Innovation in the Insurance and Financial Services Industry
Independent Financial Concepts Group
Independent Financial Concepts Group is a Managing General Agency offering insurance and financial products from Canada’s leading providers, along with financial planning and guidance from highly trained advisors. Business in Focus spoke with CEO Gary Mandel and Eric Benchetrit, Director of Professional Development, to learn about how IFCG’s innovative approach to leadership in the financial services and insurance industry.
Founded in 1999 by Gary Mandel and Jaymie Bongard, Independent Financial Concepts Group (IFCG) has become a leader in the financial services industry by putting customers first. IFCG is a Managing General Agency serving the greater Toronto market.
IFCG offers a full selection of financial products and services, including insurance, retirement benefits, retirement and estate planning, and more, to meet every client’s unique financial needs. IFCG serves businesses of all sizes and also provides personal financial services. “We often find that business leaders come to us with a business need, and discover that we can also help with their personal needs,” says Gary Mandel, President and CEO of IFCG.
As a Managing General Agency, IFCG is able to offer a wide array of products from many different insurance and financial services companies, along with personalized service. IFCG partners with leading providers including Canada Life, Manulife Financial, Sun Life Financial, RBC Insurance, and more.
With a team of more than 30 licensed, independent financial advisors, IFCG specializes in helping clients develop a financial plan tailored to their needs and financial goals. “Because we have access to all the insurance products from different companies, our job is to help our clients understand which product suits them best because of their age, demographic, and financial situation,” Mandel says.
This commitment to meeting clients’ unique needs sets IFCG apart from other companies in the insurance industry. In a traditional insurance agency, “captive” agents employed directly by an insurance provider sell only one company’s products. “We don’t feel that the traditional model is in the best interest of the client, because insurance products aren’t one size fits all,” Mandel says. IFCG has the flexibility to offer a wider assortment of products, ensuring that the team can offer each client the best product to meet their needs. “We’re independent; we don’t work for the insurance companies. We work for our business owner clients, helping them plan for their future, whether that’s reducing their taxes, estate planning, or anything else they need.” Advisors understand the unique challenges faced by business owners in planning for the needs of their businesses and families.
“Our advisors never have a pre-set agenda; we are always focused on asking the right questions to determine what a client needs and develop customized solutions. It’s a competitive environment, and what we try to do is not just meet expectations, but surpass them,” Eric Benchetrit says. “A lot of clients we’ve picked up over the past years are clients who weren’t happy with the service they’ve received from banks or large insurance companies. They find that it’s a very transactional process, whereas ours is a much more holistic, long-term relationship-based approach.” IFCG emphasizes a collaborative approach, often partnering with clients’ attorneys, accountants, and other partners to address complex needs.
IFCG is widely recognized for bringing new talent into the insurance industry. “The industry is changing. In the past, most agents worked for one insurance company, selling that company’s products for their entire career. That model is outdated, and many of those agents are nearing retirement age,” Benchetrit says. IFCG is embracing this industry shift by recruiting new talent into the field. “If we find a good candidate, we’re willing to invest time, energy, and resources into training them to become a successful advisor. We’ve been known for bringing new people into the industry, and we’ve had great success through it. Not many companies are doing that, but we pride ourselves on our ability to do so.”
IFCG constantly invests in the continuing education and development of its advisors. “We train our advisors to make sure they’re up to speed on all the latest and greatest products, all the concepts, what works and what doesn’t, and why one insurance product is better than another,” says Benchetrit. IFCG offers its employees more than 100 training opportunities per year. “We are known for our highly educated, well trained advisors,” Mandel says. “We are focused on educating our advisors so that they feel confident in working with clients.”
IFCG also supports its advisors with branding, coaching, casework assistance, and industry-leading technology. “We help our advisors with filling out applications, tracking records, and processing transactions in a secure system within our facility. Advisors in the independent channel often need those added resources, whereas agents in the captive channel have the resources but limited product options. The structure of our company allows our advisors to have the best of both.”
Handel and Benchetrit anticipate continued growth in the coming years, as the demand for independent financial advisors increases. “We are continually bringing in younger employees, whereas traditional insurance companies are seeing many of their agents retire,” Mandel says. Growth in the high net worth marketplace has fuelled the company’s growth as clients seek customized solutions for their complex financial needs. Mandel notes that IFCG’s advisors rarely advertise, as most new business comes from word-of-mouth referrals by satisfied customers.
However, the future also holds challenges for the insurance industry, as changes to the tax code affect supplier pricing and compliance issues become more complex. “These are macro issues that may change things; but whatever happens, we are well positioned to deal with it,” Benchetrit says.
“There’s restructuring in some of the supplier insurance companies in terms of how they deliver products, as companies are trying to reach millennial clients through technology. We still believe in doing things face-to-face and building relationships based on honesty, integrity, and doing the best thing for our clients.”
In closing, Mandel states that expert advice is the key to financial well-being. “Many financial products aren’t advertised, so the best way to learn about them is through an advisor. We often find that business owners aren’t aware of all the options that are out there to help meet their needs. That’s why it’s so important to meet with an advisor to evaluate their needs and build a plan to meet their goals.”