Insurance business badly needs new blood, says 42-year industry veteran

With over four decades in life insurance and wealth management, Sam Albanese now devotes his time to training the new breed of advisors

When you’re talking about the life insurance business in Canada, there aren’t too many individuals held in higher regard than Sam Albanese.

Having started back in 1974 with Montreal Life, he has been an ever-present presence in the industry since then. That wealth of experience is still being put to good use today, specifically in his role as the head of the Centre for Financial Services at Seneca College.

Speaking to Life-Health Professional recently, Insurance for Children founder Michael Lampel referred to Albanese as "a lion of the insurance industry," highlighting the instrumental role he played in the birth of his firm that specializes in financial planning for kids.

Now in his 11th year teaching life insurance and wealth management at the CFS, Albanese outlines the importance of education in maintaining high standards in the industry.

 “The products we now sell are far more complex than ever before,” he says. “You need a better educated advisor, because the consumer is a lot more complex. The literacy rate in Canada is 99%, so most consumers are extremely well-educated and far more knowledgeable than when I first started.”

As someone that has observed the wholesale changes in wealth management over the years first-hand, Albanese is well-placed to comment on what it now means to be an advisor.

“In the old days, I had the knowledge, so when the consumer bought a product they were buying my knowledge. Today the consumer has the knowledge, and with the internet they can look up anything. So they have the knowledge, but we as advisors have the wisdom.”

That wisdom in large part involves being able to filter the thoughts and suggestions many consumers will have from their own research. There has never been more choice for products out there, and while that’s surely a positive, there still is a right and wrong way to go about choosing them.

“There is so much information out there now, so it can get confusing for the consumer,” says Albanese. “The role for an advisor today is more as a consultant. We need well-educated advisors. Complex products, complex consumers and complex technology makes it difficult for the advisor today unless they are very well trained.”

Which is exactly what he devotes his time to these days. Having owned and sold a number of businesses throughout his long career, in 2004 he decided that education was the area he would focus most on in his twilight years. He thus approached Seneca College with the idea of setting up a financial services centre on the campus; not surprisingly, the idea was well received and soon the CFS was up and running.

And not before time, according to Albanese, who identifies a major flaw in the insurance business currently.

“Our industry is suffering severely from lack of new blood. The average age of a life insurance agent is 58, 59, and it’s 56 for mutual funds. So I felt something needed to be done and that’s how the whole thing started.”

So, 11 years since the foundation of the CFS, has he noticed a turnaround in the demographic make-up of the industry?

“We have a long way to go, the rate of attrition is much higher than the new people coming into the industry,” he says. “It’s a struggle because people see salesman, they don’t see financial planning. The industry has not done a very god job advertising the good that we do.”

Organisations like the CFS are working diligently to address that reputation, and in doing so, safeguarding the future of the industry as a new generation of investors and clients come into the picture. 

“We need young people to go after that millennial market,” he says. “They have the same language. These are the people that grew up with the internet. It’s a new mindset.”

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