The following is one of four articles in a series about pioneers in the affinity insurance market who are looking to the future through the lens of the past. Learn how they got started and their vision for the future of the affinity insurance sector:
About Forrest T. Jones & Company
In 1953, Forrest and Dorothy Jones, a husband-and-wife team with diverse insurance industry experience, got word of a small insurance agency for sale in downtown Kansas City, Missouri. With the purchase came one association client: the Missouri State Teachers Association, or MSTA.
At the time, most educators were purchasing insurance voluntarily, often on an individual basis. However, the partnership that Forrest and Dorothy fostered between Forrest T. Jones & Company (also known as FTJ) and MSTA allowed teachers to get health insurance, life insurance, and disability plans from a single, trusted source: the MSTA-sponsored member insurance program offered through FTJ. This mutually beneficial relationship between FTJ and MSTA served as the foundation for what would eventually become FTJ’s primary focus — the affinity insurance market.
With affinity insurance solutions being what they were back then, it took some experimentation to arrive at the right mix of member benefits. In fact, FTJ explored several innovative solutions for the association market. FTJ’s chapter sales program is an example of this, where every educator from an MSTA chapter could be insured once a certain number of educators signed up for insurance through the chapter (essentially, an early group health plan).
The MSTA relationship drew FTJ into the affinity insurance market, but scaling the business required other association clients. In succeeding years, FTJ developed client relationships with more than 40 state, regional, and national professional and fraternal associations. In 1972, FTJ identified an opportunity to form an insurance trust that could serve multiple national education associations under one umbrella. The Trust for Insuring Educators, or TIE, was an immediate home run, growing rapidly to serve more than two dozen education associations within its first five years. Today, TIE is the largest multiassociation trust in the affinity insurance industry, with 66 associations and more than 1 million combined members.
Throughout the years, FTJ has faced many challenges in the affinity industry — chief among them being the shifting priorities and commitment of insurance carriers toward the affinity market. According to Rick Jones, a third-generation co-owner of FTJ (and grandson of Forrest and Dorothy), the company has survived and thrived because it knows when to pivot. As carriers left the market in the 1960s or became hesitant to develop competitive new products, FTJ adapted by forming Fidelity Security Life Insurance Company in 1968 to specialize in insurance products for the affinity market. Another more recent example was a decision FTJ’s owners made in 2009 to become an “agency and TPA of the future” by emphasizing e-commerce and digital administration. This has led to an ongoing multimillion-dollar investment that has seen every system, platform, and piece of tech equipment at FTJ replaced in the last decade.
The Future of the Affinity Insurance Market
Rick believes declining association membership and member engagement are the biggest obstacles affinity insurance agencies currently face. Young members want different deliverables than generations past. So to meet the future of insurance head-on, those in the affinity industry have to innovate and invest in new technology. Rick recommends asking how you can help your clients bring in new members or customers through digital platforms. What can you offer as group insurance administrators that consumers will think is helpful and exciting?
Providing strong insurance programs is important, and so is emphasizing the value group offerings can provide. There are many factors that affect how associations look at insurance programs. Promoting the actual value of these programs is helpful in marketing them and growing membership in turn, Rick says.
The same can be said for innovating products to make them easier to purchase and more relevant to specific industries and demographics. Companies can create new underwriting platforms, for example, that remove the friction often experienced among underwriters, carriers, and customers. Beyond that, mobile solutions should be a focus for all affinity insurance agencies, as younger generations demand a click-and-buy experience that handles all forms of payment. After all, as Rick puts it, “paper checks are a memory.”
In addition, data is increasingly important. “Tracking the latest information on your accounts enables you to benchmark against others in the affinity insurance market and measure KPIs,” Rick says. “It also makes it easy for your team to provide relevant information to clients. Beyond that, data can offer direction on where to diversify enterprise revenue, which is one of FTJ’s current objectives.” To make tracking data more efficient, FTJ converted a 40-year-old mainframe administration system with millions of records to a new cloud-based platform. Although this endeavor was painful at times, it now provides the necessary digital functionality expected from carriers, brokers, and affinity clients, Rick says.
With so many new entrants into the affinity insurance market, legacy companies are forced to look for ways to innovate and adapt to survive. Rick says this is a good thing for everyone in the affinity industry. Uncovering new methods of distribution to affinity members and delivering the products or services associations want — and more importantly, the ones their members want — is FTJ’s path forward.
The Next Generation of Insurance Industry Leaders Can Push the Affinity Market Forward
Finding ways to pivot and innovate is made easier with help from others in the industry, Rick says. Industry networking opportunities through PIMA have been critical for FTJ, and hearing insurance industry leaders’ success stories and participating in PIMA member advisory forums provide direction on how to better serve their clients.
In addition, Rick believes that learning how other companies approach innovation, marketing, and technological adaption is critical as you make changes to your own business. PIMA also provides data on current trends and the future of insurance that helps companies innovate effectively and stay ahead of the competition.
Seizing opportunities as they come and pivoting when necessary have been trademarks of FTJ’s success. With a reputation of loyalty, innovation, and partnership, FTJ will continue to push forward, guiding other companies to do the same.
If you’re interested in learning more about how PIMA can help your company grow and connect with other insurance industry leaders, contact us today.
PIMA® (Professional Insurance Marketing Association®) is a member-driven trade association focused exclusively on the group-sponsored benefits market.