E-commerce is the way of the future, but it won't replace agents. That was the consensus reached at the Lynette Owens & Associates Insurance Advisory Board meeting, held in August in Sedona, Ariz.
During the meeting, board members heard top execs from WealthPort preview their new financial services Web site, which is geared to millionaire users. And they discussed issues facing the insurance industry, from the challenges of an aging sales force to the potential repeal of the estate tax.
In between business meetings, board members experienced Sedona's unique ambience, along with activities such as hiking, horseback riding, and jeep excursions in the red-rock backcountry, all arranged by PRA Destination Management.
Insurance Online The Internet can help insurance companies build market share--but it won't eliminate the need for real, live agents. So said a trio from Nashville-based WealthPort, a financial services Web site set to debut in 2001. WealthPort will have three subscriber sections: one for millionaires, one for "aspiring millionaires," and one for financial advisors to the wealthy.
According to a 1999 Conning & Company survey referenced by the WealthPort speakers--Chairman & CEO George Van, Executive Vice President/CTO Frank Carrubba, and Senior Vice President of Business Development Jeff Webb--Internet insurance sales represent just 1 percent of total new business today, but that number could jump as high as 45 percent in three to five years. The key to successful online selling, they said, is the same as off-line selling: personal relationships. "Personalization, built on top of customer data, is extremely important," noted Carrubba. "Our customer database will allow us to be customer-driven. For example, if an individual is on screen 23 reading a particular article when he calls to talk to a financial planner, we'll know he's reading that article."
Online insurance sales have emerged as the latest threat to agents, but Van said agents' footing remains solid. "In our lifetimes, there will always be the need for agents," he said. "Some products, like annuity-based policies, are too complex for online transactions. And there will always be people who need hand-holding."
Van also predicted that the growth of Internet insurance sales will generate a need for training meetings. "Part of our job is to educate [consumers] on financial issues, and agents will need to be up to date on these issues. They'll need to know how to react to individuals coming from our site already armed with some knowledge."
Motivating Top Producers Opinions differed on how best to motivate top producers and whether or not families should be invited to the conference. Some advisory board members handle the family dilemma by offering separate children's events.
"We accept it as inevitable that children will be there," said Hal Neddo, vice president, Jefferson Pilot Financial in Phoenix. "One good thing is that the producers' kids make friends with each other, and look forward to seeing each other every year."
But having children on a trip may mean producers opt to be with their families instead of networking. "The conference doesn't accomplish its goals if children are along," said Dave Hill, senior vice president and CMO of Americo Life in Kansas City. "People will sit with their families at dinner, then excuse themselves afterwards to put the kids to bed instead of chatting with the CEO or other top producers."
Member Property News Boyne USA The 137-room Inn at Bay Harbor (opened December 1998) in Northern Michigan has 14,000 square feet of function space, 45 holes of golf, and a European spa. Future phases will include 60 lakeside cottages, 48 new rooms, and 10,000 square feet of new meeting space. At Boyne Highlands, the second nine holes of the Arthur Hills Course opened this summer to rave reviews.
The big news is the total renewal of the Boyne Mountain core village and the construction of the 230-room Mountain Grand Lodge & Spa. The four-star condo-hotel is scheduled to open in summer 2002. Other plans include two new golf courses, the first to start in 2001.
Boyne also owns the 420-room Big Sky Ski & Summer Resort in Big Sky, Mont., where the 213-room Summit at Big Sky has just opened.
Ojai Valley Inn & Spa Ojai Valley Inn & Spa in Ojai, Calif., has restored two "lost holes," now number seven and eight, on its historic golf course. Extensive research helped Director of Golf Mark Greenslit, aided by Ben Crenshaw, to restore the lost holes. The 207-room resort offers 12,000 square feet of meeting space and a luxurious 31,000-square-foot spa. Ojai is located 45 minutes from Santa Barbara Airport, and 90 minutes from LAX.
Orient-Express Hotels The 326-room Windsor Court in New Orleans, with meeting facilities for up to 400 people, is known for its opulence and personalized service. The 81-room La Samanna in French St. Martin recently completed a multimillion-dollar improvement of guest rooms, meeting space, and recreational facilities. The 442-room Charleston Place opened a multimillion-dollar, full-service spa last year. Charles-ton Place has 22,000 square feet of meeting space, including a 14,432-square-foot grand ballroom.
Continental Airlines Continental Airlines is in a growth spurt, with lots of new flights (including nonstop service from New York to Hong Kong coming next March) and a $1 billion renovation in Newark Airport. For information on Continental's GroupWorks and MeetingWorks programs, contact Kristi Hansman at email@example.com.
Enchanted by Enchantment It's easy to understand why Sedona's red rock canyons were considered sacred ground by many American Indian tribes. The towering, jagged terra-cotta outcroppings, spiked with patches of green, seem to pulsate with energy against the bright blue Arizona sky. This is where you'll find Enchantment Resort, tucked into Boynton Canyon, one of Sedona's most beautiful spots. It's a two-hour drive north of Phoenix, but it feels as if you've stepped back in time. The resort is surrounded by nature: At dusk, it's not uncommon to see a group of desert pigs or a shy mountain deer nibbling on the greenery.
Enchantment's 222 casitas are in adobe-colored buildings that resemble traditional Indian dwellings and seem to disappear into the rocky hillside. Inside, they're anything but primitive, with skylit bathrooms and terraces with canyon views. The Southwestern decor includes such details as wood-beamed ceilings and kiva fireplaces in many guest rooms. In the morning, fresh-squeezed orange juice and a newspaper are delivered to every guest.
Opened in 1999, The Village meeting complex includes a 5,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art meeting room, divisible into three; three Patio Homes for receptions or breakouts; and two outdoor terraces. The Lynette Owens Insurance Advisory Board enjoyed its elegant final dinner outside on the Village Terrace, with logs blazing in the huge beehive fireplace and a full moon overhead.
On-site recreation includes four swimming pools and Jacuzzis, a croquet court and putting green, seven tennis courts, hiking trails, and a spa and fitness center. Two 18-hole golf courses are located nearby: the Sedona Golf Resort course designed by Gary Panks, and the Oak Creek Country Club course designed by Robert Trent Jones Sr.
The big news at Enchantment is the new 23,000-square-foot spa, scheduled for a soft opening in late November. The self-contained complex will include not only 19 inside treatment rooms and a fully equipped fitness facility, but also four American Indian-styled structures for outdoor massages, a lap pool and a "watsu" massage pool (imagine getting a Zen shiatsu massage in 94-degree water), 16 luxury guest casitas, a restaurant, a library, and even a skylit crystal grotto that reflects Sedona's New Age sensibility. "Think of it as a resort within a resort, with a healing Native American atmosphere," says spa director Annika Chane.