Creating economic value from distribution has never been more difficult for life insurers trying to increase business and reduce costs. Balancing the complexities inherent in a competitive marketplace, more than 1,000 U.S. companies currently offering a host of life and annuity products are in a scramble to hold on to representatives from traditional channels and acquire those from nontraditional channels.In the face of a growing market (Baby Boomers looking at retirement strategies now count 77 million), Internet-based customer self-service and a host of alternative distribution channels, keeping traditional, dedicated life insurance sellers on board is no easy task. The number of career life agents dropped to 178,000 in 2000 compared to 238,000 a decade ago, reports TowerGroup, a Needham, Mass., research and advisory firm.

Life insurers trying to offset this declining population are hoping to penetrate other channels, such as third-party marketers, financial planners, direct mail, banks and warehouses.

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