• Jay Judas

Tier One Interview: Michelle Dauphinais

In this month's Tier One Interview, our CEO, Jay Judas, interviews Michelle Dauphinais, Vice President, Sales & Distribution Producer Partnership at John Hancock. The pair talk about Michelle's career path, discovering her ancestry, Big Data in the life insurance industry, and kayaking! Read the interview in full below.

JAY: I would have many folks angry with me if I didn't interview you, Michelle. Hands down, you are the person most suggested as I go about vetting candidates. Producers, attorneys, service providers of various kinds, and people at other insurance companies have enthusiastically suggested I speak with you. The result is I'm sitting down with you for our newsletter's December edition, where your interview will serve as a holiday gift to our readers. How's that for a little pressure?!


You have been with John Hancock for a quarter of a century, which is just unheard of in today's world. Let's start by hearing about your role and even a little bit about John Hancock because I'm pretty sure most of our readers would be surprised to hear just how many financial services the carrier offers.

MICHELLE: I heard somewhere pressure makes diamonds and woke up with a feeling you may put me to the task! First, thank you for connecting and providing a forum to celebrate the profession, Jay. I look forward to reading your Tier One interview each month.


My journey into the industry starts shortly after graduating when I was diagnosed with Lupus SLE. At a young age, I was faced with big decisions about managing a chronic disease and wasn't prepared financially and didn't have adequate health insurance coverage. Growing up in the Boston area, John Hancock had a large brand presence and was known as a good employer with robust benefits. When you bring all this together, the protection life insurance offered resonated, and I quickly found purpose in a career that served a consumer when they need it the most.


Over the last 25 years, I've considered myself a student of the industry, focusing on sales and distribution intentionally as the very arm of the manufacturer that delivers our products to the consumer. Today, I'm part of the Sales & Distribution leadership team and oversee three business areas: Producer Partnership, Distribution Analytics, and Sales Management of a virtual wholesale team. These areas may seem disconnected; however, they are reliant on one another to modernize Distribution.


Producer Partnership focuses on understanding our partnerships' needs, improving the end-to-end experience, and educating our sales and operational teams on understanding our relationships and what they want from us; Analytics delivers those insights and learnings.


The Market Development Directors are a key, virtual component to our wholesale model, complementing the local support from our Regional Vice Presidents. In optimizing our wholesale model, we can better serve core customers, meeting them where they are, and in the manner they prefer.

Manulife Financial Corporation is a leading international financial services group that has been helping people make their financial decisions easier for more than 155 years. With headquarters in Toronto, Canada, we operate as Manulife across our offices in Canada, Asia, and Europe and primarily as John Hancock in the United States. We provide financial advice, insurance, and wealth and asset management solutions for individuals, groups, and institutions. At the end of 2019, we had more than 35,000 employees and thousands of distribution partners, serving almost 30 million customers. As of September 30, 2020, we had $943 billion in assets under management and administration, and the previous 12 months, we made $31.2 billion in payments to our customers.


JAY: Your career has followed a traditional sales and distribution path. Unfortunately, and perhaps due to all the consolidation and other industry changes, we don't see this a lot anymore. You started inside the company and then went into a territorial sales role, which required moving your family across the country. Then you managed significant distribution relationships before being promoted back to the mother ship in Boston. Take me through your upbringing and then your professional journey.

MICHELLE: The first thing to know about me, Jay, is I'm not French! I'm 92.8% Irish. I share that because the Dauphinais crest adorned my childhood home highlighting the surname's French ancestry, and I even visited the homeland of our family origins. That's until a Lupus medical research study using DNA testing revealed we're not as French as we believed. Today, we joke that we have ancestry anxiety and feel like that 23 & Me advertisement and had to trade our champagne taste for a pint of beer.


JAY: Ha! Yes, I think a lot of folks can relate. Until an Ancestry.com test, I thought I was a mix of a lot ethnicities and it turns out that I’m over 60% Dutch. I’m sure this was also a surprise to your parents who, I understand, have been together a long time.


MICHELLE: That’s right - my parents Robert, and Marion, married as high school sweethearts, raised five children, fourteen grandchildren, and five great-grandchildren. My father served 40 years in the military, which brought many disciplines to the family. They taught us to choose what matters the most and give it all the attention it demands. I've applied that lesson in a series of moments balancing family and career-making decisions of when to apply gas and when to let up on the pedal.

In my early days at John Hancock, we operated under a career agency model where I learned about a life insurance agent's role working for a Top of the Table, MDRT agent, drafting Crummey letters for trust-owned life insurance. Yes, it was that long ago that the agent could act as the Trustee, and during that time, we drove to the home office to deliver underwriting files, drop off premium checks, and pick up recently issued policies.


When John Hancock evolved into a wholesale brokerage model, I decided to apply the gas and jumped into a business development role to recruit Brokerage General Agencies, get them acclimated to our products and offerings and create shelf space in this new market.


Shortly after Manulife acquired John Hancock, I found myself up in the air, further expanding our distributor relationship into producer groups and aligning our resources to set the stage for successful growth. In the early 2000s, an opportunity to focus on regional sales in California came up. It was perfect timing to gain market sales experience while leaving my airline status behind and taking up soccer games and dance recitals.


My Dad's military lessons came in handy in my days as a wholesaler. He always told me if you didn't have a goal, that you didn't commit. As a road warrior, you have to find ways to self-motivate, and with my car being my office, I programmed the dashboard to reflect my sales plan every time I turned on the ignition, as a reminder that I was on my way to commit to my craft and show up to win the next sale.


Changes to the traditional wholesaler role are inevitable, and how that is reborn would be an interesting discussion. The level of technology that has entered our lives has changed the way we want to interact. Delivering value in our new world is a combination of tech skills and people skills. Nowadays, I often think about that topic in my role of overseeing distribution analytics and a wholesale team; both stood up before this global pandemic while anticipating the value proposition of the Producer-Carrier relationship needed to evolve past product and marketing support.


JAY: I'm going to stick with asking more about John Hancock and, specifically, about the Vitality program. Before our readers think, "Oh, geesh, please no more about Vitality!" and tune out, there are some recent and exciting developments. Now that Vitality is five years old, a lot of information has been collected and analytics can be used to measure the program's success. What are some of the outcomes experienced?


MICHELLE: Ha! I’m glad you phrased it that way, Jay, because there are new developments with Vitality. At John Hancock, we often talk about shared value insurance. Shared value is created when companies innovate to address social problems as well as drive business objectives. There's a natural alignment for our industry: when customers take steps to contribute to their longevity. It's good for them and their families and suitable for their life insurer.


When our Vitality Plus customers take steps to improve their health; we as a company share that value in a series of cost of insurance credits that result in premium savings. We reward them through strategic collaboration with brands like Apple, Amazon, and Hotels.com.


Today, over 50% of policies issued at John Hancock select the Vitality Plus Rider. We've doubled our membership over the last year and a half to now seventy-five thousand. Members of all ages and health conditions are engaged at high levels, with 76% of members actively earning rewards and 90% of clients realizing the financial benefits, which can include up to 15% of their premiums.


We've placed over $100 million of commissionable premium in just the previous 12 month . It is very rewarding to know that life insurance plays a role in helping its customers live longer. Not only do people need the protection a life insurance policy can offer, but they're telling us they want tools, resources, and incentives that make small deposits towards long term health goals. We made Vitality a core tenet of our business five years ago, and we're proving it works.

JAY: Since we're discussing industry analytics, you have a lot of experience with this in terms of distribution and leveraging data in working with the right partners. How does this work, and what does it mean?


MICHELLE: Big Data has exploded over the last few years, with insurers primarily applying its capabilities to improve the underwriting process or create operational efficiencies. However, the possibilities are endless when considering applications to develop meaningful, sales-actionable insights to engage our distributors in business development initiatives.


An example would be using analytics to target specific producers and end-consumer audiences with solutions that are unique to their needs, nurturing that interest, and creating the right touchpoints that connect consumers to producers to begin insurance planning conversations. Data can be used to drive organic growth within our partnerships instead of merely competing at a product level or moving market share around.


We've already started to use offerings like John Hancock Aspire to connect consumers living with diabetes to producers, accelerating the sales process. Early sales results are promising.

JAY: I first met you just over five years ago when I was invited to speak at a regional producer conference you hosted here in Boston. I'm going to guess that there were around 75 attendees, and only four or five of them were women, including yourself and a member of your team. I recall there were only two people of color, too. John Hancock has been forward-leaning in its approach to diversity and inclusion, so I'd like to hear your thoughts on how the life insurance industry might evolve so that we see different faces.

MICHELLE: Jay, that's right, life insurance, though improving, remains a less diverse industry than other financial services. As a woman growing up in this industry, I'm empathetic to anyone who enters a room and lacks a feeling of belonging, whether cultural, religious, age, gender, or sexual orientation. When looking back over the years, there have been times it was challenging to make essential business connections based on a gender difference. I recall once receiving advice to "learn to play golf." I never learned to play; instead, I practiced building a reputable swing at truly understanding my client's business models and delivering unique, high-value business development initiatives.



When considering Diversity & Inclusion, I see it thru two lenses. First, our world is diverse, and everyone should show up and feel as if they can bring their authentic self to work and shouldn't have to "learn to play golf" to be successful. Second, we should illuminate the differences that people have, not repress them. Only then can we truly grow as humans and innovate as businesses. Our industry may have an image problem, and we need to change that, or we risk not attracting diverse talent, and as a result, we'll be unable to transform to meet the needs of an increasingly diverse customer base. This ultimately impacts our ability to protect millions of Americans who desperately need the products and services we offer.

At John Hancock, we're committed to acting. We recently signed on to the CEO Action for Diversity and Inclusion pledge, joining CEOs from the world's leading companies and business organizations, who are leveraging their individual and collective voices to advance diversity and inclusion in the workplace. (You can read more about this pledge here.)

One way we're challenging our usual way of thinking is by inviting our employees to share their humanity in an employee speaking forum called Signature series. A colleague, Emily, shared her upbringing as an adopted twin from South Korea raised in New Hampshire; she explains her struggle with finding her identity and helps us all broaden our scope of knowledge and understanding. (Interested? Listen to Emily's Story.)


As employees evolve, it is incumbent upon corporations to evolve their benefits as well. Families take many forms, such as single parents, same-sex couples, and transitioning transgender family members. And we look to support these different journeys. This week, we announced enhanced benefits for employees, including maternity and parental leave, adoption and surrogacy, mental health, and gender affirmation.

These are a few ways we're engaging in the industry and employee level to become more inclusive, and we're continuously expanding our D&I initiatives.

JAY: Our readers would love to hear about your home life and your daily routine. After you do that, I'm curious about something else. You and your husband, Jesse, are getting dangerously close to being empty nesters. You both have dedicated so much time raising your family and balancing that with busy careers, which involved a lot more travel. Have you thought about how your lives will change when it's just the two of you?

MICHELLE: There is one item that's essential to my day, like oxygen, and that's coffee. It allows me to maintain my status of both an early riser and a night owl! The Nespresso machine is always within arm's reach; eventually, I will hit brew, and only then the day can begin properly.


My daily routine looks vastly different nowadays. It went from a 2-hour commute battling Boston traffic and early morning business calls - admittedly, belting out tunes from the 80s in between - to moving 40 feet from my bedroom to the office to start a day packed full of video calls. The diverse topics sprinkled throughout the day are what I enjoy the most, from reviewing strategy, business health, or ideating how to advance predictive insights to grow revenue or explore new technologies like AI to modernize our selling techniques.



My day is never the same and full of intricate puzzles to piece together and fulfills my relentless curiosity. My father would tell me that innate behavior is hardwired, and I would need to choose a career where it wouldn't be misunderstood. I think I've done just that; curiosity is critical to driving innovation and finding new ways to sell life insurance.


Jesse and I may have subconsciously anticipated an empty nest a few years back when we moved back to Massachusetts from California and purchased a home built in the 1930s. It will keep us busy for years to come as we tackle renovations and modifications to make it our forever home.

My daughter, Ashley, 19, is a sophomore at Suffolk University focused on a PR & Media career, and my son, Ryan, is a senior in high school who's enjoying this milestone year and hoping to play his last lacrosse season amid social distancing. We have two attention-starved French Bulldogs. Otis and Sadie are eagerly standing by to distract us from an empty nest. While the kids are busy making their mark on the world, Jesse and I have lots of time to hike, kayak, and, during the winter months, we take every opportunity to hit the slopes.

JAY: Previously, you've told me about your passion for kayaking, and you're something like the fifth or sixth person this past year I've heard from about how great kayaking is. What am I missing out on?

MICHELLE: Kayaking is a great way to step away from the hustle and the bustle of sales. Boston has no shortage of local waterways to launch a kayak. One of my favorite adventures is Plum Island in Newburyport, Massachusetts. It's a tranquil place, and depending on your mood, you can leisurely explore the scenic inland canals or, if you're feeling more adventurous, head out on the open ocean.


I have one important safety tip - I recommend you watch the tide schedule. Rowing against the tide is no joke, and you can end up stranded. My sister Pam and a fellow Yaker would surely laugh at my advice, as we discovered tide reports only after some close encounters!



JAY: In addition to your love of being outdoors and being on the water, you're generally a very active person. I understand you've found a way to channel your love of the outdoors into raising money for charity. How so?

MICHELLE: If you asked me just a few short years ago if I'd bike 50 miles, I'd tell you the only bike rides in my recent past consisted of a teal beach cruiser with a lovely little wicker basket designed for meandering the sunny coast of California! That's until I meet Dudley Williams III, Marketing Coordinator in John Hancock Sponsorship Marketing. His enthusiasm and infectious attitude propelled me to learn more about an opportunity to support an incredible organization called Best Buddies.


Founded by Anthony Kennedy Shriver in 1989, Best Buddies helps create one-on-one friendships, integrated employment, and leadership development opportunities for people with intellectual disabilities. As a cycling event, Best Buddies is a well-organized ride with a lovely scenic route from Boston to Cape Cod.


The Best Buddies Challenge is a family-friendly event for all ages and skill levels and offers options for 100, 50, or 20-miles. John Hancock has been a proud sponsor of Best Buddies and the annual Hyannis Port Challenge since 2009, raising well over $1 million for the organization over the past twelve years. Next year will mark my third year of riding in the Best Buddies Challenge, and I'm thinking of taking on the 50-mile route. Can I tempt you and Peter to join the 2021 John Hancock team?

JAY: Maybe! We just got our Peloton eight weeks ago so by the time we’re all vaccinated, we will be itching to get out on the road. You told me that Dan Murphy from the Lion Street producer group has participated so if Dan can do it, I can certainly handle it! Just don’t tell Dan I said that – he’s very sensitive.


Time has flown by, and we've come to the restaurant question. You are a kindred spirit when it comes to wanting the life insurance industry to broaden its eating habits beyond steak and steakhouses. What are your recommendations for eateries and dishes which shouldn't be missed?

MICHELLE: Jay, as a Bostonian yourself, you know this is a loaded question and could be a stand-alone interview! It's easy to turn up our noses at the more touristy restaurants, but easier to look fondly upon a classic and the oldest operating restaurant in our city. The Oyster House has stood on Union Street for over 250 years. A favorite for delicious traditional seafood and has a historic appeal with its rich 2nd-floor history.


In 1771 Isaiah Thomas published The Massachusetts Spy, the oldest newspaper in the United States. During the revolution, the Adams, Hancock, and Quincy families, often sat in their stalls mending clothes for the colonists. Since then, many more historically significant people have graced the Oyster House's doors, and it's a rare place to have fresh seafood and connect with our city's history. To all your readers, if you ever visit Boston, look me up. I never need a reason to talk about insurance or visit the Oyster House, but I would love to be your host if you do!

In the spring and summer months, I tend to explore the myriad of coastal seafood establishments and take advantage of the outdoor dining experiences. Legal Harborside offers fantastic seafood, and its rooftop deck has incredible views of the water and surrounding city.


Last, our favorite is a lovely Irish Cottage, May Kelly's in North Conway, NH. May's is famous for its meatloaf, shepherd's pie, and beef stew, which goes perfectly with a pint after a long day on the slopes. The owners, Marie and Patsy McArdle, are from Ireland. It's like they took a piece of home and planted it smack in the middle of the White Mountains, decorating every square inch of the walls and ceilings with old antiques and signs they've collected over the years, some of which date back to the 1800s and all of which have stories. I guess your DNA does, after all, play a part in your food choices!

Premium savings are in comparison to the same John Hancock policy without the Vitality PLUS program. Premium savings over the life of the policy will vary based upon policy type, the terms of the policy, and the level of participation in the John Hancock Vitality program.


Vitality rewards may vary based on the type of insurance policy purchased and the state where the insurance policy was issued. Insurance policies and/or associated riders and features may not be available in all states.


Life Insurance products are issued by: John Hancock Life Insurance Company (U.S.A.), Boston, MA 02116 (not licensed in New York) and John Hancock Life Insurance Company of New York, Valhalla, NY 10595. MLINY120720468-1

Read our companion Tier One blog by clicking here.

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.


© 2020 Life Insurance Strategies Group, LLC. 

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