This month, Nick Fyntrilakis, officially takes over the reins as the new President and CEO of the Massachusetts Association of Insurance Agents (“MAIA”). As such, we thought it time to introduce him to our readers so they could learn a little more about the new face of the Association. In response, Mr. Fyntrilakis was kind of enough to take some time to discuss with Agency Checklists his decision to seek the position of President of MAIA, as well as his views on the challenges ahead for both him and the MAIA as the Massachusetts industry braces for continual change through competition and “disruptive” technology.
I think everyone reading would be interested in hearing about your background and what led to your selection as the new President and CEO of the MAIA.
Sure. Starting most recently, I was a Vice President at MassMutual where I led the company’s community relations efforts as well as its foundation. MassMutual has national charitable giving initiatives focusing on financial literacy as well more local initiatives on a variety of different things, particularly in the Springfield community. In addition to that, I also wore a hat in the government relations space, most recently focusing on municipal government relations, but I have also worked in a state government relations capacity.
In addition to those duties, I also worked in the marketing organization at MassMutual where I had been reporting to the chief marketing officer and so had the opportunity to get more engaged in insurance-related marketing, lead generation, and working through a career agency system that is very much independent. That experience gave me a familiarity with marketing and partnering with agencies across the country.
Prior to joining MassMutual, I was consulting for a few years. As a consultant, I was doing government relations, public relations, and marketing consulting for a variety of different companies, small companies and middle sized companies. Then prior to that, I worked in the Legislature for three years as a chief of staff to a State Representative, which was really a terrific experience in terms of how state government is run and all the incidentals of dealing with that.
Along the way, I was also an elected member of the Springfield School Committee for two terms, concurrent with my working at the State House and also consulting, and then up until when I went to MassMutual.
How did it come that you decided to consider the position at MAIA?
It was one of those times where a great opportunity comes along that is too good to pass up. The MAIA is a very well-respected organization. Frank Mancini obviously has a terrific reputation with all the great work he has done over the years on behalf of independent agents. I was not out looking for a job, but the opportunity was brought to my attention. As I looked into it, the skills required for this position really matched up nicely with my experience and background. It was also a professional growth opportunity for me, to be able to lead an organization a little bit different than what I had been doing in the past.
Do you see much of a learning curve here for you with going into the, we use the word independent agent in a couple of different ways, but it seems as though this MAIA has a real focus on property casualty agents, whereas your background is in the life area?
It is insurance and there are agents, but certainly it is a different business. It is a very different business. Since I officially joined on August 1st, I have been working hard to learn as much as I can about the business. I have been spending a lot of time with various companies, obviously with our members, as well as with the various regulatory entities to get a better understanding of the complexity of the business and the practical aspects of the business from an agent’s perspective. Certainly, I have more to learn and I have been trying to study and learn as quickly as I can. There is still plenty that I need to get up to speed with.
So you actually joined the MAIA in August?
I started in August and have been working side-by-side with Frank since that time. He is still on board for the next couple weeks and then he will be moving on to retirement.
Can you tell us how your experience has been so far? What’s been the most surprising thing that you have learned since starting in August?
I think the pace of change in the industry and in the business, has been surprising to me. The M&A activity, the technological advancements that are going on, the sophistication of some of the online competitors are daunting. I do think there is certainly lots of opportunity for independent agents moving into the future, but we need to be mindful of some of those headwinds that we face in various directions and embrace that change and begin to adapt the way that we do business. The most surprising thing to me is the amount of change and how rapidly it is occurring, both at the Association level in terms of the way we do business, but also at the industry level.
It may be too early to ask yet, but I was wondering if you saw any expansion of services or initiatives under your leadership that are different then what has been happening so far with the MAIA, to help your member agencies buck those headwinds you spoke of?
I would say that my answer is, yes. I think that invariably, if our members have issues that they need to address that are different than what has historically been the case, then clearly we, as an Association, need to be thinking about providing them with those services and benefits they need to help them adapt to those changes. I don’t know if I have a definitive list of what those things might be, but I would say that we are going to have to be thinking about how to better serve our members with all these changes that are coming at us.
Obviously it is early on in your tenure, but I was wondering if you had any particular challenges that you think are going to be facing you over the next three to five years that have not been challenges of any significance up to now?
Good question. I think it is a lot of what I have already mentioned, which is we, the MAIA, have been very strong, for example, in our education area–We have had terrific success with our education initiatives. They are very high quality and they have been very successful. We are seeing now, however, an increase in competition in that space that historically the Association has not had to be as concerned about. That is something that we must take a very hard look at to determine how do we optimize our education offerings to ensure that we are meeting the needs of our members and continue to maintain the same standards of quality that we have had in the past. That is an immediate issue that comes to mind where we are going to need to make some changes.
On the lobbying front, the MAIA is seeing both its President and long-time government relations liaison, Dan Foley, retiring. How is the MAIA’s lobbying efforts going to be carried on? Will it be yourself or will you be getting assistance in that area?
In terms of Dan Foley, he is going to be doing some work with us over the next year as a consultant, so while he is officially retiring from the Association, we will still have Dan in a transitionary period for some time which is great. In addition to Dan, we have had an outside lobbying firm at the MAIA for several years now. Going forward, we will begin to incorporate them more into what we do. I, also, as I mentioned earlier have a background in government relations and so I would anticipate picking up on some of those pieces as well. In tandem, between Dan’s consultation and our outside lobbying firm and my own pickup of some of those items we will be in a strong position.
Speaking of legislative issues, what do you see as the legislative challenges going forward for the next session and beyond?
It seems to be relatively quiet in the State House. There are certainly some pieces of legislation that we are seeking to advance, but otherwise there are not any significant items that are coming before us. Where I think we are going to continue to need to be on our toes are with some of the new technologies and how they unfold. For example, Airbnb is the next Uber-type Bill that is going to be surfacing out of the State House.
There are lots of insurance-related matters that arise from the Airbnb situation and as the Legislature seeks to regulate Airbnb and like firms, we are going to need to be very conscious of what the insurance implications are. We want to ensure that consumers are protected and that agents have the right situation in which to provide those services to consumers. That is a big issue that we are going to hear a lot about over the next year.
I think another pressing issue will be the continued evolution of the transportation network company legislation that has already been somewhat addressed. There are still some gaps that I think we are going to hear more about. Then, there are the driverless cars. Believe it or not, they are here.
The Registry, for example, is already wondering how they are going to plate driverless cars, because they are going to be piloted in Boston soon. Those are some of the things that I think are going to be on the cutting edge of what we are focused on legislatively.
You mentioned that you had certain initiatives that, on behalf of the Association, you were going to press with the Legislature. I was wondering what those might be?
In terms of the legislative items, there are a few that are consumer in nature and then there are a couple that are just more logistical. For example, compulsory limits on auto. Right now, they are at very low levels in relationship to what the market would really bear for some of those costs and so we are looking at increasing those. We also are looking at increasing the amount that the guarantee fund provides in the event of insolvency. Currently, that is at $300,000 and we are looking at raising it to a more reasonable amount that reflects the market. Ultimately, the Association is not looking to totally throw things off in terms of the rate structure that is out there, but there does need to be some recognition of inflation.
Finally, there is also, what I would call administrative pieces, forms and documents and different things that are currently antiquated, that are causing extra work for both the consumer and the agent. As for these items, I think that a lot of it is housekeeping and general maintenance, if I can call it that, in terms of our legislative agenda at this point.
As you know, venture capitalists are seemingly just throwing money at Insurtech startups claiming their apps will disrupt the insurance industry like Uber’s app did to the taxi industry. Have there been any study groups or any MAIA initiatives to recognize where this trend might be going and to prepare the Association to respond to these potentially disruptive technologies?
We are monitoring it for sure and keeping an eye on these developments and will continue to do so. We have some planning work scheduled at the beginning of 2017 which will touch upon these different applications and things that are coming at us as well as addressing how the Association seeks to respond to it, so we are certainly keeping a close eye on that.
Looking forward, do you see any changing roles for the MAIA as technology develops?
It is hard to tell at this point. I would say that only in the sense that as the industry continues to evolve and the needs for our members continue to evolve, we certainly want to adapt our services to meet their needs. With the level of consolidation going on coupled with the level of technological change happening, I could envision a situation in which we could play a role in assisting members with that down the line.
Whether that is providing technological support or assistance with an agency’s technology, it could also be providing some additional services to them that we may not provide today. We have the Number One Agency that offers various products to our members for their clients. There may be additional services that the Number One Agency or MAIA could provide, in addition to product offerings if there is a demand from our members. I think it all should be evaluated. It is still early, but we are thinking about those things.
What about the role of the Association in encouraging young Millennials and others to enter the insurance industry?
That is something that is clearly a priority throughout the industry as well as to a lot of different employers today. The Association has several initiatives that we have been involved with, including Project InVEST, which comes from the national level. Yesterday, coincidentally, we just had a meeting with a local college that is developing a curriculum and a certificate for insurance services. One of the things we have talked about is the potential of creating an internship program that is turnkey for our members. We have also discussed partnering with the companies to try to better connect students coming out of school with pathways into insurance careers. We simply cannot just continue to say we need young talent, but then not have some clear pipelines open to get that young talent into our organizations. We are thinking about how to create something that provides that foundation and turnkey nature for our members.
Are there any other initiatives with regards to educating young people as to considering insurance as a career?
In addition to Project InVEST, which I already mentioned, I think that is something that we are going to try and introduce into more high schools, to provide a background as to what insurance careers look like. I think one of the challenges that we have is just that for example, when talking about underwriting or claims or various other terms, many students may not even know what those terms even mean. As for the agency-side, students may already have a vision of what it might look like to be an insurance agent, but may not have an accurate depiction of what that looks like. We need to do a better job of communicating what those careers look like and then ultimately providing the pathways and structures in which young people can connect to careers.
What do you see as the biggest challenges to the independent agency system as it attempts to maintain the market share it presently has in Massachusetts?
Clearly the direct writers are not going away anytime soon. They continue to increase their presence from an advertising perspective, as well as in some cases, by trying to build agency networks. They continue to be a threat, but the independent agent channel has done relatively well in light of that competition. Ultimately, I think it is because consumers in Massachusetts know that there is a level of expertise and advice that only the independent agent can provide. I think that that pressure will continue, but I think that the independent agents have really done a great job and are holding their own in the face of that.
I think another one of the incoming threats that has not necessarily hit, and you alluded to it earlier, is more of this robo-insurer-type situation. There are a few of them that are out there, but I think you are going to see a proliferation of those and potentially some of them getting a little bit more sophisticated and stronger in their ability to provide guidance. I think that is probably one of the biggest threats coming down the road that we need to get prepared for.