NAFA Annuity Distribution Summit Speakers

Keynote Speaker

Jared Weiner is EVP and chief strategy officer of The Future Hunters, one of the world’s leading futurist consulting firms. He looks at emerging global trends and helps identify the strategic implications (the “So what?”) of those trends for several of the most influential Fortune 500 companies, trade associations and public sector clients. His work is industry-agnostic, covering trend activity in the realms of science and technology, economics, politics, demographics and environmental issues. His ability to distinguish long-term trends from fads and help people identify profit opportunities that lie ahead by thinking in entirely new ways make him an invaluable asset to clients and presentation audiences alike.

The keynote speaker presentation is proudly sponsored by:


Jay Charles leads Luma’s annuity business as director of annuity products. He joined Luma in August of 2020 from Prudential Financial, where he led teams focused on developing and commercializing new strategic solutions for Prudential Annuities, including helping launch the carrier’s annuities on multiple fintech platforms. Previously, Jay served as vice president, commercial banking strategy at JP Morgan Chase & Co., where he managed projects focused on developing commercial banking growth strategies and improving operational efficiency and effectiveness, and as an associate for McKinsey & Co.

Chuck DiVencenzo joined NAFA in 2019 as its president and CEO, overseeing the association’s efforts to promote and expand the utilization of fixed and fixed index annuity products through independent distribution. His work on advocacy at the state and federal levels, thought leadership, consumer education efforts and commitment to industry best practices have aided product acceptance and industry growth. Previously, he held positions with Allianz Life and The Hartford, as well as Edward Jones, M&T Bank and National Benefits Group, developing relationships across the industry that help propel his vision for the association forward.

Alfred Eskandar is co-founder, president and COO of Salt Financial. He is responsible for driving the vision, business strategy and day-to-day operations of the firm. Alfred has more than 20 years of experience in financial technology and has been recognized multiple times as one of the most influential and innovative trading technology executives by Institutional Investor Magazine. He serves as an advisor to multiple emerging tech firms, a frequent industry speaker and a popular press contributor. Alfred holds a BBA in Finance and Economics from Baruch College.

Cody Foster is the co-founder of Advisors Excel in Topeka, Kan. Since its founding in 2005, the firm has grown from a team of three to a staff of more than 800 employees, a story that has been featured in multiple publications. In 2015, Cody founded AIM Strategies to bring his passion and knowledge for entrepreneurship into other areas including real estate, hospitality and community development. As a result of these successes, he and his wife set up the AIM5 Foundation to invest in young people and faith-based initiatives.

Wes Gilbreath joined Annexus in 2020 as chief financial officer. In addition to overseeing the organization’s financial health and helping reinforce its strategic positioning in the industry, he played an integral role in the company’s merger with Integrity Marketing Group in 2022. A true academic with degrees in economics, law, and finance and accounting — as well as being a certified CPA — Wes previously applied his skills and expertise in successful tenures with Deloitte and Continental Heritage Insurance Company.

Alan Grissom is the CEO of 12 South Capital, an independent firm focused on creating index-based investment strategies for financial products. Prior to founding 12 South Capital in 2022, Alan spent the previous 12 years with S&P Dow Jones Indices culminating as the Head of Business North America and the Global Head of Insurance with a remit covering over $13.5 trillion of assets. Previously, he established and led the independent distribution channel at AIG after guiding the retirement products division to record success.

David Jones is a director of iShares investment strategy and markets coverage for BlackRock. Based in New York, he and the team focus primarily on delivering global macro thought leadership, investment insights, ETF implementation, and education and trading guidance to both retail and institutional clients. Previously, he held roles at Bank of America Securities, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the Desk of the New York Fed’s Markets Group from 2006 to 2014.

Joshua Levine, CFA®, is a vice president of insurance sales at Bank of America where he is responsible for delivering innovative solutions to insurance companies with a focus on investable indices. Josh began his career at J.P. Morgan covering clients across both the investment bank and private bank. His responsibilities in these roles included advising ultra-high net worth private clients on asset allocation and building tailored investment portfolios across global asset classes, as well as overseeing manufacturing and distribution of cross-asset structured investments and investible indices through BDs and RIAs.

Luke Loewen leverages more than 13 years in the industry in his role as vice president of Gradient Annuity Brokerage, an independent marketing organization that is part of the Gradient Financial Group family of companies. Founded in 2005 with a vision of empowering financial services professionals to expand and elevate their businesses through powerful tools, technology and support, Gradient’s mission is to connect both consumers and financial services professionals to a confident financial future.

Doug Massey is the executive vice president of sales for Hexure. Doug helps define and manage product and go-to-market strategies for Hexure. Doug is a 30-year veteran of the insurance and financial services technology space, helping streamline and automate the marketing and sales of insurance products. He has helped develop three successful startups, InsurQuote, Blue Frog Solutions, and CapitalRock, and worked with firms across the industry to automate the sale and processing of annuities and life insurance. Doug participated in defining the IRI standards and helped design and bring to market annuity and life order entry solutions.

Kevin Mechtley serves as vice president, business development and chief innovation officer for North American, where he is dually focused on new product innovation and strategic relationship building. He leverages nearly 20 years of annuity industry experience to lead new product ideation processes, oversee competitive intelligence and work with annuity group leadership to prioritize business development opportunities. Previously, Kevin was part of North American’s legal team where he led the government affairs unit. He is also the current vice chairman of NAFA’s board of directors.

Steve Murray is the president and CEO of Insurance Agency Marketing Services (IAMS). Since joining 29 years ago, he has been instrumental in leading the independent marketing organization, serving thousands of independent producers nationally. Before joining IAMS, he acquired 39 years of experience in the financial services brokerage market.

Branislav Nikolić is an established thought leader specializing in annuities and retirement income planning. He joined The Index Standard as head of insurance after a decade at Cannex Financial Exchanges, where he held the role of vice president of research. During his time at Cannex, he was instrumental in extending the organization’s strong presence in the retirement income space. He is a prolific author for business and trade publications and a frequent speaker at insurance seminars.

Andrew Payne is vice president and general counsel of CreativeOne, where he works closely with compliance and in-house actuaries to protect and further the company’s business interests. He is frequently featured on webinars and podcast episodes providing updates on regulatory and legislative issues impacting the industry, including the ongoing evolution of the DOL fiduciary rule. Andrew concurrently serves as the treasurer of NAFA’s Board of Directors and is a former chair of NAFA’s Government and Legal Affairs Committee.

Sara Pollock is director, multi-asset indices at S&P Dow Jones Indices. Her responsibilities are focused on the product management of multi-asset and option indices, which cover a variety of outcome-oriented index solutions including managed volatility, retirement, dynamic allocation, inflation hedging, sustainability and absolute return. Prior to S&P DJI, Sara managed multi-asset products in a variety of wrappers including closed-end funds, mutual funds, separately managed accounts and model portfolios at Nuveen, PIMCO and Federated Hermes. She also served as a portfolio manager for covered call and hedged equity portfolios.

Robert “Bobby” Powell, vice president of wealth management sales, joined iPipeline in 2017 following the acquisition of Laser App software. He spent 15 years with Laser App as the vice president of sales and marketing. In his current role with iPipeline, Bobby leads the wealth management and Insurance distribution sales teams. The focus of these two teams is to support the wealth management and insurance distributors with the tools needed to succeed.

Arik Rashkes is managing director and head of Houlihan Lokey’s insurance practice. He has more than 20 years of experience in financial services, having previously held roles at Blackstone Advisory Partners, Deutsche Bank and Citi. Arik has also executed a wide variety of notable transactions, including for multiple Fortune 500 and international companies, small-caps, entrepreneurs, and private equity investors. He is based in the firm’s New York office.

Kristen Rost is the vice president of the Nationwide Foundation and a senior director in the Office of Corporate Citizenship. In this role, she is responsible for the implementation of Nationwide’s national philanthropic strategy and the overall operation of the Nationwide Foundation, including overseeing Nationwide’s civic and community engagement strategies. Throughout her career, Kristen has devoted herself to issues affecting children and families and has held several roles in education and health and human services policy and program management.

Ron Shurts was born in a small town in Nebraska and started his career selling life insurance to individuals and farmers. In 1992, Ron pursued his curiosity around business growth by starting his first IMO, which is now responsible for more than $1 billion a year in fixed indexed annuity sales. In 2005, he co-founded Annexus, which currently boasts $50+ billion in AUM. He has since co-founded Annexus Retirement Solutions, Ashton Thomas and Amplify in other industry ventures. In 2022, Annexus entered into an agreement to merge with Integrity Marketing Group and Ron became a managing partner of the venture.

Joe Swanson leads the cybersecurity and privacy practice at Carlton Fields. A former federal prosecutor, Joe has gained vast expertise and the ability to advise clients on a variety of issues ranging from drafting incident response guides to complying with privacy laws and regulations. He routinely investigates and responds to data breaches, ransomware attacks, phishing attacks, business email compromises, wire diversion schemes, and similar cyber incidents.