Insurance Terminology

What is an IMO?

All of these terms can get confusing - we'll try to help you understand the differences

IMO, FMO, BGA, MGA, GA - What does it all mean?

If you’ve spent any amount of time as an independent life insurance agent in this industry, you’ve probably heard these terms pretty regularly: IMO, FMO, BGA, MGA, and GA.

You’ve likely already gathered that these terms refer to different types of life insurance marketing organizations that independent insurance agents can join to gain certain benefits. What you may be less clear on is the difference between these different types of organizations. The truth is, there are no absolutely clear definitions on what constitutes an IMO or an FMO, for example. But in this article we’ll try our best to provide some clarity.

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Life Insurance Organization Types

IMO: Independent Marketing Organization

What is an IMO?
An independent marketing organization (IMO) is a top-level organization that is licensed to sell life insurance products, usually in all states. An IMO partners with the carriers they choose to represent (some as few as three or four, but others with dozens of carriers) and contracts directly with those carriers to sell their insurance products. Typically, an IMO then contracts groups or agencies (BGAs and MGAs, not individual agents) into their organization to sell insurance products. In return for the override they earn from the agencies’ production, an IMO provides value to the agencies through providing access to marketing, training, and support for their agents.

MGAs and BGAs who join the same IMO also enjoy the camaraderie of being in the same group, as well as having more weight to throw around as a group for the purposes of negotiating service contracts and raising any issues at the carrier level. Many IMOs also provide perks like incentive trips to exotic destinations for the top-producing individual and groups within their organizations. From an individual agent’s perspective, choosing a MGA or BGA with the right IMO relationship can have a huge impact on your business. As with anything else, some IMOs offer much greater value to their downline than others. The quality of the marketing and training programs can vary greatly from IMO to IMO, so doing your research is important.

FMO: Field Marketing Organization

What is an FMO?
Generally speaking, an FMO is the same thing as an IMO, but on the annuity side of the business as opposed to the life insurance side. With more life insurance groups growing their annuity business and vice versa, the lines between IMO and FMO have become blurred, leading to some confusion.

It might be easiest to just regard “IMO” and “FMO” as interchangeable terms with no real difference between them, other than perhaps providing some insight into what products they mainly specialize in.

MGA: Managing General Agent

What is an MGA?
A managing general agent (MGA) is typically the head of an insurance agency or a group of agents. MGAs may partner with IMOs or FMOs and are usually situated directly downline from those top-of-hierarchy organizations.

An MGA is characterized by their own group of downline agents who they contract underneath the MGA in return for support, guidance, training, and sometimes even a physical office space from which to work. MGAs typically earn the highest contracts available outside of IMOs and FMOs.

BGA: Brokerage General Agency

What is a BGA?
Similar to the relationship between IMOs and FMOs, a brokerage general agency (BGA) is very similar to an MGA and the two terms have almost become synonymous in the industry. BGAs contract and work with individual agents to provide access to carrier contracts, IMO tools and benefits, field training, support, etc.

GA: General Agents

What are GAs?
General agents (GAs) are highly-producing agents with top agent contracts and (possibly) a small downline of agents that they support with training and guidance. Typically, a GA contracts under an MGA or BGA and connects their agents to the benefits and resources that MGA/BGA (and, in effect, their upline IMO) provides.

The Takeaway?

The lines between these different hierarchical organizations and groups may seem fuzzy, and that’s largely due to there not being any real set rules for what constitutes an MGA vs a BGA or an IMO vs an FMO. In the end, the most important thing is that an agent knows the quality of the organizations he or she is hitching their wagon to.

Picking the right MGA or BGA to partner with should have everything to do with the IMO or FMO they are associated with and what benefits are being provided from a training, marketing, and support level. Contract levels are important, too – but the real value of an IMO lies in the not just the promises they make about providing value, but whether they deliver the goods.

Alliance Group, for example, is a national IMO with over 25 years of experience and an industry-leading digital marketing and training platform that is available to each of its agents nationwide. Click here to see an example of the value a quality IMO should be expected to deliver.


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