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The 4 Ps of Growing a Business: Process, Performance, Partnership, and People with Corey Walther

In a rapidly changing industry, Allianz Life Insurance Company of North America (Allianz) has been able to stay ahead of the curve and emerged as one of its most innovative and thriving companies. While technology has undoubtedly been instrumental in this transformation, Allianz has built upon four cornerstones that have contributed to its success.

In today’s episode, Jack talks with Corey Walther, President of Allianz Life Financial Services, LLC. Corey is responsible for the business results, strategic direction, sales execution and distribution for several Allianz Life Insurance Company product lines. He is also passionate about leading teams and developing strategies that help identify and implement opportunities to improve sales, service delivery, and profitability.

Corey talks with Jack about the 4 Ps of growing a business, the secret to Allianz’s continued growth and success, and how technology is changing the game of wealth management.

Allianz Life Insurance Company of North America is an investor in LifeYield.

Products are issued by Allianz Life Insurance Company of North America. Variable annuities are distributed by its affiliate, Allianz Life Financial Services, LLC, member FINRA, 5701 Golden Hills Drive, Minneapolis, MN 55416-1297.

What Corey has to say

“Technology, in general, has been game-changer for our industry. And, quite frankly, not just for insurance and annuities, but also for our clients.”

– Corey Walther, President of Allianz Life Financial Services, LLC

Read the full transcript

Jack Sharry: Hello, everyone and welcome to this edition of WealthTech on Deck. Each week I have the privilege of speaking with industry leaders around issues that inform and advance financial advice, wealth management, retirement, and technology. I talk with those who are leading the way as we seek to help advisors, clients, participants, and firms enjoy better financial outcomes all around the confluence of digital and human advice. Most of our conversations center around strategy and where our industry trends are taking us. A trend that has been coming on for a while and is gaining real traction is the important role annuities play in constructing a household portfolio. And one of the clear industry leaders in this regard is Allianz Life. Today we will have a conversation with someone who has been and continues to be a leading voice in the wealth management and annuity industry as to the importance of this fast-evolving trend. Corey Walther is president of Allianz Life Financial Services. Corey, my friend, welcome to WealthTech on Deck. I look forward to our conversation.

Corey Walther: Thanks, Jack, for having me.

Jack Sharry: So, Corey, let’s start with you telling our audience about your time at Allianz. How you got started, what you do today, just kind of give people a background and then some of the other things we’ll address in a moment.

Corey Walther: Sure. Well, I’ve been at Allianz over 24 years now. My current role today, as you mentioned, I’m president of Allianz Life Financial Services, which basically means I am responsible for the business results and strategic direction of one of our largest distribution channels. I have the privilege of working with a national team of retirement consultants that call on and work with financial advisors all across the industry, in a variety of channels in helping them you know, support their clients and meeting their retirement needs. Our primary products that we work with today and distribute through those variety of channels are our annuity products, fixed annuities, fixed indexed annuity, index variable annuities, and also more recently here in the last couple of years, buffered ETFs. Over this time, I’ve had a variety of roles, everything from leading marketing and internal sales to building out fee based, fee based annuity team and pursuing independent and hybrid RIAs and also had a chance to spend some time you know, leading and building a relationship management team as well for our company.

Jack Sharry: So, you’ve been all over the industry, at least I know you best from your relationship management role. So you are deep in the weeds of what goes on at firms with advisors. You’re now leading, for those that may not know what a retirement consultant is, that’s a wholesaler in the old language. Right? Corey, why don’t you give us, our listeners, a sense of the evolution around the role annuities have played, the progress the industry has made in positioning the importance and role of annuities, and where you see things going.

Corey Walther: Yeah, it’s interesting because prior to Allianz, I actually started my career as a financial advisor back when it was Dain Bosworth, which now most people probably are familiar with the RBC, if you will. And so really, that’s where I cut my teeth actually working down, sitting across from clients. At that time, I spent about five years building a book of business, I specialized at that time in helping to work with small business owners in particular on retirement issues, which I really had a passion for, and again, helping, you know, those individuals in that market who in many cases had some unique challenges. And when I think about that time, when I first started my career in the annuities, you know, to your question, it was largely sort of this thing off to the side, it was a transaction off to the side of the balance sheet. It was incredibly cumbersome, a lot of friction to the process and a lot of paperwork. And now you fast forward to you know, where our market is today in terms of the annuity industry. It has come leaps and bounds from where it was, you know, many, many years ago when I first started into the business where the products and the solutions are much more mainstream, digital and fintech, which I’m sure we’ll talk more about, has done incredible efforts to remove friction out of that process, and really integrate annuities and insurance and really risk management into the process of holistic financial planning. And so, you know, I just think our industry, you know, there’s still more to be done. But I think it’s really come a long way from what I remember back in the day, which is, you know, again, bringing these solutions more mainstream into the market, customizing them for the different individuals and households, and helping them ensure that, you know, we address issues like longevity risk, inflation risk, equity and sequence of return risk. And so, I’m really excited and, you know, bullish, quite frankly, about where this industry can go over the next, you know, few years to the next decade.

Jack Sharry: That’s great. So Corey, as you know, Jasmine Jirele, the CEO of Allianz Life has been on our show. Like you, I’m a student of great leaders and leadership and Jasmine is just about as impressive as a leader as anyone I know. You’ve experienced significant growth at Allianz. In fact, you’ve grown more over the past few years than just about anyone else in the industry. And Jasmine, in my estimation, has been the architect of that growth. She, who is a humble sort would not, she would point to the team. But clearly she was the one leading the charge in my estimation. So with regard to Allianz, the success, Jasmine said on our show that it was a lot of things. It was innovative product, it was technology investments and deployment, it was relationship management, the home office and advisor levels. And much more. I know you’re actively involved in bringing all this together and executing Allianz’s strategy in the marketplace. If you would share with our audience your perspective on how and why Allianz is enjoying so much success.

Corey Walther: Yeah, we’re absolutely in growth mode. And, you know, coming out of these past couple of years, we’ve really challenged a lot of the ways in which we’ve done business and the different levels of support and working with our distribution partners. But if I were to really summarize it, and this is a question that I’ve been asked, you know, quite a few times from a lot of our partners, you know, why, Corey, you know, is Allianz in growth mode. You know, what’s been maybe some of the secrets of success there. And I would really frame it up as four P’s. First one being process. We have made a lot of strides and investments in making sure that we really address the experience side of both the financial advisor and the client experience. And, again, removing some of that friction in the process to make sure that we, you know, launch and introduce products and deliver products and experience that’s going to meet the needs of our distribution and our consumer market. So that I think has definitely helped contribute to some of that success is around just the process. Number two is the performance of the product. So the products have been performing incredibly well. And anytime, you know, a consumer or an investor, you know, purchases a product, and it can sound great at time of sale, at point of sale, but to actually see it, you know, deliver on the intended benefits. And I think over time, our clients and financial professionals are seeing that. Things like turning on guaranteed sustainable income that gives you the opportunity for increasing income in distribution, we have a lot of great success stories. And quite frankly, that’s driving repeat business from a lot of our financial advisors and investors out there. So the performance of the products has been very incredibly strong. And then number three is partnerships. Partnerships, you know, we spend a lot of time and pride ourselves on, you know, going deep and building, you know, consultative type relationships with our distribution partners, our financial professionals, and also our ancillary partners on the FinTech side, and really viewing those as not vendors, but really strategic relationships all across the entire supply chain. And so it’s maybe a little bit of a different philosophy, even to the point where on the FinTech side, we view those and we’ve created new roles and new teams that didn’t even exist as recent as two or three years ago, to ensure that those relationships are being nurtured, developed, and, you know, partnering deep with those partners involved in the process. So partnerships would really be that third P. And then last but not least, it’s the people, you know. I really, you know, we spend a lot of time thinking about what can we do in this environment to have a highly engaged, you know, workforce, you know, people that really enjoy coming into work. And so I think, quite frankly, the people side of it, and the culture that we have here at Allianz is second to none. And I think it’s that culture and that high levels of employee engagement that really shines, you know, when we’re looking for people to go the extra mile, and to be able to give that discretionary effort to their job. And so I’d say Jack, you know, all four of those things, you know, and I’m sure there’s more but process, performance, partnerships, and people have definitely been four of those cornerstones that have contributed to a lot of that success.

Jack Sharry: That’s great. I’d like to dig into a couple of those. I think I saw online, didn’t you guys win some kind of award for having a great culture, I think there was a fairly recent award that you received.

Corey Walther: Yeah, we’ve actually won several awards over the past couple of years in terms of being, you know, recognized by organizations like Forbes for being, you know, one of the top, you know, industry leaders in terms of, you know, great places to work. We’ve been recognized, you know, here locally in Minnesota. We’re a Minnesota based company, but we have employees, quite frankly, all across the country. And, and again, it’s a testament because as a leader, you know, I think most of our leaders would say we’re not necessarily the ones that set the culture. It’s really a testament to the people that show up every day. And it’s the collective people. And it really does take a village to, you know, embody and demonstrate that culture and to continue to foster that on a day in day out basis.

Jack Sharry: So another question about your product, maybe a little more detail for those that may not be familiar with annuity products. And so on, not to give a a lesson in annuity product structure, but rather, you really have come up with some very innovative product. And from what I recall, in talking with Jasmine as the chief growth officer, in her stint prior to becoming CEO, you guys were experiencing something like 30% per year growth rate. So talk a little bit, it seems to me that product sort of is the lead. All the rest of that stuff is important, we’ll get to a couple of those other pieces. But that you’ve had really distinctive, innovative product, maybe talk a little bit about what that looks like. What is your secret sauce, if you will, that’s out in the marketplace, people see what you got. But how has that worked out so well for you?

Corey Walther: Yeah, I think a couple of things come to mind, we’ve been very fortunate to build a reputation as a product innovator in the industry. And you see that for those that are really familiar and follow, you know, more closely, maybe the insurance and annuity industry. You know, Allianz has definitely been a staple and a recognized industry leader in the space of indexed annuities, fixed indexed annuities for several decades, you know, being a top three and frequently a number one player for many, many years. We’ve recently adopted a lot of those same concepts and brought that forward into indexed variable annuities. More recently, what some might refer to here as buffered annuities, or RILA, registered index linked annuities. Where we’re also now a number three, a top three player in that space as well. And I think some of the key ingredients, I look at a product like the RILA, these buffered indexed annuities as an example. And for us, that product concept was really born out of the 2008-2009 crisis. And it was at that time, a project internally, you know, commissioned and led by our president, at that time president and CEO, Walter White, and asking us, you know, challenging the team, what does our playbook look like in a deflationary environment during a persistent low interest rate environment? You know, what does that 1% playbook look like? And so, the teams got together, you know, brought together some of the best minds within Allianz to really think about what ways could we deliver value. We really believe in risk management, is in our DNA. That is what we do very, very well. So it was how could we deliver and package a lot of those institutional risk management capabilities, but bring that down to, you know, mainstream investors or consumers so that they could still access and benefit those risk management capabilities. And so, you know, I think that was some of that, you know, forward thinking, that scenario type planning. The other area, I would also emphasize and be remiss if I didn’t touch on, Jack, it’s just the relationships again, and the partnerships. For us many times, our best ideas, quite frankly, come from outside of Allianz, and they come from our distribution partners, our financial professionals. What are they seeing and hearing? What are some of the challenges that they’re facing? And so we really, you know, spend a lot of concerted, intentional effort to do things like consumer testing of product concepts, we engage with distribution on a regular basis, we take a lot of things outside of the office, outside of the ivory tower to test them. And to really make sure that we are giving that field feedback to see where can we find opportunities, bring that back inside, and then maybe back to that last comment here is just the culture side of it. We’re a very collaborative culture in terms of bringing everybody across all the different domains and disciplines from investments to actuarial to distribution and having them all in the room at the same time as we’re sort of whiteboarding and thinking about what’s possible.

Jack Sharry: That’s really good. The other thing that I find noteworthy, because we know Allianz very well, work closely with you all, is the way that you’ve, early on, and continuing to work with tech partners to incorporate that as part of your sales proposition, as part of how you go to market. Maybe talk a little bit about how you’ve incorporated that into your efforts. So great product, great people, the products have been performing terrifically, but it seems, especially given where the world is headed toward technology, future, present, and even more so as we go forward. Talk a little bit about how you’ve incorporated, because you work with lots of different partners around, on the technology front.

Corey Walther: Yeah. You know, my hot buttons, Jack. And you’re definitely hitting one. Again, I go back to my earlier comment. I mean, I started in this business as a financial advisor serving real consumers, real investors out there. And I think back to those days, that, wow, if I had had the technology solutions and the capabilities that existed today, what that could have done for my practice. And I really think that FinTech and technology today is such a huge enabler. It takes a lot of complexity out of issues like Social Security. You know, that can be a six figure plus mistake. And I think to myself, how many people out there are trying to navigate all of this complexity on their own, and potentially making some pretty serious, you know, bad informed decisions. And if tools and solutions like technology can really take the mystery out of that so that people are doing things like Social Security and optimizing it in the best way and fashion. As an advisor, I can use technology to help deepen and enrich my experience, I can use that to scale my business. So technology in general, I think has been such a game changer for our industry and quite frankly, not just for insurance and annuities, but I think about our North Star being the client. That’s, that is the one thing that we all have in common is the investor, the average American investor/consumer, and how can we help that household and that family, you know, make informed decisions, you know, help them improve outcomes? How can we help them, you know, personalize, again, a financial plan around holistic financial planning to that individual. And because of all of those reasons and many more, I just couldn’t be more excited and bullish about what we can do with technology being you know, at the epicenter of really helping our industry and frankly, this country, just, you know, improve, you know, the livelihoods for so many households across the country.

Jack Sharry: So you and I have talked a bit about that. More than a bit. But one of the things that I’ve observed as I go back over time, because I’ve been around a while. I started as a wholesaler way back when, and an annuity wholesaler at that and also wound up as a wholesaler around, and national sales manager around mutual funds, and separately managed accounts, and, and all the rest. So I’ve kind of run the gamut. And really, each of those introductions or each of those advances in the industry, whether it was called an annuity, or it was called a separately managed account, or a unified managed account, or a financial planning tool, or an optimization tool, whatever, it usually started with a wholesaler going to an advisor to show them how to use this newfangled thing, be it a product or a technology capability. And I know you do a lot of work with your sales force, internal and external to try to make it easier for the advisor to embrace. Because frankly, some of us have some habits that may need breaking, but we may need some help breaking those habits, meaning the old way versus the new. Talk a little bit about that, because I know you’ve spent a lot of time on this with your sales force in terms of getting them to utilize technology, and then really help the advisor embrace and really leverage the opportunity that technology presents.

Corey Walther: Yeah, I’m really blessed that I have an incredible leadership team, including a sales management team where it really starts with the conversation and having a shared vision for what does the future wealth management look like? What does the future wholesaling look like? What does the future of our role look like? And on that, you know, beginning point, I think, you know, I’m really blessed that we have a shared vision for, you know, in our world, it’s not just about solution selling, it’s about starting with the conversation that a financial professional might be having with an investor and that holistic financial planning approach. And then it’s how do we, you know, best fit into that goals based planning conversation to be able to demonstrate, and ideally, you know, technology has been a great solution as well, in terms of helping to show where does an annuity fit and where does it, frankly, not fit. And I think it’s really starting with that goals based planning approach, holistic financial planning, and changing the conversation. And really, in terms of our sales team, we’re still very much a work in progress. I feel like we’re on this journey. We’ve made a lot of great progress. And there’s more work to you know, to be had. But I think in general, we’ve made some really good strides in terms of changing the conversation, changing the way that we market our products, the way that we position and talk about them, and leveraging a lot of tools. And we’ve also invested a lot in, as I mentioned, having roles like FinTech specialists, where we have a new dedicated team that complements the existing sales team, of FinTech specialists, people that have CFP licenses, people that really are experts in the various financial planning tools and platforms so that frankly, we can meet the advisor where they’re at in their ecosystem, and then start to understand their unique client needs, and then work back from there.

Jack Sharry: So, I’m not sure you want me to tell this tale out of school. But here goes. We can always edit it out, I suppose, if you’re not comfortable. But LifeYield works closely with Allianz. We’re partners, we’re a FinTech partner of Allianz’s and they’ve really used our software well. Kind of an interesting twist on things. We also have this podcast. And so Corey and I got to talking. And I have actually done a podcast for the retirement consultants, the wholesalers of Allianz, I’ve interviewed Corey, I’ve interviewed a district director, one of their top wholesalers, really about how to incorporate technology into their day to day practice. So kudos to you for being innovative. I think that’s another thing. It’s not a P, but your innovative or willingness to think outside the box. Want to talk about that specifically, but also the broader willingness to take on and engage with new ways of operating? I think it was really another hallmark of your success.

Corey Walther: Sure. I think that’s a great point. And a great example, Jack, that you bring up. Sometimes it seems counterintuitive, especially for an insurance company, who, we’re all about managing risk. And so to sometimes push the envelope and be innovative can be counterintuitive to that type of thinking. And, you know, for us, we spend again a fair amount of time even at the executive and the leadership level of trying to lead by example, and trying to be thoughtful about experimenting and thoughtful about, you know, not everything’s going to work, but we have to continue to try new and different things. And even down to tactical examples, Jack, like you had mentioned, you know, the world is changing. So what are the different ways in which we’re serving up and delivering training and education to our own sales team, and trying to, you know, highlight and pull in some of the individuals on our sales team who maybe have a best practice, a success story to share in terms of helping to drive and show the change, and also highlight, you know, hey, that they’re trying new things, too. And so I think that’s, you know, been very successful for us. Not everything always works, but we’re okay as long as we’re trying new things and we’re failing forward. It’s those lessons learned and that continuous improvement mindset that we’re really trying to drive across the entire organization, frankly, not just the sales team.

Jack Sharry: Yeah, I’ve been most impressed with the organization, the Allianz Life organization, around its willingness to, whether it’s called product, or FinTech, or you name it, you guys are willing to take a shot and thoughtfully, it’s a measured risk. But, what’s the big deal? You do a podcast, it works or doesn’t. But my experience, I think, as is yours, if you take a shot and it works, hallelujah, and if it doesn’t, you try next thing. So, congratulations for that willingness. It’s, I think, another hallmark of what you all… really, it’s working great. So it’s fun to watch. Talk a little bit, if you would, we’ve kind of touched on the future, but I’d like you to project out a little bit. Where’s the industry going, at large, wealth management? Where’s the annuity industry going? You can fit Allianz, there, in there as appropriate. But where are we all headed? Where do you see, how do you see things unfolding over the next couple of years?

Corey Walther: Yeah, maybe a couple things. I’ll start with kind of consumer and then work my way back in. I think, from the consumer and the investor perspective, a few trends that we’re seeing, I think, number one is just the continued desire for a digital experience and also rising expectations. I think consumer expectations are continuing to rise, you know, they’re looking for a relationship. You know, even at a millennials, you know, there’s a lot of research that we’re seeing, that they want human interaction, but they want that to be human plus digital. We’re also seeing, you know, and maybe this is just indicative of the past couple of years, even with a market recovery, there continues to be high levels of investor anxiety. So, you know, as we’re, you know, on the eve here of closing out the first quarter of 2022, this will mark the first time since first quarter of 2020, so the first time in two years, that the DOW, S&P, and NASDAQ are going to have a down quarter. So there’s definitely we continue to see high levels of investor, you know, anxiety around, you know, inflation risk, equity, you know, market risk, rising interest rates, and what that’s going to do. But I think that kind of parlays maybe into, you know, another line of thinking around for our industry trends. You know, I think there’s an incredible opportunity to leverage risk management, to again, look at ways and strategies to incorporate innovative solutions to address that. We all know that there are 10,000+ birthday cakes that are rolling out per day for people that are turning age 65. And that’s going to continue for the rest of this decade. There’s an incredible opportunity, I think, for those in the financial advice and within our industry to help those individuals, you know, build very customized, you know, retirement plans in a holistic fashion, and take that asset liability matching and incorporate, you know, these types of solutions there. So, again, I’m really, incredibly excited about our industry. We continue to innovate, the products have been incredibly innovative, you know, expanding into areas like fee based annuities. We’re seeing independent RIAs and new markets open up to these types of products that haven’t in the past. Technology, again, has been a big game changer to enabling and opening up some of those channels. So again, I just tend to see a lot more positives for, you know, the insurance industry in helping us address you know, all of these many, many risks that investors and advisors you know, are facing that you, in essence, can’t really asset allocate your way out of.

Jack Sharry: Yep. Very well said. You’re a great representative of the industry as well as Allianz Life, so I… and I couldn’t agree with you more, so. So Corey, as we look to wrap up, what are three key takeaways you’d like to share with our audience?

Corey Walther: I guess, three key takeaways. Number one would be as a financial advisor, professional investor, make sure that you’re incorporating and thinking about risk management strategies. Not just investment management, but risk management. We have a saying here, you don’t fix a ship in a hurricane. So you want to be proactively, you know, thinking about elements of risk management. Number two is embracing technology, embrace and leverage that technology to improve financial outcomes, scale and leverage your practice, drive a better experience. And then number three would be, take a look, if you have not taken a look, reconsider, you know, evaluating and exploring, you know, some of the new innovative, you know, risk management solutions and the products that have recently been brought to market in the last couple of years on the insurance and annuity front.

Jack Sharry: So, Corey, it’s been really terrific to speak with you. It’s been a real pleasure, as always. We do this from time to time, not with a podcast mic in front of us. I’ve enjoyed it very much. And as we do each week on our podcast, when we bring our session to a close, could you tell us something interesting or unique you do outside of work that people may not know about you and would find to be interesting?

Corey Walther: Maybe two quick items. You know, one, I’m an avid, you know, runner, as well as biker. I exercise religiously every day. My cardinal sin is to never end a day with a zero on the scoreboard. Even if it’s a 15 minute walk. I’ve run 12, you know, marathons. My favorite, of course, being in your backyard, Jack, at the Boston Marathon. And in addition to that, you know, that commitment I have to myself to exercise every day, I am a big, you know, fan and I have a passion for helping and getting involved in the academic side. So I’m heavily involved in the University of Minnesota Carlson School of Management and spending time with their MBA students. And those you know, to connect them with various projects. We’ve sponsored projects at Allianz and other Fortune 500 companies here around the Twin Cities. And so every time I spend time with them, I’m just in awe of the talent in our future leaders.

Jack Sharry: That’s great. As always, I learned something new on one of these podcasts and I just did, I’ve learned a couple things that I didn’t know. So even though we talk from time to time, it’s great to learn more. So thank you for sharing that. For our audience, if you’ve enjoyed our podcast, please, rate, review, subscribe, and share what we’re doing here at WealthTech on Deck. We’re available wherever you get your podcasts. Thank you again, Corey. It’s been a lot of fun. I really enjoyed it. Thank you.

Corey Walther: I enjoyed it. Thank you so much for having me, Jack. Appreciate it.