November 2015
Burand's Insurance Agency Adviser
Resources and Information for the P&C Insurance Industry
Volume 20, Number 7

~ For a printable PDF version, click here. ~

In This Issue...

Insurance Agency Leadership

Much consternation has been expressed regarding the lack of agency perpetuation, the difficulty of financing agency perpetuation, and aging principals. As is often the case, the masses are wrong. Their worries are not wrong because feelings are feelings. Agency perpetuation difficulties due to financing and age are not new or even difficulties in reality. They are just excuses due to lack of knowledge and/or commitment.

Read More...


Constant Business Plans

A great many business plans are based on the platform: "It's worked so far."

Steven Wright, the great comedian has a plan for life that doesn't include death. As he says, "It's worked so far." Based on the many books and articles I've read concerning Enron, their business plan's foundation was, "It's worked so far and we're smarter than you."

Read More...


Small Commercial and More Small Commercial

Every company wants to write more and more small commercial but I am not seeing much evidence most companies are willing to work for it.

Read More...


What happens if premiums decrease $100,000,000,000?

What happens if premiums decrease one hundred billion dollars? In an expertly researched article on the future of insurance in The Economist in early 2015 the authors estimated new technology will decrease losses so significantly that the industry will incur $109,000,000,000 fewer losses within the foreseeable future.

Read More...


Carrier Contracts

Let's get the bad news out of the way: I have been analyzing carrier contracts for 25 years. Much has changed how these contracts are written but one item in particular has remained consistent. Agency owners and executives still botch the reading, understanding, analyzation, and negotiation of these contracts. I have seen no improvement over the past 25 years.

Read More...

Results!

Chris Burand,
Certified Business Appraiser

Burand & Associates, LLC
215 S. Victoria Ave., Suite E
Pueblo, CO 81003
719/485-3868
chris@burand-associates.com

Visit us at:
burand-associates.com

Your Opportunity to Participate in Ground-Breaking Research

Tim Coomer, CEO of SIGMA Actuarial Consulting Group, Inc., is researching the complex set of personality measures to determine how these correlate with job performance--specifically for insurance producers. He is currently seeking agencies to participate in this research project.

Why Participate? Our industry has struggled with identifying and hiring successful producers for decades. By participating in this research you will be helping to add new research designed specifically to better understand this challenge. If a hiring tool is produced after the academic research, you will receive a limited license to utilize the tool for your hiring purposes.

To learn more about the research project, click here to view a more detailed description at the end of this newsletter.

To learn more about Tim, visit: www.linkedin.com/in/TimothyLCoomer

Or, you can contact Tim directly at: TLC@SIGMAactuary.com or 615-376-5110 x 203.

HappyThanksgiving


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Insurance Agency Leadership

Much consternation has been expressed regarding the lack of agency perpetuation, the difficulty of financing agency perpetuation, and aging principals. As is often the case, the masses are wrong. Their worries are not wrong because feelings are feelings. Agency perpetuation difficulties due to financing and age are not new or even difficulties in reality. They are just excuses due to lack of knowledge and/or commitment.

I am first obliged to point out the obvious. Age is not the problem. The average agency owner is materially the same age today as it was twenty years ago. Nothing has changed so it cannot be a new problem. Financing is not a problem either because the U.S. has more money floating around than ever. No one can find anything to invest in that returns a good yield and they are searching for investments. It is not a size issue either as some industry leaders have promulgated because the vast majority of agencies still generate less than $1,000,000 in annual revenues.

The problem is the lack of the right kind of leadership. Businesses, churches, and armies all need different kinds of leadership. Each type of leader needs the capacity and willingness to work constructively with the other leaders for the organization to thrive at a high level. Think back to the stereotypical "Father Knows Best" family environment. Father might have been the family leader in the big picture, but Mother was the daily operational leader. She was a leader too, not only a manager. This is just one example of two different kinds of leadership critical to even a small family unit. Larger organizations need even more and better leadership from multiple people.

How do people usually become leaders in insurance agencies? They mostly either sell insurance or inherit the business. Sell enough insurance and you get to be a shareholder. As a result, every agency and every agency leader has the same leadership profile. (The only exception is shareholders who somehow became an owner without any real sales or other performance winning basis, often someone’s relative, who usually does not contribute leadership, sales, management expertise, or much else other than frustration.) The agency becomes a listing boat because too much leadership of a certain kind exists without enough other kinds of leadership to provide ballast and balance.

Think about where producers excel. They often have charisma, great people skills (excluding criticism or difficult situations), they often have vision, and they get people to believe in and follow them. They love to make sales and please people. These are great traits but if an agency has two, three, or four leaders and they all have these same qualities, how much vision, charisma, and people pleasing behaviors does the agency need? Literally, the agency will have so much of a good thing they will drown.

Think about where producers are weak. They are not good at operations, details, or confrontation.  This is why agency owners get excited about new marketing ideas but cannot execute a quality marketing strategy. This is why agency owners cannot confront producers who do not sell or follow procedures. Agency after agency is led by people pleasers who cannot manage or even lead producers who all end up doing whatever they want including not selling but getting paid anyway. Some agency owners are so poor at confronting non-performing producers that when a producer fails to make enough sales to pay their personal bills, the owner actually gives them a raise!

People, and leaders in particular, tend to spend as much time doing what makes them happy while staying within their comfort zone. But organizations need to be led in all categories, not just one leader's comfort zone.

The solution to perpetuation, healthier agencies, and even healthier agency owners is to develop and share leadership responsibilities based on the agency's needs rather than making every producer that sells enough a shareholder leader. To start, trash the myth that a shareholder has to be an agency leader. Next, trash the myth that only producers should be shareholders. A better strategy is to accept that not all shareholders have leadership abilities or at least do not have distinct leadership abilities that complement existing leadership.

Third, accept the possibility that leaders do not have to be shareholders or producers. This is such a radical concept for some agency owners that I've literally seen them have to sit down and take a deep breath when I've posed it to them. Absolutely no such thought had ever previously entered their head. For some the idea is simply an impossibility. It is treachery. It is treason to undermine the ruling class.

For most though, once it sinks in, they get it. They don't necessarily accept the concept immediately nor do they develop it immediately, but they get it. They also understand that sharing leadership is a load off their back of the responsibilities they most dislike.  They get to focus on leading people in areas that excite them. For example, operations are obviously critical and not just management of operations but true leadership. Having someone who is energized by making operations ever better is more a leader than a manager and that difference creates excellence. Few agency owners get their jollies thinking about operations though. They do it when they have to, when they can't put it off any longer, and then they only manage. They do not really lead. Having a true operational leader then takes this drudgery from them while their operations get better leadership than ever.

That operational leader though is likely not someone who is a producer so the agency has to be willing to accept a leader that is not a producer and likely not a shareholder. The agency may have to invest in a true leader too, not just a manager. It is a model quite rare in this industry but it works incredibly well.

These are only two of the leadership positions every agency needs. Join me and Jay Brenneman for our Agency Leadership training to relieve you of leadership responsibilities not in your wheelhouse (likely inside leadership duties) and to build leadership skills for your team of leaders.

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Constant Business Plans

A great many business plans are based on the platform: "It's worked so far."

Steven Wright, the great comedian has a plan for life that doesn't include death. As he says, "It's worked so far." Based on the many books and articles I've read concerning Enron, their business plan's foundation was, "It's worked so far and we're smarter than you." An insurance company that recently for all practical purposes (though not officially so I will not name them) went insolvent reportedly had the CEO saying up until the last couple of days prior that his plan was still working. Regardless of the deep flaws including arguably illegal acts in the former and incredibly shoddy accounting in both, the plan had indeed worked so far.

Quite a few agencies have operated out of trust for years (all states are trust states--it's just that most allow commingling which is entirely different). It's worked so far. Is the fact that "it" has worked so far, even if "it" is illegal, the key measure of success?

Much less, is "it" the key measure, a leading indicator of whether "it" will work going forward?

Here are common examples of what I see as fundamental to many agencies' business plans whether written or not, that have "worked" so far and some agency owners are betting on them working forever:

  • Poor pay for staff
  • Quoting requested coverages rather than the coverages clients need
  • Getting by on call-ins
  • Paying producers who don't produce as if they produced
  • Not verifying their financial data, especially their balance sheets, are correct
  • Having nonfunctional buy/sell agreements. When I hear someone say these have worked so far it is always because no major shareholder has sold so they don’t know if the past has ANY relevance to the future.

Even if the only reason "it" has worked so far is the competition is weak and lazy, why do you think the world does not evolve? Competition is not just local today. Technology makes a huge difference and if somehow, someway, direct writers/internet writers have not encroached into your marketplace, they will. Insurance may be extremely slow to adapt to technology but technology does not revolve around insurance, much less your agency.

Is it time to build a real business plan? One that is forward thinking, one that has vision, one that builds? Is it time to build the agency to win rather than to not lose? Is it time to build your agency and have fun doing so? If so, contact me today and let's get started!

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Small Commercial and More Small Commercial

Every company wants to write more and more small commercial but I am not seeing much evidence most companies are willing to work for it.

First, the facts: Carrier after carrier bought the same consultants' reports that showed:

  1. Small commercial has less price elasticity, i.e., rates can rise further before retention decreases thereby increasing the profit margin within a specific band.
  2. Agents are the problem in this strategy from the carrier perspective. Agents shop accounts thereby negating the price elasticity opportunity. The carriers' solution to this is to incentivize or twist arms to put small commercial in the companies' service centers. By doing so, agents will not shop the business. Another perspective companies have is that agents are not selling the right coverages. That has more traction with me based on all the E&O audits I have completed.
  3. Berkshire Hathaway and a couple of other companies have identified that independent agents, who largely control this market, have failed to build adequate identifiable value. This conclusion has led them to go into this market directly, bypassing agents.
  4. If every company or even many companies focus on small commercial, or even if enough companies focus on small commercial, the rates will not stay high. Price elasticity will be affected and the entire strategy will lose value.

These are the facts. The end result is inevitable: Agents will lose profit and market share. All that can be argued is the amount that will be lost. A small window of opportunity still exists to cement, to glue, to weld your small clients to you the agents and that is to become more than purveyors of insurance policies.

The companies' research is solid in that small commercial clients pay less because agents shop the accounts. On one hand, this is beneficial and the right thing to do. However, it has caused small commercial clients to think their insurance policies are generic. Unfortunately, many producers and CSRs think these policies are generic too. These policies, BOPs primarily, are not generic. The coverages vary materially. Yet in my E&O audits, agents are doing an incredibly poor job explaining these differences. Most likely do not even advise clients of differences.

This is not only a poor sales job, a poor job helping clients understand the tradeoff between coverages and price, and a poor job setting expectations, but agents are materially increasing their E&O exposures by not giving proper advice to clients. The courts are clear in most states that if an agency moves a client from one policy to another, they owe that client an explanation of coverages lost. I suppose one can tell the client they should read their policy, etc., etc., but that is only making the situation worse because when agents rely on those kinds of caveats rather than stepping up and being professional, they are just undermining their futures. Every time an agent tells an insured to read their own policy, they are subtly but definitely telling the insured the agent is not necessary. Agents have licenses and they should know the policies and how coverages affect a business because otherwise, they frankly do not earn their commissions.

In effect, this is why companies believe their service centers will succeed. They've identified agents are not earning their commissions so why not charge more, increase service a little, cut agent commissions and make more money?

The same issue has been identified by the carriers that are going direct to the small commercial market. It is just a different strategy because they are not beholden to an agency force.

The key then is to step up and be the professional you can be by truly understanding your clients' needs and performing services that bring true value. I hear all the time, and I mean all the time, that agents cannot afford to spend time with small accounts because premiums are too low. My tests have proven over and over the reason most of these accounts are small is because agents are not writing the accounts properly. Some will counter this is because these clients will not purchase all the insurance they need but this is a moot point because the fact is, most agents never offer all the coverage these insureds need. An insured cannot buy coverages they are not offered. This is why E&O is Errors and Omissions. Omissions are coverages not offered.

My clients that do their jobs right usually realize strong double digit increases in sales when they begin treating small commercial clients more professionally and their E&O exposure definitely and clearly decreases. Other benefits include creating more client loyalty, educating clients that insurance is more than a price, and frankly, the good feeling you gain knowing your clients are better protected.

The fight is on for small commercial. Well run, small commercial will be the higher profit margin division of an agency. Are you going to fight for it or let your companies take it from you?

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What happens if premiums decrease $100,000,000,000?

What happens if premiums decrease one hundred billion dollars? In an expertly researched article on the future of insurance in The Economist in early 2015 the authors estimated new technology will decrease losses so significantly that the industry will incur $109,000,000,000 fewer losses within the foreseeable future.

If correct, that means decreasing premiums by relatively the same amount because the industry has already likely achieved its best ten-year profit run in history and is sitting on record surplus. Therefore, if losses decrease by $109,000,000,000, premiums will decrease by the same relative amount.

As an aside--a very important aside--why is it that such an important research paper was not covered in the insurance trade press? I subscribe to at least ten industry trade publications and nary a word. Maybe I just missed it but I doubt it. Something this significant would have been high headlines. This portends more trouble. The absence is indicative of human nature. Humans, especially humans in the insurance industry are addicted to happy media. They're so addicted that clouds, downers, and reality are barred. These subjects do not sell or catch eyeballs so trade publications do not publish many such stories. Without addressing reality, especially a reality of such significance, carriers and agencies will be making many serious mistakes. In talking to general carriers about this, I found almost no knowledge of this likely event.

One such possible mistake is paying three times annual revenues for an agency. The problem is likely exacerbated if many agencies are purchased for three times and the bottom falls out of the market. Of course, I'm addressing a pure business case rather than a speculative flip, especially if the purchases are made with someone else's money, which, if the timing is good, will still work. The long-term return on investment though for the subsequent buyer would be quite doubtful.

For example, let’s assume a price of three times and $1 million in revenue. Let's further assume EBITDA is 30%. Keep in mind, EBITDA is a profit measure, not a cash flow measure. Cash flow is far more important. These assumptions result in a purchase price of $3,000,000 for $300,000 EBITDA. At 0% interest for simplicity (the publicly traded brokers are averaging around 3% interest which is not trifling considering they have approximately $16 billion in debt). Assume further a 50% down payment, five years of payments ($300,000 annually), and 30% tax rate which equals $100,000. Therefore, under ideal conditions, cash flow is negative for at least six years. No wonder it is so important to use other people's money or flip the deals quickly (which is what happens with publicly traded brokers too, just a different kind of flip).

However, what happens if premiums decrease by $100,000,000,000? That is a 20% decrease. If that happens, EBITDA goes to $200,000. Taxes decrease to $60,000 but debt repayments remain at least $300,000. Negative cash flow then lasts eight to nine years. That is a long payback period, enough to bankrupt a firm or two given the balance sheets of a few buyers.

The alternative is to write-off acquisitions and potentially billions of balance sheet value. Executives are loath to do this, especially if their bonuses are tied to stock value. This is why write-downs often occur near the time a new CEO is appointed.

On the other hand, this market forecast is made for the nimble, intelligent, and efficient. These conditions are perfect for the nimble because the cash impaired firms will not be able to afford growth. Whether it is a carrier or an agency/broker, they will not have the capital to grow. They may even be forced to shrink or sell. The nimble will be quick enough to take advantage of this situation to grow while the competition is shrinking.

It is perfect for cost efficient (not cheap, cheap is anathema to cost efficient with no real relationship between the two whatsoever) agencies and companies. If rates decrease 10%, then most firms, regardless of size and supposed sophistication, will use blunt force trauma to cut costs. They'll take a hatchet to expenses rather than a sharp scalpel. The smartest cost efficient firms will increase efficiency rather than simply cut costs. They might even increase compensation to acquire the best employees who can perform so much better, they more than pay for themselves.

These firms will also likely polish their brands by focusing on consistency. Consistency decreases costs while simultaneously enhancing a brand. (One might ask why this is not more the focus already, especially among agents?)

Even if the report in The Economist is wrong, it cannot be entirely wrong. The technology is too strong. Losses will definitely be cut. It is already working. The number of claims per $1,000 of premium has already decreased approximately 35% the last ten years. If though, by chance, rates just stay flat and a company or agency takes these steps to be nimble and more intelligently efficient, won’t they achieve more success? What is the worst that can happen?

The opportunity is yours. Do you have the leadership to take this opportunity?

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Carrier Contracts

Let's get the bad news out of the way: I have been analyzing carrier contracts for 25 years. Much has changed how these contracts are written but one item in particular has remained consistent. Agency owners and executives still botch the reading, understanding, analyzation, and negotiation of these contracts. I have seen no improvement over the past 25 years.

The good news is that considerable opportunity exists to improve the agency's position. The bad news is that if owners have not improved in 25 years, they are not likely to improve now! Moreover, what can be negotiated and how an agency needs to negotiate has changed significantly. It is harder work today. The rewards are significant though and not just monetarily, which in itself is short-sighted anyway. Many owners, even of large agencies, have not stayed current or know what to identify in contracts and what to negotiate with carriers. The result is that agency owners that negotiate methodically, which is rare, often negotiate the wrong points in the wrong manner.

More bad news is that specific to some carriers, the stakes have never been higher. Agency owners that do not read, analyze, and understand their contracts run a real risk of losing agency value. The good news is that done well, a lot of value, protection, and profit is available. The opportunity is significant but if agents haven’t acted in 25 years, what is causing the perpetual paralysis? Fear!

Let's get something else out of the way. Negotiation is not a size factor. Size is simply an excuse. The #1 reason agency owners of all sizes, including agencies in the top 100 of the country, advise they do not read, analyze, and negotiate is that they are too small. If owners of all sizes use the same reason, the real reason is fear or laziness. Assuming fear, it is the fear of upsetting the carrier or otherwise making a fool of themselves.

I can appreciate the fear. It is self-imposed though. Carriers, excluding a few ultra-sensitive ones, expect the contracts to be negotiated. They breathe a sigh of relief every time they leave an agency without having to negotiate anything. The self-imposed fear of appearing foolish is tied to not knowing the contracts which is related to the #2 reason they don't negotiate: Boredom. Most salespeople find reading contracts in depth is pure drudgery. The financial benefits simply are not enough to offset the mind-numbing process of reading carrier contracts, building strategies, and contemplating fear.

If anything, the detail required today is much larger than in the past. Looking back 20 years, negotiating with companies was like shooting fish in a barrel when I worked with less fearful owners. Today, when I coach owners and executives about the detail, which is crucial to success, I see their eyes glazing over. Their minds just are not wired to deal with the detail required to build and execute the best strategy.

Get past this hurdle by hiring a person that can absorb and execute the details, all the clauses, all the fine print, and even the math. Have them do all the laborious work to provide you with a summary of need-to-know facts required for a successful negotiation or hire a third-party. I provide these analyses for my clients, carrier by carrier, contract by contract. I build all the detail, financial and contractual, before I ever walk into my clients' offices. If fear is not present, then boiled down to the five or ten key points, with confidence, negotiations by the owner/executive can begin.

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Research: Producer Personality and Job Performance

Research Author: Timothy L. Coomer, TLC@SIGMAactuary.com or 615-376-5110 x 203

Purpose: The purpose of my research is to evaluate a complex set of personality measures and determine how these correlate with job performance--specifically for insurance producers.

But I Already Use an Assessment Tool: Our industry uses several different assessment tools that bring value to the hiring process. But these tools typically explain less than 10% of job performance. My research looks at the relationship between some newer and promising personality measures and job performance. Most importantly, this will be the first study of its type that focuses strictly on the types of people you hire--producers!

Why Should I Participate?:  Our industry has struggled with identifying and hiring successful producers for decades. By participating in this research you will be helping to add new research designed specifically to better understand this challenge. If a hiring tool is produced after the academic research, you will receive a limited license to utilize the tool for your hiring purposes.

If I Participate, What Do I Need to Do?:  If you choose to participate, you simply need to select a coordinator to work directly with me. I will speak to them about the research, explain the survey instruments used and stress the confidentiality of all data gathered. No data will be released that identifies individuals or agency averages. The research will be on a large group of participants. 

Each producer will complete an easy online series of questions. This can be done from any computer or mobile device. This takes less time than your typical coffee break. Each producer's supervisor will complete an evaluation of the producer. This is explained in the instructions I will provide. Also, I am available anytime to address any questions. 

About the Research Author: Timothy L. Coomer is the current CEO of SIGMA Actuarial Consulting Group, Inc. in Brentwood, TN. He is the former founder and CEO of Specific Software Solutions, LLC (original developers of ModMaster software). Tim is currently a PhD candidate at Oklahoma State University and spends a lot of time commuting between Tennessee and Oklahoma!  Additional background on Tim: http://www.linkedin.com/in/TimothyLCoomer. You can contact Tim directly at TLC@SIGMAactuary.com or 615-376-5110 x 203.

Cost: There is no cost to participate in the research.

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Chris Burand is president and owner of Burand & Associates, LLC, a management consulting firm that has been specializing in the property/casualty insurance industry since 1992. Burand is recognized as a leading consultant for agency valuations, helping agents increase profits and reduce the cost of sales. His services include: agency valuations/due diligence, producer compensation plans, expert witness services, E&O carrier approved E&O procedure reviews, and agency operation enhancement reviews. He also provides the acclaimed Contingency Contract Analysis® Service and has the largest database and knowledge of contingency contracts in the insurance industry.

Burand has more than 20 years' experience. He is a featured speaker across the continent at more than 180 conventions and educational programs. He has written for numerous industry publications including Insurance Journal, American Agent & Broker, and National Underwriter. He also publishes Burand's Insurance Agency Adviser for independent insurance agents.

Burand is a member of the Institute of Business Appraisers, a department head for the Independent Insurance Agents and Brokers of America's Virtual University, an instructor for Insurance Journal's Academy of Insurance, and a volunteer counselor for the Small Business Administration's SCORE program.


NOTE: The information provided in this newsletter is intended for educational and informational purposes only and it represents only the views of the authors. It is not a recommendation that a particular course of action be followed. Burand & Associates, LLC and Chris Burand assume, and will have, no responsibility for liability or damage which may result from the use of any of this information.

Burand & Associates, LLC is an advocate of agencies which constructively manage and improve their contingency contracts by learning how to negotiate and use their contingency contracts more effectively. We maintain that agents can achieve considerably better results without ever taking actions that are detrimental or disadvantageous to the insureds. We have never and would not ever recommend an agent or agency implement a policy or otherwise advocate increasing its contingency income ahead of the insureds' interests.

A complete understanding of the subjects covered in this newsletter may require broader and additional knowledge beyond the information presented. None of the materials in this newsletter should be construed as offering legal advice, and the specific advice of legal counsel is recommended before acting on any matter discussed in this newsletter. Regulated individuals/entities should also ensure that they comply with all applicable laws, rules, and regulations.


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