helping our advisors with due-diligence by narrowing down options based on client parameters and premium amount.
Shurwest provides our advisors with product education and training, and operations and marketing support in a customized mix based on advisor needs and desires.
Why You Should Work With Shurwest
Since 1985, Shurwest has provided a moral fiduciary approach to life insurance products like fixed indexed annuities and indexed universal life (IULs). We have always eschewed high-commission, low-value policies in favor of products that perform as promised for the consumer. Our goal has always been to provide products that a financial advisor will “never have to apologize for” in the future.
We’ve spent the last 25 years “looking under the hood” at the structure of the insurance policies we recommend—so much so that our co-founder, Ron Shurts, co-founded another company involved in FIA product design so innovative that it has won more than 15 industry patents.
Find out more about adding insurance to your practice utilizing the advantages a Shurwest partnership can bring to your firm. Call us at 800.440.1088.
1 American Council of Life Insurers, “2017 Life Insurers Fact Book.” https://www.acli.com/-/media/ACLI/Files/Fact-Books-Public/FB17Report.ashx?la=en (accessed May 16, 2018).
2 Nationwide 2018 Newsroom, “Nationwide Will Fully Transition to Independent Agency Distribution Model by July 2020.” https://www.nationwide.com/personal/about-us/newsroom/press-release?title=041618-pc-ia-2020 (accessed May 16, 2018).
3 Insurance Information Institute, “Background on: Buying Insurance: Evolving Distribution Channels.” https://www.iii.org/article/background-on-buying-insurance (accessed May 16, 2018).
4 IRI, Insured Retirement Institute, “2015 Fixed Indexed Annuity Distribution Trends Marketing, Sales and Sales Support Developments in Third-Party Channels.” https://www.myirionline.org/docs/default-source/research/2015-fixed-indexed-annuity-distribution-trends.pdf?sfvrsn=0 (accessed May 16, 2018).
5 LooktoWink.com, “IF YOU’RE A BROKER-DEALER: YES, YOU DO NEED LIFE.” https://www.looktowink.com/2018/05/if-youre-a-broker-dealer-yes-you-do-need-life/ (accessed May 16, 2018).