As part of this month’s Professional Excellence feature, Finance Monthly speaks with Michael Kasula - the owner and Founder of Brokerage Agency Producer Resources. Based in the Chicagoland area, the company is a tightknit community that aims to find like-minded partners, grow businesses, and build lasting relationships. Producer Resources’ mission is to become a valuable partner for the advisers they serve, saving them time and money with the design and implementation of life insurance planning. Here Michael tells us about setting up Producer Resources, their identity and mission and his new company Clarus Hall.


How did you decide to start your own company?

Very early on in my career, I knew I wanted to start my own organisation and be a trusted resource for agents in the life insurance space. In 2013, I was already having success being that resource, but I was working for someone else. That company was going through an acquisition and I knew that changes were coming. That same year, I had a client meeting at a coffee shop in the north suburbs of Chicago. During my presentation to him, he interrupted me and asked, “Why don’t you start your own company?” I had already been forming Producer Resources in my head, but a question like that - from one of my best clients - got me even more excited. I knew there was never going to be a better time, so this is how I decided to found Producer Resources in 2013.


What was the process of setting up Producer Resources like? How did you attract your first customers?

When I was first looking at who I wanted to attract and retain with Producer Resources, it was pretty simple - life insurance advisers who wanted to grow their business without having to grow their overhead. We are an extension of an adviser’s business - that is the message I started with and a big reason why Producer Resources has been so successful. Whether you need case design, advanced sales, or underwriting assistance, we are an experienced and professional team aiming to help our partner firms. I am a value person and I look for opportunities everywhere. If someone has an idea or a referral, I look at how I can use that for the benefit of my clients and my business. That’s what Producer Resources is all about.


In what ways have the company’s services evolved over time?

Producer Resources is a full-service extension of an adviser. From case design to policy issue, we have what an independent life insurance adviser is looking for. This couldn’t happen without our amazing and passionate team. Through a few changes on the sales side of the company, I think we have found our identity - an elite unit working together rather than independently as satellites. This has kept everyone invested in and accountable for the same goals and allows me to manage our company’s growth and be tactical about it.

Equally important, in an industry plagued by a lack of technology, we’re constantly giving our advisers the most up-to-date software out there. We’ve added different tools to help an adviser be their best with their clients: in-force policy management tools, interactive product presentations, co-branded marketing material and presentations, etc.


What are the challenges that US insurance companies have been facing over the past year?

I’m not an actuary, but knowing the way they invest their large general accounts, I would have to say interest rates have been the most challenging hurdle insurance companies have faced in recent years. When they receive premium payments, these monies are locked up for long durations. With interest rates this low, it is difficult to keep pricing competitive. Some companies have put premium or death benefit restrictions on products and some have just stopped sales of certain products altogether.

In the political arena, we’re seeing hotly debated regulations from the Department of Labour. Insurance companies have a lot of housekeeping to do to make sure they are compliant with any guidelines that have or will be enacted. There is also that grey area of fixed annuities and life insurance and what will and won’t be part of the eventual DOL decision. As far as public perception, some carriers have faced increased scrutiny in the last year due to increased COIs, reduced dividend/crediting rates, or just a general lack of customer service. In a constantly evolving market, I think carriers need to learn how to streamline their process; from application submission to ordering there in force illustrations, things need to be made more efficiently. In some ways, insurance companies need to get with the times and I think the DOL is attempting to address that, at least on the transparency side, with regulations. We’ll see how that goes. Regardless of that, improving transparency and technology for the benefit of their customers will serve the industry well, and their customers will be better because of it.


What differentiates Producer Resources from its competitors in Illinois?

I think the biggest differentiator is that Producer Resources is in high-growth mode, and we are passionate about what we do. We have a young and motivated team, with a mission to change the industry. I realise that can sound a bit presumptuous, but we have a vision, we work hard, and we’re getting closer to our goal every day. I want advisers to know that when they partner with us, their life insurance business gets done as efficiently and successfully as possible.

At our core, we are a team of highly skilled life insurance professionals that offer expertise in sales, advanced design, case management, and underwriting. We also have several strategic partnerships in the life insurance industry and closely related industries that we frequently use for the benefit of our advisers. To give you an idea of our capabilities—one of our best producing advisers runs his company as the only member, keeping his overhead low and focusing on networking and building his client base. He utilizes us for everything else. Together, we recently put in force a large estate planning case that we’ve been working on for the better part of a year. He told us that partnering with us was the best decision he’s made in his entire career.


What does 2018 hold for you and your company?

One of the key exciting things happening to us is the new company we are rolling out - Clarus Hall. “Clarus” is Latin for clear, bright, and shining. We combined the word with “Hall” because we want our members to think of our group not as a static place, but somewhere they can move forward with bright, like-minded people. With Clarus Hall, we are creating an organisation where life insurance professionals can get the support, comradery and growth opportunity they are looking for in a long-term partner. This group is going to eventually consist of 100-150 life insurance advisers that want to be part of something that allows them to grow while maintaining their independence. They will have additional resources with our firm and will have bonus and profit sharing opportunities to make their compensation very competitive and allow them to grow with our group.


What more can you tell us about Clarus Hall? What are your goals with this organisation?

We want to create a place for the advanced life insurance adviser to partner with a firm of significance to give them the support they need to grow their business. When we attract enough life insurance professionals to partner with Clarus Hall, we can create something much larger than any of these firms can do by themselves. Giving us depth, we will be heard by others. I want to make this firm’s initiative also marketing to the public on the importance of life insurance, attracting key advisers such as CPAs, attorneys, investment managers, property and casualty agents - anyone in the business that is looking for a group of vetted life insurance professionals to help their client with any type of estate or business planning need.