Tier One Interview: Barb Scoles
In our latest Tier One interview, our CEO, Jay Judas, spoke with Barb Scoles, CLU®, ChFC®, Director, Wilton Re. The conversation covers their shared Iowan roots, the path of Barbs career from the production side to managing blocks of in-force business, including her foreign adventures, how the life insurance industry can improve diversity and....Texas Roadhouse Restaurants. Read the interview in its entirety below.
JAY: Barb, you and I go back at least two decades to our first get-together at an Annual Meeting of the Association for Advanced Life Underwriting in Washington, DC. Oddly, we should have met earlier because you live in my hometown of Waterloo, Iowa and you worked for some of the same producers with whom I would later work after graduating law school and returning to Iowa when we formed a member firm of M Financial.
Then, years later, you and I both worked with different offshore life insurance distributions but still would only run into each other in DC every Spring when we would spend a day on Capitol Hill lobbying for our industry.
We will get back to all these ties, but one of the reasons I wanted to sit down with you is that you are with Wilton Re, a company which focuses on the acquisition and management of in-force blocks of life insurance and annuities. You don’t sell new products, and this is an area of the industry which is growing leaps of bounds and about which a lot of folks have misconceptions. Talk about Wilton Re and your role with the company.
BARB: I was so happy when you called to ask if I would participate in the Tier One interview series. It is quite an honor.
Along with maintaining external broker-servicer and institutional relationships, I lead a team of former Transamerica employees who became employees of Wilton Re almost 4 years ago when Wilton acquired Transamerica’s COLI/BOLI block of business and a block of structured settlements through a reinsurance transaction. Transamerica put the block into runoff in 2010, making it a candidate for this type of acquisition and the transaction was beneficial to both sides.
JAY: I know you started in the business with a Life Investors agency office in 1979. The agency system, in my opinion, is a good place to start because of the training and infrastructure. More, or less, you are sort of with the same company due to the consolidation in the industry and this will resonate with many. Tell me about where you grew up and went to school and then how you got started in our business and how you eventually ended up with Wilton Re.
BARB: I grew up in Waterloo Iowa, attended school at the University of Northern Iowa like you did and graduated from Mount Mercy University. I’m the oldest of five kids and growing up I was the one who planned to move to the big city - ideally New York City - and ironically, I’m the only one who is still in the area since even my parents have moved!
Yes, the agency system was a great place to learn about the business – working with clients, learning different types of products and how the sales and ongoing service processes work. When I started in the agency in 1979, I NEVER thought I’d work in life insurance my entire career! I started working with advanced markets concepts a few years in when I went to work for a producer group whose main business was providing a turnkey marketing, sales and administration platform for split dollar plans for Life Investors Insurance Company agents. I ended up having five days of training on what split dollar plans were, how they worked, how to illustrate and prep and review documents and how to administer the plans. It was trial by fire!
Eventually Life Investors, which became a part of Transamerica, wanted the split dollar work to be housed in their home office, so I became an employee in the advanced marketing department. When the COLI/BOLI unit was started in 1993, I was fortunate to become employee number two, which meant learning a lot quickly by doing a little of everything. We delved into domestic and international high net worth for a time in the early 2000s which provided more learning experiences, meeting and working with some very smart people and lots of interesting travel. I was lucky to be at the right place at the right time and willing to learn new things and work hard.
Some other highlights of that time were working with SALI Fund Services on one of their first BOLI insurance dedicated funds, helping a few hedge funds figure out how to make their funds work with an insurance product and supporting quite a few varied projects that didn’t quite get off the ground, but were a lot of fun to work on! Eventually, I ended up at Wilton Re when our block and team was acquired. I’ve worked and learned with many of my co-workers for more than 20 years and everything we do is a true team effort.
JAY: Let’s spend some more time talking about the growing business of the purchase and management of in-force policies. I’d like you to expand on how the sausage is made, so to speak, when it comes to how companies like Wilton Re evaluate blocks of business and then how they are managed after being acquired from the original issuer.
BARB: You’re right, it is a growing business and I can only speak for what my team and I are doing. With our transaction, we continue to provide the same levels of service and continuity of the service team that we did prior and offer our expertise when needed. As far as how the sausage is made, I can’t speak for the industry as again, my involvement is limited to continuing to manage our block of business. Every potential transaction is unique and a great deal of time is spent on diligence and understanding the block of business, operations, systems, economics and financials. Depending on the block and product mix, management post-acquisition can take many different forms.
JAY: You and I have both had some crazy international adventures while working in the offshore, high-net worth life insurance space. There were some instances when we were visiting Senator Grassley and Senator Harkin while at AALU and sharing stories in the waiting rooms that the other members of our Iowa delegation, such as Steve Parrish, Ray Bening and Val Sandford would look at us with astonishment. Go ahead and reminisce about a few of your favorite memories from that period of your career.
BARB: Yes, those were some of the best times with lots of international travel and an abundance of interesting opportunities! I like to explore the places that I visit by walking around and there are many I’d love to go back and visit when I’m not working. A few of my favorites are Hong Kong – the view from Victoria Peak is amazing – and Zurich and Vevey in Switzerland.
One of my projects was to put together an international fund of funds that included investment in physical gold and silver. We made a due diligence visit to the storage facility in Switzerland, which from the street was a non-descript building. Once you made it by the front desk, it was something out of a movie. Lots of secure doors, elevators that took you underground, a railroad hub and finally the vault with the gold and silver bars. The bars were sitting on shelving and there was a guy sitting at a table wrapping gold coins like you’d wrap quarters.
Working as Acting Managing Director of a Bermuda life insurance company during a time when we were putting together some really interesting deals taught me a great deal and gave me the opportunity to work some really creative people in the international broker, sales, legal, administration and fund management areas.
JAY: You have been working in the top tier of our industry for over 30 years and I’m curious to learn if you feel the industry has made progress in diversity and inclusion when it comes to women participating in the top tier. You said that some of the stories shared by our interviewee from last month, Janice Forgays, really hit home with you. As always, as part of your thoughts on all of this, what would you like to see happen which might improve matters?
BARB: There have been many trail blazers in this business and I so appreciate reading your interviews of many of them. Yes, I have similar experiences. Being at meetings at male only clubs, being invited to meetings but being told that you’ll be the only woman so you might not want to come - um, yes, I’ll be there - looking out over a sea of older, white men at industry meetings, being the only woman on a panel and getting softball questions and feeling like you need to be someone other than yourself to fit in.
It’s sometimes tough overcoming the stereotype of being a woman from flyover country. This business is based on relationships and while I have worked with men who are really great at relationship-building, women tend to have a natural ability for building and nurturing trust, which is vital when working with customers and brokers. For so many years, those qualities weren’t valued in our industry and training glossed over it.
I believe carriers and industry groups are trying to make changes. They are saying the right things, but it’s difficult to move the needle when most business continues to be done as usual. As far as Diversity, Equality and Inclusion, most of the work seems to focus on “D” and adding numbers. Without the “E” and “I”, it doesn’t mean much. Introducing Emotional Intelligence and unconscious bias training in hiring practices and ongoing training would be a good start.
JAY: Outside of work, you have been incredibly busy over the years. You were on the local board of Habitat for Humanity and you’ve run four marathons, including the New York Marathon. I know you haven’t quite picked up on the pickleball craze sweeping Waterloo and Cedar Rapids but it is probably just a matter of time! Catch us up on your family and how you like to spend your free time.
BARB: I became involved in United Way and Habitat for Humanity while working at Transamerica and spent some time on the local board of directors. I have seen first-hand how lives have been changed and have worked on many builds in Cedar Rapids. A few years ago, I had the opportunity to work on an international build in Esteli, Nicaragua. Needless to say, it was eye opening. We built the walls of a new structure consisting of concrete block reinforced with rebar with a concrete floor right next to an existing “home” which consisted of dirt floor, corrugated metal makeshift walls and roof and outdoor plumbing. All the concrete and mortar were mixed by hand on-site, rebar was cut by hand and each morning we moved the blocks we needed for the day onto the building site. It was exhausting and extremely fulfilling.
Yes, no pickleball yet and I think my marathon days are behind me, but I still enjoy running just about every week with friends I met while training. My daughters are both married with kids, so my spare time is spent keeping up with Carl, my husband of over four decades and who is retired. We enjoy going to my 14- and 11-year-old grandsons’ activities, spending time with my 15-month old granddaughter and lately, binging a little Netflix. I’m looking forward to being able to travel again both for business and pleasure!
JAY: Two months ago, when I interviewed Tyler Furger, I made fun of my family for visiting the local Texas Roadhouse restaurant back in Iowa. The same day, you emailed me to confess you had just been there to pick up dinner rolls for the holidays. Then, my stepmother called to say, “Jay Corey, the honey buns and cinnamon butter at Texas Roadhouse are the best.” I will now publicly admit I may be wrong. Nevertheless, where are some of the best non-steakhouse restaurants and non-steak dishes you would recommend?
BARB: Yes, I did cheat and buy Texas Roadhouse rolls and cinnamon butter for the holidays – they were a big hit!
I’ve been fortunate to dine at a lot of great places across the country, but I’m going to go in a different direction and talk comfort food. Every year the Iowa Pork Producers Association has a contest for the best breaded pork tenderloin in the state and the finalists are usually small-town bar and grills. For the last few years, my husband and I have made road trips to quite a few of them. Lucky for me my personal favorites are close - the Blind Pig in Cedar Rapids and the Other Place, the O.P. as it is known, in Evansdale. As far as steak, I can avoid going to a restaurant for a good one because I have a running friend whose husband raises Waygu-Holstein beef, so when I want to splurge, I buy direct from Hansen’s Dairy.
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Since its inception, Life Insurance Strategies Group has solely focused on the individual high net worth life insurance market. We do not sell products. This allows us to offer unbiased, pragmatic advice. Visit us at www.lifeinsurancestrategiesgroup.com.