We first heard about Bill Suneson, of MassDrive, becoming president of “PIMA” on Twitter. A person attending the association’s recent winter conference in Florida, congratulated Mr. Suneson on his being elected the President of PIMA for 2017. Embarrassingly, Agency Checklists knew next to nothing about PIMA, but knew that if this successful Massachusetts agent was involved, it must have something to do with the leading-edge of insurance marketing.
In response to our query, he graciously agreed to an interview to Agency Checklists about PIMA and how this association might help independent agents and agency companies identify the possibilities of as well as develop the expertise in the affiliate marketing of insurance.
Bill. Thank you for doing this interview:
Your welcome. I have to say that I am also really happy to have this interview opportunity to tell your Massachusetts readers about PIMA and what it can do for agents and carriers.
What does PIMA stand for?
PIMA is short for “Professional Insurance Marketing Association.” The organization has been around for over 40 years.
It is really the original Association of Affinity Marketers of Insurance. It was created by the innovators and the disruptors of 40 or 45 years ago, who were the agents, TPAs, and carriers that marketed insurance through affinity channels. Historically, those channels would have been a lot of association and group based plans.
Could you tell us what you mean by “affinity marketing” and how it works?
Affinity marketing is really using someone else’s brand to get access to a similar group of risks. PIMA has been the premier association for that, for a long time. A lot of great innovators in the business also have been PIMA members as well.
We now hear about “peer-to-peer” as the new insurance model. Affinity marketing actually is the original peer-to-peer business. Think of Triple AAA [American Automobile Association]. Think of professional associations and other similar groups that have always banded together and created insurance products for that group. That is what affinity marketing has traditionally been.
When you broaden that definition, however, you will find that some of the best insurance marketers in the country are the brands that you already know, but that you did not know sell insurance.
For example, think about travel insurance being purchased through airlines. A traveler is offered travel insurance by the airline carrier when you book your flight. Or, when you buy cellphone insurance from your mobile phone company. People think they are buying the travel coverage from American Airlines, Delta or United and the phone replacement coverage from Verizon Wireless or AT&T. The reality is, the customer is buying insurance through a partner insurance provider integrated at the point of sale.
Who would ever have thought that airlines would be the number one seller of travel insurance, or Ticketmaster would be the number-one seller of event insurance? If you buy that ticket to “Hamilton,” and are worried about missing the performance, you can buy event insurance to cover some of your risk of not getting a refund for your ticket. Everyone thinks they are buying it through Ticketmaster, but it is really through an insurance carrier selling its insurance through Ticketmaster.
What does PIMA provide for agents or carriers interested in developing affinity marketing plans?
In my opinion, there are three key things that a PIMA membership provides:
First, the content is very strong and is incredibly useful especially as our industry is going through a major transformation.
Second, the meetings are great for networking and meeting business partners including carriers seeking distribution through agents and TPAs [third-party administrators].
Third, what is great about PIMA meetings is that there is really a lot of business that gets done; For example, a lot of partnership development occurs during these meetings.
So, I would say if an agent is interested in affinity marketing through groups like associations, employers, financial institutions or other brands, membership in PIMA is a good option. We welcome carriers, product providers and related business services, but the majority of our members have been agents and TPAs.
How many members does PIMA, as an association, currently have?
PIMA has close to 150 member organizations. The conferences generally attract about 250 people of which over half work for agencies.
So there appears to be a pretty high concentration ratio between agents and companies then at PIMA’s meetings?
Yes, but there are also business partners that figure into the equation as well. These are companies that attend the meetings and focus on serving the carriers and agents. These companies are involved with technology, marketing, and other service products like that.
Could you give us an example of PIMA’s use in your own businesses, such as MassDrive?
As you know, our distribution model is focused on affinity marketing. We built technology to enable other brands to be successful in insurance. So, with regards to that, PIMA has been really helpful. We joined PIMA shortly after starting our business, and I can honestly say membership has been instrumental in our growth and exposure to national partners, as we have talked about before. (See Agency Checklists’ September 9, 2014 article, MassDrive: A Traditional Agency Using Technology to Drive Its Success).
Frankly, affinity channels are really important. You look at all the disruptors in the market now, and the biggest challenge, from a carrier perspective, is the quality of customers that come from just online shoppers. From an underwriting perspective, I think what we have essentially created through affinity marketing is unique access to better quality risks in like and similar groups.
Our agency has met some of our best carrier partners and broker partners at PIMA. We see so much value in being a member of PIMA because we want to be the leader in transforming the affinity marketing of insurance through digital channels.
Where do you see PIMA going under your presidency? Do you have any set objectives for the association?
First, it is a real honor and privilege for both our business and myself to have been named president of PIMA.
For me, the number one objective will be to respond to the changing industry environments. As I sometimes like to say, we want to bridge traditional affinity with the new reality. For instance, some of the states have been looking closely at association sponsored plans. As such, we want PIMA to be visible with respect to that issue. We are not a lobbyist organization, but we want to have visibility as it relates to regulatory issues.
While we want PIMA to continue to be the leader in our niche of the industry, we also want to help balance the interests of traditional association sponsored insurance businesses that are very, very successful, with the changes in the affinity model resulting from new technology.
As such, we want to attract new entrants that have nontraditional business models and to create an environment where these new companies can come in and learn from PIMA. In turn, I also believe that both PIMA and its members can learn from these new entrants as well.
Frankly, affinity channels are really important. You look at all the disruptors in the market now, and the biggest challenge, from a carrier perspective, is the quality of customers that come from just online shoppers – Bill Suneson
Do you see opportunities for affinity marketing and PIMA to help Massachusetts agencies better compete in this rapidly changing insurance marketplace?
I do. My view of affinity is much broader than how it is historically viewed. As an example, here in Massachusetts, many banks and credit unions now own and operate insurance agencies. These entities would certainly benefit from the content and networking available through PIMA. Additionally, many agencies, that market through employers and associations, would also benefit from being members.
There are also a number of new agents in Massachusetts with different business models that could also certainly benefit from PIMA.
What about PIMA membership for Massachusetts carriers?
There are many leading insurance companies, based in Massachusetts, that have comprehensive affinity marketing strategies. Some of those companies are already longtime members. As for the others, PIMA always welcomes new carriers of all lines of insurance or product providers that are looking for new distribution channels.
Is PIMA expensive to join?
Dues vary between the various membership types. Overall, I believe the costs are reasonable for the benefits provided. For those who might be unsure about joining PIMA, I will note that prospective members can attend a meeting or two without officially joining, in order to test us out.
As for the membership makeup, it is predominantly agents, or TPAs, who market through affinity channels. The second predominant membership type are the carriers that do affinity marketing, including many of the top brands in the country. Then, we have what we call business partners members. These are companies that do business with carriers, TPAs, agents, or brokers. They might be technology providers, direct mail providers, data warehousing companies, or marketing agencies.
Do you think now that you are president, you will try to have a meeting of PIMA in Massachusetts?
I would like to, yes. The winter meeting, however, is always somewhere warm to get people to attend.
There have been some past summer meetings around Massachusetts though. Two years ago, the meeting was held in Vermont. About five years ago, the meeting was in Newport, and then a bit father back, there was meeting down at Ocean’s Edge on the Cape.
One of my goals this year will be to invite the other board members to Boston for one of our board meetings. Typically, there are at least three board meetings a year; a board meeting at each of the summer and winter meetings with an additional board meeting or two in-between those.
When and where is PIMA’s next meeting?
The next meeting will be our summer meeting, from July 20 to 23, at the Skamania Lodge, a resort hotel located on the Oregon-Washington border. It is a right on the Columbia River Gorge in wine country. We are hoping to attract a lot of the West Coast tech companies that are new members or that have new models of doing business.
If an agent, TPA, or insurer is interested in learning more or speaking with you, are you open to that?
Yes, absolutely. They can speak to me if they want to learn more and I would also be happy to introduce them to the PIMA CEO or the organization’s membership folks.
For Bill’s email or number, please send your request to Agency Checklists via our “Contact Us” form.
About Bill Suneson
Bill is the CEO of MassDrive Insurance Group which operates MassDrive.com and MyLifeProtected.com, a national digital agency and affinity marketing platform. Bill also co-founded GradGuard.com, the leading insurance destination for college student and their families.