Distribution Matters features conversations with Breathe Life customers, partners, and the industry at large on life insurance distribution challenges and opportunities.

This article features Lisa Bickus, CEO of the National Catholic Society of Foresters (NCSF).

For more than 125 years, NCSF has been pioneering and innovating life insurance and annuity products. In addition, the not-for-profit organization also offers social and educational opportunities and promotes community involvement and service to its members. Breathe Life recently caught up with Lisa Bickus, CEO, and here’s what she had to say:

Q: NCSF is in the process of rebranding to 1891 Financial Life, why did you decide to undertake such a big change, and why now?

A: Rebranding is one element of a strategic transformation process that we began a few years ago. It’s designed to reflect who we are as an organization today and to update our identity in the marketplace. For example, four years ago we opened our membership to all Christians, not just Catholics, so our existing brand no longer reflected our membership. 

Another major element of our strategic plan is digital transformation, so we’ve been working on several different digitization efforts to help us stay relevant and competitive. We’re fortunate to have started on these initiatives prior to the pandemic, so we didn’t have to dramatically shift gears when COVID hit. 

It’s also important that we continue to attract younger families to our membership, and these generations expect a good digital experience. The famous millennial generation is coming of age for the types of products and services we offer members. They’re buying houses and starting families – and they are using their phones and computers in the process. Likewise, our producers need to be able to digitally communicate and collaborate with clients, so the timing has worked out very well for us.

Q: What roles does distribution play in your larger strategy?

A: Our captive and independent producers are critical allies with so much to contribute to our business and in service to our membership. When we think about improving the customer experience, we’re also thinking about our producers – it’s important that we provide them with the tools they need to be successful.

We also solicited their perspectives as we began to develop our strategic plan, along with other important stakeholders such as members, younger adults, our board of directors and so on. We participated in an exercise designed to identify our one “simple” truth. We landed on “Looking Out.” We look out for each other – for families, members, communities, society, and our partners – including producers that believe in our mission and purpose, which is achieved by bringing our products to market. 

Digitization is also one of the ways that we are ‘looking out’ for our producers. In particular, a fully interactive eApplication that enables our producers and members to collaborate and straight through processing results in a much faster time to policy. By digitizing much of the distribution process we hope to strengthen our partnership with producers for the long term.

Q: If you could change one thing about the industry – wave the proverbial magic wand – what would you change forever?

A: Paper, I’d definitely like the industry to reduce its reliance on paper and automate more time-consuming processes, like underwriting. We can do just about anything digitally today – we can shop for just about anything we want, chat with our friends. Yet in the insurance industry, we’re still using fax machines to send paper back and forth. Enough! 

Eliminating many of the time-consuming and manual processes involved in buying a policy has been a focus of our strategic plan from day one. We’re not just doing this because reducing our dependence on paper is good for the planet, it’s also what our members have come to expect in other aspects of their lives. In the past, the insurance industry could get away with traditional sales practices, but those days are clearly behind us.