New Archives Room!

After several years and a great deal of hard work, the LIMRA archives now have a home. With the help of facilities, we transformed our work room into a genuine archives space! The piles and piles of boxes strewn around the library are now neatly stacked and organized. See the pictures below:

Although there is a lot more work to be done (we are in fact doing a redesign of the entire library space), we have made an enormous amount of progress. It’s a relief to see things in their place.

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The Value of Industry Collaboration

The Life Insurance Sales Research Bureau (LISRB), which later merged with the Association of Life Agency Officers (ALAO) to form LIAMA, LIMRA’s predecessor, was established in 1922. At the time, the concept of a non-profit research organization built on the collaboration of its for-profit members was very novel. There was no precedent for this in the insurance industry and possibly other industries as well. This led to some apprehension among those companies solicited for membership when the LISRB first began, but the reason for this apprehension has been lauded as the exact reason why the LISRB, LIAMA, and LIMRA have been so successful: the collaborative effort allowed for more efficient, in-depth, and comprehensive research, allowing all interested parties to improve how they sell insurance.

The efforts to form the LISRB were led by Winslow Russell, Vice President of the Phoenix Mutual. According to W. Stewart Penny in his 1942 article on the history of LISRB, Russell and other agency officers “began considering a novel experiment. They believed that the process of selling life insurance could be improved by the home offices in a manner never before contemplated, let alone attempted.”[1] John Marshall Holcombe, first Managing Director of the LISRB, explained that

The basic idea for the Sales Research Bureau came from the very imaginative brain of Winslow Russell, Vice President of the Phoenix Mutual. He conceived the idea: (1) that a scientific approach to sales problems was not only possible but highly desirable; (2) that agency problems would be studied better if a group of companies cooperated rather than if these problems were studied in each individual company. It was from this joint concept that the birth of the Sales Research Bureau occurred.[2]

The idea that LISRB would involve the collaboration of its members, all of whom were competitors, was groundbreaking. Armstrong, in his 1944 Sales Management article, claims that the LISRB “was probably the first organized industry-wide program for engaging in cooperative sales research—and what is undoubtedly the most successful enterprise of that type today—is embodied in the work of the Life Insurance Sales Research Bureau, Hartford, Conn.”[3] Turner echoed this, stating that “It is the only central clearing house on sales problems for one industry, and it is unique in the life insurance business in that the results of its research are made available to countries all over the world.”[4] Holcombe, reflecting on the LISRB’s beginning, explained that “The Bureau represents the union of two relatively new procedures in modern management—research and cooperation: research to get the facts and cooperation to broaden their base.”[5] The collaboration of life insurance companies, or competing companies in any industry, towards a common end was groundbreaking, or at the very least, extremely uncommon. Early on, it was too groundbreaking for some. Life insurance companies were, for the most part, not comfortable working in congress with their competition.

In one 1937 article from The National Underwriter, “When the late Winslow Russell, vice-president Phoenix Mutual Life, first presented the main planks in a new agency platform, the life insurance fraternity branded it as radical, visionary, and impractical. Home office men agreed the ideas were fine in principle, but, they said, the old system was too firmly entrenched to be dislodged.”[6] The main reason for this resistance was that “the life insurance business, because of its traditional conservatism, could not too speedily digest such a radical step as pooling its research activities and most successful operating methods for the betterment of the industry.”[7] Winslow Russell spent several years working to convince insurance companies to come together to create the LISRB. As evidenced by a great deal of correspondence between these companies’ executives and Russell, though some were willing to participate, the vast majority were not. A July 18, 1921 letter from Clarence Stone, Assistant to the President and Agency Manager of Maryland Assurance Corporation stated that “At this time the Maryland Assurance Corporation is not prepared to become a member of this Bureau.” A letter from the same date sent to Mr. Russell by the President of National Guardian Life Insurance Company inWisconsin expressed concern that their company was too small to receive much benefit from membership. Many other letters echoed this sentiment. Many executives were also not content with the proposed $500 dollar fee. In another letter dated July 18, 1921 from Minor Morton, Vice President and Agency Manager at the Volunteer State Life Insurance Company, he approved of the creation of a Bureau, but was not willing to have his company pay for it.

There were, however, 13 companies that were willing to participate for a period of 3 years at the $500 annual rate:

American Central Life Insurance Company

Atlantic Life Insurance Company

Continental Life Insurance Company

Equitable Life Assurance Society of theU.S.

Federal Life Insurance Company

Guardian Life Insurance Company

Jefferson Standard Life Insurance Company

Lincoln National Life Insurance Company

National Fidelity Life Insurance Company

National Guardian Life Insurance Company

Phoenix Mutual Life Insurance Company

Standard Life Insurance Company

Union Central Life Insurance Company

The total operating budget for the LISRB in its first year was only $6,500, which Penny refers to as “‘shoe-string.’”[8] Russell responded to this by stating that “‘If the idea of the Bureau is sound, it will prosper and expand. If it is not, it will evaporate as many other experiments have evaporated, but at least in this case not much money will have been wasted.’”[9]

Ultimately, the aspect of the LISRB that made life insurance companies hesitant to become members is that which made the organization so successful and helped improve salesmanship in the industry. The LISRB then and LIMRA today works to bring together competing companies for the good of the institution of life insurance; to encourage friendly cooperation as opposed to strict individualism. This represented a new attitude in American and Canadian life insurance. How well the Bureau has succeeded in this phase of its work is clearly indicated by the number of companies represented at its meetings and frankness of the speakers on its programs.[10]

At the 1925 ALAO-LISRB Joint Annual Meeting, Charles Hommeger of Union Central stated that “The most significant thing about the Bureau is its mere existence, the fact that we have eighty-two companies pouring their information into the common pool for the benefit of the other companies.” The LISRB allowed life insurance companies to pool their data, thereby saving them time and money and allowing for more comprehensive and in-depth research for the entire industry, as “It was believed that all the companies could thus derive benefit from studies which they could not conduct independently or would find unreliable and very expensive.”[11]

The justification for the Bureau became quickly evident by its success and impact on the industry, as evidenced by the statement of Chandler Bullock of State Mutual at the 1932 ALAO-LISRB Joint Annual Meeting, wherein he stated that “we need it. It is a splendid clearinghouse for the collection and dissemination of the practices and ideas of the different company members on all angles of life insurance salesmanship. This function alone justifies its existence and our membership.” A 1939 article in Weekly Underwriter by Holcombe outlines the effect the LISRB had had on the industry within a relatively short period of time:

In the last 17 years the Bureau has achieved a position of leadership in agency affairs and enjoys the confidence of hundreds of agency and other company executives in the United Statesand Canada. In that period, the Bureau is told, it has contributed much to the better distribution of life insurance … The Bureau has greatly added to the store of information and facts on agency matters and has developed conceptions and principles of agency management which are now widely accepted.[12]

At the 1945 ALAO-LISRB Joint Annual Meeting, F. Robert Haviland of Connecticut General explained that “Sales management over the last twenty-odd years, certainly, has showed steady improvement in our business, and it is certainly fitting at this time to acknowledge that the Research Bureau in it honest interpretation of facts, and its willingness to tell the truth, no matter how it hurts, has been a great factor in that improvement.” Holcombe also claimed that “Much of the progress which has been made in putting agency operations in companies and agencies on a sounder financial basis has been the result of the Bureau’s research in this field.”[13] Penny claimed that “it has blazed a trail which has led to major improvements.”[14] Turner referred to it as “an efficient organization in the United States of inestimable value to the life offices there and in other countries.”[15] The LISRB and its manifestations as LIAMA and LIMRA have been, throughout their respective histories, referred to as the ‘scorekeeper’ of the industry.

The original method of cooperative research put forth by Winslow Russell has served as a model to other industries. Armstrong, in his 1944 article, had recommended this, claiming that “Many another industry could profit by the organization of a central research setup in which a staff engages in analysis of selling problems and techniques for everybody’s benefit. The life insurance industry plan is a distinguished example of just such a project.” He goes on to say that “many other industries have been attracted to the ideas of developing a cooperative sales research program and … developments in this direction seem likely for the post-war era.” [16] As early as 1925, Hommeger noted that “We are often asked by other lines of business how we get the co-operation we get in the Bureau and how the Bureau started.”


[1] Penny, W. Stewart. ‘1922-1942’. Manager’s Magazine. January-February 1942.

[2] Holcombe, John Marshall, Jr. ‘Managing Director Recalls Bureau’s Start as Association Enters Its Thirtieth Year’. Agency Management Review. January 1951.

[3] Armstrong, Terry. ‘The Life Insurance Sales Research Bureau: What It Is, How It Operates’. Sales Management. November 15, 1944.

[4] Turner, N. Graham. ‘The Life Insurance Sales Research Bureau’. Post Magazine and Insurance Monitor. January 19, 1929.

[5] Holcombe, John Marshall, Jr. ‘Some Activities and Accomplishments of the Life Insurance Sales Research Bureau’. Weekly Underwriter. May 1st, 1939.

[6] ‘Agency Plan Once Deemed Radical Now Lights Way: Phoenix Mutual Praised By National Underwriter.’ The National Underwriter. July 8th, 1937.

[7] Armstrong.

[8] Penny.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Turner.

[12] Holcombe, 1939.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Penny.

[15] Turner.

[16] Armstrong.

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