The best laid plans of mice and men often go astray. On my flight to the recent IASA conference in San Antonio, a passenger asked me how I determine what the focus of our cover stories and our cover photo should be. Ideally, I told her, we select a person for the cover who best represents the primary themes of the article, which are determined over the course of researching and reporting.There were several photo options we considered for this month's cover on financial services convergence. From the beginning, Senior Editor Steve Dwyer insisted that First Union best represented financial institutions that were aggressively marketing banking and insurance services. Although I believe that First Union certainly is a leader in implementing this strategy, I pushed Steve to get Bank of America and Farmers Insurance Group to discuss their plans and agree to a cover photo shoot.
They both declined to speak to us for the article. Although the two organizations issued a joint news release in March announcing their strategic alliance, and had agreed at that time to discuss details of the strategy with American Banker, another Thomson Financial publication. Even so, B of A and Farmers didn't want to discuss any aspect of the program for this article.
The news release states that the initial phase of the alliance was to begin in early July, but neither organization would confirm if that deadline will be met or discuss steps they intend to take to reach that deadline. So why are they so gun-shy with the media? The only response we got was thanks, but no thanks, and call us back in a few months-and it took Farmers 10 days to give us that bit of information. When we contacted B of A to talk to Catherine Kenworthy, who was hired in March to head up the bank's insurance services, B of A gave us the same answer.
This isn't the first time, nor will it be the last, that an insurance company declined to be interviewed for this magazine. Although we try to give our readers insight into trail-blazing business strategies, our ability to present detailed examples is curtailed by the reluctance of carriers to share information.
Moreover, whenever carriers decline to be interviewed, I immediately wonder if they're trying to hide something. So, is the Farmers/B of A alliance in trouble? Are they struggling with melding their corporate structures and business strategies? We don't have the answer-yet. But hopefully they will agree to talk to us soon, because it's in their and the industry's best interest to reveal the truth. And, it's our mission to do so.
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