The Ultimate Guide to Choosing an IMO or FMO

The Ultimate Guide to Choosing an IMO or FMO

Written by Glen Shelton

Glen Shelton launched Lead Heroes in 2015 after noticing a lack of quality and service among telemarketed lead providers in the insurance industry. As president of Lead Heroes, Glen actively manages a call center with real people generating quality insurance leads. With processes designed to improve efficiency and lower costs, Glen helps maximize ROI for agents selling Final Expense life insurance and Medicare Supplements to seniors.

December 20, 2019

One of the most confusing and sometimes treacherous parts of selling insurance is choosing which insurance FMO or IMO (Insurance Marketing Organization) an insurance agent should contract to sell through. Contracting with the wrong upline can not only make life difficult for the agent but could possibly set him up to lose his clients, the agents under him, or future commissions if he ever decides to part ways (or somehow gets on their bad side).

We here at Lead Heroes decided to create this guide and the IMO-FMO Directory for a number of reasons:

  1. There are no standardized definitions of what constitutes an IMO, FMO, BGA, etc., in the insurance industry, so agents are often wondering, “What does FMO mean?” or “What is an FMO?”
  2. By getting Insurance FMOs on the same page (literally), we’re hoping they’ll be spurred by the competition to provide more value and better benefits to agents.
  3. By educating agents about the contracting process, we’re trying to equip agents with the knowledge to make smart decisions, so they don’t get taken advantage of.
  4. We know agents have strong opinions, both good and bad, about their IMOs and FMOs. We wanted to give you an unbiased platform to rate your uplines and let other agents know who to contract with – and who to avoid.
  5. Many IMOs, more now than ever, are either being bought out or merged with other insurance marketing organizations, in order to command higher commissions from insurance companies. We wanted to make it easier to understand and track an IMO’s history and affiliations.

If we had to choose a sixth and final reason, it would be the problem our book addresses, which is how to equip agents to serve 10,000+ baby boomers who are retiring every day. The contracting organizations you choose as an agent can make a huge difference in what you can offer your potential clients, and how well equipped you are to serve their needs.

In this blog post, we’ll tackle these seven crucial topics about contracting to sell insurance:

  1. The differences between being captive and going independent
  2. 30+ insurance companies that allow agents to contract directly without an upline
  3. What the definitions (GA, BGA, MGA, SGA, FMO, IMO, NMO) all mean
  4. What are the pros and cons of choosing an IMO vs BGA
  5. What to watch out for in the contracting process so you don’t get taken advantage of
  6. How we compiled and compared FMOs within this directory
  7. How to use our directory to search for IMOs

If you want to skip straight to the directory, click HERE, where you can find the top:

  • Mortgage Protection IMOs
  • Final Expense IMOs
  • Medicare Supplement or Medicare Advantage FMOs
  • Annuity IMOs
  • Health Insurance FMOs
  • Disability Insurance FMOs

Of course, if you’ve contracted with an IMO or FMO for insurance that you don’t see on our list, feel free to drop their name in the comment section and we’ll add it to the directory. But first, let’s quickly look at the differences between independent and captive insurance agents.

Captive Agents vs Independent Agents

How were you first introduced to the insurance industry? Was it through an online job hiring board like Indeed.com or CareerBuilder.com, or was it through a classifieds section in your local newspaper or Craigslist?

Insurance agent job ads typically look similar to one of these:

  • Mortgage Protection Insurance Agent Recruiting Ad
  • Medicare Insurance Agent Recruiting Ad
  • Life Insurance Agent Recruiting Ad
  • Telesales Life Insurance Agent Recruiting Ad

Regardless of how you were recruited into this industry, agents wanting to sell insurance have some options when it comes to deciding how they contract with insurance companies. The first decision they have to make is whether to become a captive agent or an independent agent.

Captive agents have two options, which involve either directly working for a single insurance company or working for a single insurance agency that contracts with one or more insurance companies.

Independent agents also have two options, which involve either contracting with multiple insurance companies directly or going through an intermediary upline. This is where IMOs and FMOs come into play, if you’re still wondering, “What does IMO or FMO mean?” Uplines, either called IMO (Insurance Marketing Organization, or some times Independent Marketing Organization) or FMO (Field Marketing Organization, or sometimes Financial Marketing Organization) simply help agents stay independent and sell insurance with a little bit of support.

Did we lose you? Are you still wondering how does an IMO work? Don’t worry, because these four options are illustrated below to explain how agents, IMOs and insurance companies can work together.

 

In reality, when you’re an independent agent, chances are you might have one or two IMOs (because most FMOs don’t offer every type of contract and besides, it’s wise to diversify your contracts). In addition, agents may also contract directly with a company or two, either because it’s a local health insurance company or because it has a captive general agent workforce that acts as a company’s local agency, like Ohio National Life Insurance or Mass Mutual.

Here’s what that would look like:

Now, let’s explore these options in more detail by weighing the pros and cons of each.

Being Captive

Being a captive insurance agent can mean two things:

  1. Working directly for an insurance company like Mutual of Omaha, Prudential or State Farm
  2. Working exclusively for an agency that contracts to sell one or more insurance companies

The main drawback with these options is that captive agents are bound by which company or companies they can sell insurance for – which may not always be the cheapest company, the easiest to do business with, or the one with the best benefits.

Usually if agents are captive and not earning salary, then they have “assigned their commissions,” meaning they don’t have control over their future commissions, which belong to the insurance company or agency they work for.

So, if agents aren’t in control of their commissions or which insurance companies they can offer a prospect at any given moment – why would agents want to go captive at all?

Being captive usually means you’re a W-2 employee who gets a steady paycheck or salary with benefits and bonuses based on sales quotas. In addition to the steady pay and possible benefits, captive agents are usually not responsible for overhead costs like renting an office, staffing it, etc. (or those costs may be waived if they’re producing business), while other agents may not even be responsible for prospecting or marketing.

Going Independent

So, if things are so good being captive, why would insurance agents want to go independent? Because when you’re independent, you get to decide:

  • What types of insurance you sell
  • Where you sell insurance
  • Which companies you contract with
  • Who you sell insurance to
  • When or what hours you work

In addition to being captain of their own ship, independent agents have the opportunity to earn more money or higher commissions than their captive counterparts. The trade-off is that independent agents are also responsible for:

  • Marketing costs
  • Office space and utilities
  • Hiring employees
  • Tools like CRM, quoting software and/or dialers

Not all independents have these costs; for example, some choose to work alone in their home office without staff, which is perfectly acceptable (depending on the niche you’re working).

It’s only when independents decide to scale up their business that they often run into these other costs. Now, let’s go over the two contracting options that independent agents have, which are contracting directly with an insurance company or going through an intermediary, often called an IMO or FMO in the insurance industry.

Contracting Directly with Insurance Companies

The first contracting option for independent agents involves contracting directly with the insurance company or companies to offer their products to prospects. Unfortunately, in the Life and Health insurance industry, there aren’t as many insurance companies that contract with agents directly.

I know this comes as a shock, but insurance companies prefer to do business through Field Marketing Organizations and Insurance Marketing Organizations. IMOs and FMOs actually help streamline business for insurance companies because it’s one less thing they have to worry about – hiring, training, and supporting agents. Insurance companies would rather interact with a select few intermediaries (generals) rather than thousands of agents (soldiers).

If you’re wondering which companies will contract directly with agents, here are 30+ insurance companies that will:

  1. Standard Life and Accident
  2. Assurity
  3. Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield
  4. UnitedHealthcare
  5. Humana
  6. Aetna
  7. Ohio National
  8. Mass Mutual
  9. Lafayette
  10. Columbus Life
  11. Midland
  12. Jackson National
  13. Settlers
  14. Oxford
  15. Security National
  16. Federal Life
  17. John Hancock
  1. Guardian
  2. Allianz
  3. American National
  4. Americo
  5. Aviva
  6. AXA
  7. Mutual of Omaha
  8. Fidelity and Guaranty
  9. Forethought
  10. Companion Life
  11. Genworth
  12. Guarantee Trust Life Insurance Company (GTL)
  13. The Hartford
  14. Integrity Life
  15. National Life Group
  16. Lincoln Financial Group
  17. Brighthouse Financial (formerly MetLife)

This list isn’t set in stone; some companies may change their policies and require you to go through an IMO for life and health insurance contracts. Please let us know in the comment section if this list needs updating. Some companies on the list above may even require you to be under their local general agent (GA) so don’t be surprised if you have a go-to person to help you with cases and questions in your local area.

Contracting Through a BGA, IMO or FMO to Sell Insurance

The fourth, most popular option, and the focus of this article, is contracting through a marketing organization or upline that acts as a helpful intermediary between the agent and the contracted insurance companies.

The marketing organization might be a one-man operation, usually known as a General Agent (GA) or Brokerage General Agent (BGA) or a Managing General Agent (MGA), who specializes in one or two types of insurance. Or the organization might be a fully staffed IMO company, Field Marketing Organization, or National Marketing Organization (NMO) with underwriting departments and product specialists to answer your every question.

But because insurance companies aren’t on the same page when it comes to defining what differentiates a GA from a BGA or a MGA, or an IMO from an FMO, we’re all left wondering the exact differences between these seemingly interchangeable acronyms. Basically, the thing that separates all these definitions is various commission levels, which are similarly not standardized between insurance companies.

If you had to rank all the various definitions of an upline, from largest to smallest, it would probably look something like this:

Again, because none of this is standardized, not all insurance companies will have all of these same contract levels, and what separates each level may just be 5-10 percentage points, depending on the insurance company or niche you work with.

What’s Better: Contracting with a BGA or IMO Company?

Because every agent’s needs are different, it’s important to understand what you want from an upline. Some agents are beginners and they require a little hand-holding, such as training, lead discounts and case support – while more experienced agents may require little to no support or contact from their upline, so excessive support could slow down their business in their eyes.

Before we can determine which is a better fit for you, let’s compare some of the differences between the two so you know what to expect when you contact them about contracting.

What’s a BGA?

BGAs are typically smaller than FMOs, usually contracting 1-100 agents – but because there is no industry standard many agents still call their GA or BGA an IMO or FMO. In fact, throughout this article, we even use these acronyms interchangeably.

For the most part, BGAs are usually:

  1. Experienced agents who, in addition to selling insurance, also oversee a group of agents whose production is added to theirs to determine commissions, bonuses and perks.
  2. Experienced agents who are no longer interested in the day-to-day grind of selling insurance and would rather oversee a group of agents and guide them to successful careers while collecting a modest override in exchange for mentoring them.

Regardless of whether they still personally produce, BGAs have sales experience that’s very helpful for newer agents who need training.

Because BGAs don’t often contract as many agents as a larger national FMO, the insurance contract level they can offer may not be as high. Then again, they may offer high contracts just like an IMO – it all depends who their IMO is.

Yes, your BGA will have an IMO (probably 2-4), who might also have their own IMOs. So, depending how high up the totem pole your IMO is determines whether they can afford to give out bigger bonuses and offer more perks and discounts, in addition to the higher contracts.

For newer agents getting “street-level” commissions, or the commission level you’d get coming in off the street as a new person, isn’t a problem with a BGA. It’s only when agents start consistently producing more than six figures a year or start recruiting their own agents, that they might want a larger commission. This is where you might start to see a BGA’s limitations start to show.

One more possible shortcoming of a BGA is not getting an “up-front” release, which allows agents to move their contracts to another IMO. This is because they usually invest quite a bit of training and support upfront to get an agent going, so they don’t want to lose those trained agents to their competition that might offer better contracts but no training.

Another reason why a GA or BGA might not grant an upfront release is if the agent is getting advanced commissions – which is more common in the Medicare and Final Expense niches than other insurance verticals. They wouldn’t want to see agents get a ton of advances and just leave to go to another company – possibly leaving them with chargebacks (which we will go over in detail later). Fully underwritten life insurance, annuities, long-term care and disability insurance commissions are all usually “as-earned” – which means commissions are released as the client pays on the policy so you see this problem less in those niches.

FMO or IMO – Insurance Agents Often Wonder

As we mentioned before, the terms FMO and IMO are often interchangeable in the insurance industry, but Field Marketing Organization is often used to denote a larger marketing organization centered around health products like:

  • Health Insurance
  • Disability Insurance
  • Supplemental Health Insurance (dental, vision, hearing)
  • Medicare Advantage
  • Medicare Supplements

Meanwhile, a life insurance IMO is typically used to denote a larger marketing organization centered around life and annuity products. Again, this isn’t set in stone, but is roughly agreed upon by the insurance agent community.

So, why would you want to go with an IMO or FMO over a BGA? Here are the top 6 reasons insurance agents would rather go with a larger marketing organization:

  1. They want larger contracts.
  2. They are looking for more company options than a BGA might have.
  3. They need an organization to be licensed in a certain state, which a BGA might not be.
  4. They are experienced agents who just want to submit business and have their uplines earn the lowest possible override.
  5. They are looking for more case support from underwriting, accounting, estate planners, case creation, etc.
  6. Because IMOs contract more agents, they earn a larger commission that they can disburse in the form of higher commissions, bonuses, etc.

FMOs aren’t personally producing insurance business; they’re just in the business of recruiting agents. In fact, your go-to person will be an account manager who may not even have his insurance license – but studies more on insurance company product offerings to match the needs of his agents’ clients. Field Marketing Organizations are purely marketing machines meant to be middlemen between insurance companies and insurance agents.

Agents wanting more in-depth training to launch their insurance careers might be disappointed in the available training resources IMOs offer, which may be limited to a few brochures that insurance companies issue for their products and some webinars covering the basics.

However, if the IMO specializes in a particular insurance niche, like EFES the Final Expense life insurance IMO, then chances are, their training resources might be more comprehensive than most BGAs or general Insurance Marketing Organizations.

As far as releases go (something we’ll explain more later), IMOs are generally more likely to grant agents a release than a smaller IMO or BGA. This is because they’re in the industry of marketing to agents, not producing personal business. Their marketing is their brand, and they don’t want it tarnished by agents bad-mouthing them on insurance forums and websites. Of course, if they offer advanced commissions, then they must be paid to get a release, just like you would from a BGA.

So Which Option is the Best for You?

That all depends on what you’re looking for. Once you understand your goals, then it’s just comparing the differences and finding a partner that suits your needs and insurance niche. To sum up the differences between an IMO/FMO and a BGA/SGA/MGA:

 

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Again, this isn’t set in stone, but it illustrates some of the rough differences you’ll encounter when looking for an upline to contract with. If you need a lot of hand-holding, training, support, and don’t plan on having a ton of agents under you, you might want to go with a knowledgeable BGA that has experience in the particular insurance niche you’re pursuing.

If you’re an experienced agent who’s making great money and looking for more bang for your buck, you might want to consider an IMO that will let you run your business without interfering in it by requiring every app to be sent to them before it’s sent to the insurance company. Plus, chances are, you might be able to negotiate extra bonuses on top of your commission level.

What If I Want to Change IMOs Later?

Agents, like most people, are always wondering if the grass is truly greener on the other side of the fence and the idea of changing IMOs is no different. The reason we made this resource, is so agents don’t have to needlessly jump around from FMO to FMO, trying to find the best training or lead programs.

Some agents might choose the highest contracts – but if you don’t have any training, earning more of nothing is still nothing. So, if you’re a newer agent, make sure you consider the level of training and support you need to get your business off the ground before you can build up to bigger contracts.

Do your research, read the reviews, and choose the organization that fits your needs. If your needs change later, there’s nothing stopping you from renegotiating higher commissions – just make sure it’s well-deserved by consistently producing, keeping policy cancelations low, and placing a good amount of business.

If you find the IMO you originally chose is not fulfilling their end of the bargain, then feel free to look elsewhere – as long as all advanced commissions are repaid. Oh, and don’t forget to come back and let us know how it worked out between you two by submitting a review in our directory.

15 Dastardly Things Insurance FMOs Can Do to an Agent

When agents want to leave their BGA/FMO/IMO, that’s when things can start to go awry in the relationship. For various reasons listed above, some uplines won’t just release the agent, but there are other things they can do to retaliate so you have to know what potential pitfalls to avoid.

In this section, we’ll look at the top things to watch out for when contracting through an IMO. Not all of these things are necessarily unscrupulous; some are just annoying. In addition to each potential pitfall we see agents complain about, we will also list precautionary steps you can take to sidestep or deal with these issues.

1. Give You Crappy Commissions

The biggest gripe we see with uplines (and the one we’ll devote the most time to cover here) is that they don’t give fair commissions. What’s fair, though? Each agent’s definition of fair might differ, based on specific priorities.

What agents have to realize is that all IMOs are unique in what they offer, in terms of:

  • Training
  • Leads and Marketing
  • Support

And their commission levels will also reflect that. An FMO that offers complete training, a free website, discounted leads and free tools (like a dialer, CRM or quoting software) might take 5 or 10+ percentage points. Other FMOs might not offer anything but high contracts, leaving you to find your own insurance leads and training. Which is fair? They’re both fair – which is why it’s important to understand what you’re looking for before signing up for just any upline just because they offer a company you need.

Now, taking 5 or 10 percentage points is different than taking 20 or 40 – which is why it’s vital for agents to know what “street-level” commissions are for the various insurance niches they’re working.

A sneakier way that an IMO could give lower commissions is by giving street-level first year commissions (FYC) while skimming the agent on renewals – the commissions paid they earn during years 2-10. Make sure you’re comparing BOTH the FYC and renewals that an upline promises – in writing – because “verbal handshakes” won’t hold up in court.

Listed below are the average street commission levels for the various niches, including the renewal rate for years 2-10:

  • Average Final Expense commissions range from 100-110% with renewals around 7-10%
  • Average Medicare Supplement commissions range around 20%, same for renewals
  • Average Disability Insurance commissions range around 50% with renewals around 5-10%
  • Average Term and Whole Life Insurance commissions range from 85%-110% with renewals around 5% for non-mutual companies and half that for mutual companies
  • Average Long-Term Care Insurance commissions range from 50-70% with renewals around 5-10%
  • Average Annuity commissions range around 2% for MYGAs and 6-8% for Fixed and Indexed Annuities, with longer surrender periods.

Remember, these are averages that will vary by company. If you have any question as to whether an IMO is giving you fair commission levels, feel free to ask a question on the directory or over on the forums and someone will chime in and let you know.

If an IMO is giving you FREE leads, then expect your commission level to be drastically reduced. However, if you total up the commissions you would’ve earned, had you footed the bill for the leads, you’d probably have more money left over. But not all agents come to this career with seed money for marketing and leads. Just make sure that once you find your footing and can afford to buy your own leads, your IMO will boost your commission levels.

The same goes for training. Typically, in exchange for providing in-depth training and hand-holding during the initial year or so, uplines are rightly able to take around 10-15% of an agent’s commission for helping them build their business.

Of course, if you’re going to demand higher commission levels either when initially contracting with an Independent Marketing Organization or after a year of training and building your book of business, you’ll need to demonstrate the 3 P’s:

  1. Persistency – How often your business stays on the books the first 13 months of starting the policy; a level around 85-95% is acceptable.
  2. Production – The amount of insurance premium that you write, in terms of annual premium
  3. Placement – The more you place through the upline, the better, as it helps your chances of commanding higher commissions.

Some IMOs may give you higher than street level if you sign a production commitment letter, but try to understand what happens to an IMO that gives out large contracts without discretion. For example, a Final Expense IMO gives above street-level commission of 110%, which leaves about a 10% override for the IMO. If a Final Expense agent sells a policy with an average monthly premium of $50, this leaves $600 FYC (first year commission) for the agent, which 75% is advanced to him so the number is really $450, and an FYO (first year override) of roughly $60 to the upline.

If the agent writes around three policies a week, after running around door-knocking all day, every day – then gives up after five months, the agent left with $27,000 (60 policies x $450). The upline made approximately $2,700 off the agent.

If the business was written poorly and the persistency slides beneath 70%, that means 30% or 18 policies fell off the books. This results in chargebacks that the upline becomes responsible for if they can’t find the agent and get a judgement enforced in court. This means 30% of the agent’s commissions come due, which is $8,100 – almost triple what the IMO earned off the agent!

Many agents don’t consider the risks that IMOs take (in an industry where 90% agents drop out their first year) when they give out contracts – especially unnecessarily high contracts without proof of production to demonstrate acceptable persistency. When you weigh this against the training, support and lead/marketing help an IMO provides, it will help you put things into perspective when you’re assessing whether an IMO is offering you “fair” commission levels.

2. Make You Assign Your Commissions

Assigning your commissions is considered the ultimate sin an independent agent can make when contracting through an upline – essentially going against everything that makes him “independent.” Assigning your commissions to the upline means your upline is the recipient of your commissions (plus renewals), which they then pay to you, the agent. If the agent separates from that upline, then the upline is no longer obligated to pay commissions or renewals to the agent.

For successful and experienced agents, this could jeopardize the whole book of business you’ve built since initially contracting with the upline. Unfortunately, the prevalence of electronic contracting or e-contracting makes it so easy for agents to just click through these terms and agreements without realizing that they could be signing away your future commissions.

As you’ll read, it’s not only future commissions and renewals that are up in the air when you assign your business, making your upline the Agent of Record (AOR). The only way to guard against this is to read every page of your contracting! Some uplines may only allow advances if they’re assigned commissions, so they have a buffer in case the agent leaves. Don’t fall for this negotiation. There are plenty of FMOs that allow advanced commissions without you making you assign commissions.

If you only take one piece of advice from this whole guide, remember this: Read every page of your contract, and don’t assign your commissions!

3. Say They Offer “Training”

Sure, this isn’t quite terrifying as assigning your commissions, but it still sucks when an insurance IMO promises that it offers training and then you find out that it’s just a bunch of general product webinars, a few brochures or a “sales concept.” Especially for newer agents, where comprehensive training can make or break a budding career, it’s important to understand what types of training an Insurance Marketing Organization offers.

This means asking whether they offer scripts or presentations, if not in-person training to show agents how to prospect, do a discovery and present solutions to prospects. We noticed that some uplines have pre-recorded training videos – be brave and ask how many they have and what areas they cover. Ask the potential IMO, what if you need more training than that? Do they have someone who can go on appointments with you to show you specifically how to qualify, present and sell insurance?

Asking these questions will also help you assess whether the IMO’s commission levels are fair. If you need training, does the potential upline give you lower commissions initially (liked we talked about)? If so, for how long, or until how much premium is produced will those levels increase, and by how much? Does that include renewals? Again, if there is a decrease in commissions due to training, make sure you get the schedule in writing.

4. Offer Little to No Support

Does your FMO seem to be absent or not returning your phone calls after contracting? Are they always hard to get ahold of, or can they never help you figure out which company to place an at-risk case with? If you’re a newer agent and aren’t familiar with your niche’s underwriting, it will be vital that you have an upline you can get ahold of to ask these sorts of questions.

Some smaller IMOs, especially BGAs, don’t always have a dedicated underwriting staff to cater to your every question – but some do have underwriting cheat sheets that allow you to peruse underwriting decisions for each company regarding a certain condition or medication.

Besides underwriting, other types of support might include:

  • Putting quotes or illustrations together
  • Sending supplies to you
  • Emailing you forms
  • Calling delinquent accounts (not too many do this)
  • New product updates
  • Rate updates
  • Alerting you to industry changes
  • Compliance

Always remember, when it comes to support:

a. YGWYPF: You Get What You Pay For

b. TANSTAAFL: There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch

So, if you’re a newer agent and you’re asking for the highest contracts, don’t be shocked when your upline doesn’t follow up with every administrative request.

5. Offer Too Much Support

Can a marketing organization offer too much support? That depends on how long you’ve been in the business, and how much support you need. Some experienced agents have painstakingly honed their business into a well-oiled money machine – and they don’t want a middle-man interjecting themselves into it and slowing it down.

Usually this happens in three forms:

  • Applications: This is more common in fully underwritten products like long-term care, disability, life insurance or annuities, where uplines may require agents to send in their applications for internal review (called scrubbing) before submitting to the insurance company. The best way to get around this is to find a company with an e-app that allows producers to submit the application directly to the insurance company’s underwriting department.
  • Conference Calls: Once a week, agents and advisors are required to attend a morning conference call to talk about the latest news, promotions and any training questions that new producers might have. Unless you’re a huge producer, this is probably unavoidable.
  • Community Work: We saw this in more distinguished IMOs, where community involvement in non-profits and local charities is considered essential to the branding of the IMO and its local advisors. Again, this is reserved for more distinguished financial planning IMOs.

If you’re a newer agent, this might not be an issue at all. But for experienced agents, time doesn’t equal money; it becomes more valuable than money. If you find yourself in that camp, congratulations, and try looking for an IMO that doesn’t have these requirements, by asking about it upfront.

6. Not Offering an Up-Front Release

This can be a tricky topic, depending which camp you’re in. Behind getting fair commissions and not assigning your commissions, getting an upfront release is the third most important contracting requirement for agents – but not so much for IMOs. Essentially, getting a release means you’re able to go to a different IMO to contract with one, some, or all of the same insurance contracts you already have with your current IMO.

Most IMOs think if they help agents build their business by giving support and training, why should they be allowed to just willy-nilly move to another IMO that doesn’t offer those resources but has higher contracts? Agents don’t see a problem with an up-front release, as long as they feel that the IMO is adding value comparable to the override. But when the support, lead discounts, or training no longer matter, that’s when agents start looking into other uplines that may offer a better value aka more money.

One way to combat this is to simply request an up-front release from any IMO you contract with. Like we said earlier in this guide, larger IMOs will often grant a release because they don’t want to tarnish their reputation, while BGAs and smaller IMOs may resist granting the release because of the investment they’ve made in the agent. If your upline is hesitant about granting an upfront release, then you can either find one that will, or not place all your contracts with that IMO – opting to diversify your uplines instead. If, for whatever reason, your relationship with one IMO sours, you still have a back-up.

Hopefully your IMO will be open to renegotiating commission levels in the future, so that getting a release isn’t necessary.

7. Mess With Your Downline

This is similar to the one above, except this concerns your downline. Many agents start contracting agents underneath themselves after they’ve signed their initial contracts. If they weren’t careful when reviewing the IMO contract, they may have not only assigned their commissions, but also the commissions of agents under them. Maybe they didn’t get a release for any other agents but themselves. Both of these oversights can cause issues down the line.

If you assign your commissions (and your downline’s commissions) to the IMO, then your upline technically owns the book of business that your team is building. So, if you want to move your agents to another IMO, the upline could just fire you and redistribute your downline to other general agents. Likewise, if you don’t negotiate an upfront release for agents in your downline, those agents may have to wait six months after writing the last application with a company before moving contracts to another IMO. That may not sound too daunting if you’re just moving contracts for one company, but if you’re moving 5-10 contracts, across several agents, that waiting period could jeopardize half a year’s income for you and your entire downline.

That’s why it’s so important to read your contracts and to understand your own needs. If you want to start your own agency or downline one day, make sure you read your contracts carefully, so you don’t find yourself fighting over your downline or its income stream with an irate IMO.

8. Make You Sign a Non-Compete Clause

Usually this is more common with captive situations, but it could also happen if an IMO has a monopoly on a certain selling system, location or lead generation method. They may ask you to sign a non-compete agreement promising that if you leave, you cannot contact your prior clients (if you’ve assigned commissions) or use their “proprietary system.”

If you find this in your contract, ask your upline why it’s in there and whether it’s negotiable. We hope agents aren’t assigning commissions, but when it comes to leads and selling systems, agents have to decide whether it’s truly worth signing over. This is more of a rarity in the independent insurance agent world, and can be somewhat difficult to legally enforce (we hear) – but it still happens from time to time (usually in captive situations). There are plenty of IMO’s out there that offer highly effective marketing and lead generation systems that don’t require you to sign a non-compete, so don’t despair.

9. Rewrite Your Clients Out from Under You

This one is very rare, and usually reserved to smaller BGAs, where they will poach your clients – similar to reselling your leads. This happens because uplines usually have access to your client list and find that they can either undercut the premium with a different company or get more benefits with a different plan.

Again, the best remedy to keep this from occurring is to have an independent CRM system to store your client details, and be sure you’re staying in contact and servicing your clients regularly so they aren’t tempted to move their business.

10. Overcharge You for Leads

As we illustrated earlier in this guide, Field Marketing Organizations can suddenly owe multiples of what they earned in commissions for their agents – if those agents don’t stick around or maintain a high persistency. One way to recoup that risk is by charging agents a premium on top of the cost it takes to generate leads for them.

That’s why it’s important to check and compare other lead providers to understand average prices. Usually, IMOs can get leads for their agents cheaper than if the agents ordered leads themselves from a lead vendor. Don’t forget – lead pricing can vary, depending on:

  • Filters used
  • Number of leads ordered upfront
  • Type of leads
  • Guaranteed response rate (including Per Lead Programs)

This problem is easy to remedy – just find a trusted lead vendor that can replace your FMO’s overpriced leads. Where this problem gets tricky is if you signed up with the FMO over a lead program and took reduced commissions in exchange for access to it.

11. Cherry-Pick Your Leads

Cherry-picking is when your upline gets first dibs on your leads before sending them to you. This can happen when your IMO is ordering your leads or when lead generation is done in-house and the upline can view all leads generated.

This is hard to notice and even harder to prove. If you notice the quality of your leads is abysmal, maybe try an independent vendor to measure response rates or other metrics like:

  • Quality of cards returned
  • Amount of assets reported
  • Level of current monthly premium

If you notice your in-house lead campaigns suffering, and you’re able to get better leads elsewhere, maybe your upline is cherry-picking your orders. This happens more often with smaller IMOs or BGAs where your upline or his other agents might be producing in the same areas as you.

Again, the fix is easy: find another lead vendor. Where it gets more difficult is when agents give up a little bit of commission to access in-house lead generation programs. Hopefully they didn’t assign commissions or at least got an up-front release.

12. Resell Your Leads

Another rarity is where the IMO doesn’t cherry-pick leads, but ends up reselling them to newer agents down the road as ‘B leads,’ which are used to help agents sharpen their presenting skills.

If you notice you’re getting calls from your clients stating that they’re getting calls or visits from other agents trying to sell them a policy, your FMO might be reselling your old leads. Again, this usually happens when lead generation is done in-house instead of outsourced.

There are four good fixes to combat this:

a. Follow up with your leads and close as many as possible before other agents start in on them

b. Create your own lead generation campaigns

c. Stay in touch with your clients after your sell them

d. Stay in touch with prospects that didn’t buy every 3 months (called Pipeline Leads)

Basically, if you’re not willing to take charge of your own lead generation campaigns, then the best way to deal with an upline that’s reselling your leads is to develop a good contact strategy for prospects who haven’t bought yet and for clients who’ve already bought.

13. Pass Off Aged Leads as New Leads

Another dastardly thing an IMO can do with your leads is reselling them – but instead of having your leads re-sold out from under you, you’re buying the leads that are being resold, without realizing these leads aren’t fresh prospects. It’s one thing for an agent to purposely buy aged leads, ‘B Leads,’ but to have them misrepresented as fresh leads is downright fraudulent.

Usually you’ll find this with marketing organizations that specialize in a certain insurance niche like Medicare, Final Expense or Mortgage Protection, and have a large national contracting agent network. If you notice all your leads yelling at you that they “already told the other agents” they weren’t interested, or they don’t remember asking in the first place – then you might be working aged leads that have been passed off as fresh leads.

To avoid this scenario, agents should take charge of their lead generation campaigns, and if necessary, outsource the reordering to assistants familiar with your filters.

14. Push Unsuitable Products

This dastardly thing is more common than any other on this list: Uplines pushing their latest favorite insurance company or product for a given niche. Chances are, if your IMO is pushing companies with shoddy rate increase histories, lower financial ratings, or those offering bonuses for apps submitted – it’s because there’s a financial incentive for doing so.

Unfortunately, it’s just the nature of this business – agents will always face a constant barrage of product and industry updates, rate changes, and promotions about each carrier’s latest bonus offers and sales trips. In our directory, you can see which IMOs publish these updates online to help agents stay plugged into the latest news – just check some of their ‘Resource Pages.’

Of course, you can manage these ongoing updates by filtering emails from your IMO into a separate email folder to help avoid constant interruptions for every product pitch and update. Where it can get annoying is when they’re calling you once a month to tell you about the latest insurance product craze. Sometimes these new offers can be good for the consumer, but usually the IMO is the one that benefits the most. Just always remember to “do right by the client,” when taking any new promotion into consideration for selling.

15. Require All Contracts to Go Through Them

Sure, ALL uplines would like you to place ALL your contracts through them – but some of them actually require this exclusivity to access their proprietary marketing systems, lead programs or in-depth training. This essentially makes the agent captive, in a sense – with an upfront release being the only remedy for a souring partnership.

Maybe the leads aren’t that good, the training is nothing special, or the marketing is something you could do yourself? All the more reasons to read the reviews on this directory and speak to agents utilizing the system successfully on a long-term basis, to help you weigh your choices. In our opinion, nothing is worth your independence as an agent (especially when you can find all three of these – leads, training, and marketing – on our website).

But remember: not all IMOs in the insurance industry act dastardly, and many of them are respectable, honorable uplines. The reason we list these potential pitfalls is to make sure agents read their contracts, aren’t taken advantage of, and that they’re equipped to start their insurance career with their best foot forward.

How We Collected and Compared BGA/IMO/FMOs

In our previous review articles, we sorted service vendors into winners and losers. For our directory we’re not using those categories; instead, we are leaving it up to the agents to decide who’s worthy and who isn’t. We are hoping this will become the go-to platform for agents to praise good IMOs while warning others about the more unscrupulous ones.

So, what we did instead was researched every IMO and compiled the following 8 items (soon to be 10):

1. Contact Details:

We listed the headquarters or main office address, phone number and website URL. During our research, we found that probably half of all IMOs have multiple locations – while most BGAs had one office location, although some were unlisted. IMOs who claim their listing in our directory will be able to list multiple offices, which can be especially helpful for agents who want personal one-on-one instruction.

2. Niches Served:

We noted down whether each organization offers contracts for Mortgage Protection (simplified issue and fully underwritten life insurance), Fully Underwritten Life Insurance, Final Expense life insurance (simplified issue policies), Medicare (Advantage or Supplement), under-65 health insurance, disability insurance, long-term care, annuities, P&C and investments/financial planning.

An important note to mention: While many Field Marketing Organizations may say they help “advisors” on their website, don’t just assume that they only deal with investment brokers, registered investment advisors (RIA) or financial planners – which were all lumped into the investment niche column in our directory. Back in 2015, the Department of Labor nearly passed a rule that would reclassify indexed annuities as investments, requiring agents to become securities licensed in order to offer indexed annuities. That proposed rule was shelved indefinitely in 2018 – but before that happened, most IMOs reincorporated “advisor” language into their websites to let agents know they were being compliant with the proposed DOL rule. Just double-check their niches to make sure they aren’t talking strictly about financial planners or investment brokers.

3. Training:

Training is very important, especially for newer agents. Unfortunately, if you ask any IMO company whether they offer training, 95 percent will probably say they do, in some form or another. Unfortunately, many IMOs think product webinars and brochures constitute training – but to sell insurance, agents need to know how to effectively present and sell insurance with effective closing techniques. This part of the process isn’t widely taught, whether it’s selling in-person or over the phone – which is why newer agents are better off seeking a BGA who has personally produced and doesn’t mind mentoring them in the process of selling.

4. Leads & Marketing:

Agents who aren’t experienced and haven’t built their book of business need to see prospects – and the two ways to accomplish this are through lead generation and marketing methods. FMO lead generation programs usually consist of telemarketing leads, direct mail response mailers, online internet leads, or seminars. Marketing programs may include a website, PR, and digital marketing strategies like social media, email, or SEO.

Basically, lead generation methods will get you leads (actual prospects) to meet with, either immediately or in the near future – whereas marketing helps build an online brand of trust and authority that will eventually attract leads to you. Both are helpful tactics, but newer agents will want to choose a health insurance FMO or life insurance IMO that offers a lead program (or you can just call us and not worry about it at all!)

5. Blog:

We collected all the IMOs’ blogs, so agents can not only see how knowledgeable the IMOs are, but also grab some FREE INSURANCE TRAINING from these online resources.

6. Resources:

As with the blogs, an agent can tell how helpful an IMO is depending on how helpful their website is. Having FREE resources available on their website shows agents the IMO is serious about delivering value. Some resource pages are videos, some are articles, and some are guides like underwriting cheat sheets.

7. Social Media Channels:

Three top social media channels to in the insurance industry include a LinkedIn Company page (or personal profile for BGAs), a Twitter profile, and a YouTube or Vimeo video page. We didn’t include Google+ because it’s being done away with and no one is on that platform anyways. Agents can look up FMOS on social media to see, not only the helpful advice and articles they’re posting, but also how they respond to agents’ questions – giving you an idea of how active they are in servicing agents and promoting their own business.

8. Insurance Forums:

Wondering what other agents are saying about an IMO you may be considering? Check the Insurance Forums, where we combed thousands of IMO threads and posts to build this list of FMOs. You can often find the unvarnished truth about an IMO there, but if you don’t have the time to wade through numerous posts, just check out our directory first!

9. Employment Review Websites (Coming Soon):

In addition to the Insurance Forums, agents can also check out each IMO’s ratings on various social media channels like Facebook or Google Maps, in addition to employment review sites like Glassdoor and Indeed. If you want a good look at how an FMO operates, reading these reviews may be very enlightening. Just remember, not all agents know what they want, so a singular negative review may not be accurate. Agents should also consider other review sites, social media channels, and how IMOs promote themselves on their websites, when assessing their online reputation.

10. Rip-Off Report (Coming Soon):

Seeing if an IMO is listed on Ripoffreport.com is a good way of assessing any potential problems an FMO might pose for agents. Agents can see complaints, and more importantly, the response from the IMO regarding those complaints. Agents want to make sure they’re allying themselves with a respectable and professional organization. But again, we must urge agents to beware; not all agents know what they want from an IMO, so they may go to an IMO expecting training or leads when they don’t really offer them. Also, just because an IMO may have a rip-off report doesn’t mean you shouldn’t consider them; just do more in-depth research to isolate the reason for the report and whether the IMO addressed and fixed the issue.

Armed with this information, agents can make much better decisions regarding which Insurance Marketing Organization or FMO they ally with – cutting down on the constant run-around from one upline to the next, while reducing the conflict that could arise from not choosing the right type of contracting partner.

What if I Didn’t See a Certain FMO or IMO in the Insurance Directory?

To compile this list of Insurance and Field Marketing Organizations, we combed thousands of threads on the Insurance Forums and collected every upline mentioned that was still in business and had a website that catered to recruiting agents. If somehow, we missed one that you previously contracted with or currently contract with, please ask your IMO to claim their listing, or comment below and let us know so we can update the directory.

How to Use the Directory

Our directory of IMOs and FMOs for insurance agents is easy to use. There are several ways to filter the information in the directory to find the best IMO companies you’re looking for. Here are a few examples:

  • Location
  • Insurance niche
  • Whether they offer Lead Generation, Marketing programs or both
  • Feedback ratings

Our directory enables agents to quickly find the top Mortgage Protection, Final Expense or Medicare FMOs and compare the value-added perks they offer. If there are any other functions or categories you as an agent or an insurance marketing organization would like to see in the insurance IMO list, please comment below and we’ll try to incorporate it as we continue to update and expand this resource.

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2 Comments

  1. Carmen

    Great info Glen, but you didn’t say which IMO’s most closely follow your guidelines.

    Reply
  2. Zale

    Thank you for the article. On your list of 34 who will take independent agents – the W&S companies (Columbus, Lafayette, Integrity, etc) the company says they are actually “captive”. Some names you can add to the list who are independent friendly are Penn Mutual, Pacific Life and Securian. I hope this helps.

    Reply

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