Have We Lost Focus?

During the sports section of the evening news on TV, there is often an interview with someone from either a winning or losing team offering insight on the results of a game just played.

Invariably, spokesmen for winning teams point to the fact that they were focused on the essentials of the game and that was why they outscored their opponents. Likewise, losers usually lament the fact that the team was not able to stay focused, thereby letting the game get away from them. Professionals know that skill alone is not enoughyou also must focus those skills toward the end you want to achieve.

Whenever I see one of these interviews, I am reminded of an incident that occurred about 15 years ago. I was attending a party at home of Shirley and Stan Liss when Ben Feldman approached me. Ben, in his inimitable fashion, said to me, “BOH…BOH!! What ever happened to life insurance? We can do something no one else can do, why is everyone turning their back on it? Why do we insist on playing on someone elses turf?”

Good questions, and perceptive at an early stage of transition for many people in our business. While not expressing his concern in the parlance of a pro-athlete, he was nevertheless talking about the same thing–a matter of focus. Were we losing it was his question.

Now, 15 years later, I hear people starting to ask the same questions. It is only a low rumble at this juncture, but my instincts tell me it is getting louder as more and more people are asking how to get back into the life insurance business.

There is, I believe, a realization beginning to set in that having an array of products to sell is good so long as you do not lose focus on your core products.

The lack of focus is evident in many ways, but perhaps the most significant is the deterioration in agent training. A few companies have already discovered that they have a generation–or more–of agents who were never properly trained to sell life insurance. The drop in CLU and LUTC enrollments also gives testimony to this problem.

I believe LIMRA is doing a good job of exploding some of the myths that have damaged industry focus in recent years. So many decisions have been made and opinions expressed on vital industry issues on suppositions that are clearly false. Such suppositions may, in some cases, be valid in a small or special market, but they do not apply generally to our marketplace.

One of LIMRAs latest publications, “Rhetoric vs. Reality,” takes apart 18 such myths that have become part of what some people call “conventional wisdom.” When I was a kid, there was a popular expression that said: “Its fun to be fooled, but it is more fun to know.” LIMRA research helps us to know rather than be fooled.

I recommend “Rhetoric vs. Reality” to everyonebut in the meantime, I have two favorite observations from this publication. First, it makes the important point that insurance and investments are not interchangeable. Certainly an affirmation of Ben Feldmans “We can do something no one else can do.” Second, the publication makes the point that historical patterns of distribution have not materially changed, with agents still bringing in 97% of the premium income.

In light of this, it is hard to understand why so much energy and resources are spent pursuing the 3% while cutting back on training and support of those who produce the 97%.

LIMRA also notes the huge market that is being underserved by our industry. Statistics from both LIMRA and the Life and Health Insurance Foundation for Education show that our market is far from saturated. When only 65% of parents with young children own insurance (and only 43% own an individual policy), you know we have plenty of work to do. Clearly, we have a business where demand is still strong.

I am reminded that when I was a child I was covered by a $500 policy from Met Life. That doesnt sound like much today, but in 1933 that face amount was equivalent to more than 25% of my fathers annual income. How many kids could make that claim today? Not many, I suspect. But it wasnt just my brother and me that were insured in this manner–virtually everyone, even some of the newest immigrants, understood that insurance was a necessity.

So, how do we get back into the life insurance business? First of all, we need to sell ourselves on the essentiality of life insurance in any financial plan. As David Woods, president of LIFE, puts it, “A financial plan without life insurance is just a savings and investment plan, and it dies when we die.”

In response to a growing demand, LIFE has produced a field managers kit, “Focus on Life Insurance.” It is designed to be used in field offices to bolster convictions about the importance of life insurance as the foundation of any financial plan. The kit features a video with interviews with sales stars like Brian Ashe, past president of Million Dollar Round Table, and Charlie Epstein, Top of the Table producer. Both make telling points about the essentiality of life insurance.

Also featured on this video is Csaba Czikiat, Ph.D., developer of the “Advocacy System” of prospecting and selling. He maintains that selling life insurance is difficult because for the most part people live in a state of denial regarding anything bad happening to them, such as death or disability. He reasons that agents (and agents only) break down this denial by acting as advocates for others, such as widows and dependents.

He is also a proponent of “formatting,” which he describes as a means of energizing ones beliefs. The real life stories, also contained on the video, are an excellent way for agents to energize their beliefs vicariously.

The “Focus on Life Insurance” kit is excellent and I commend LIFE for this effort to help us regain the focus many have lost. Since it is abundantly clear that maintaining ones focus provides a competitive edge in sports, one cannot help but wonder why it is not emphasized more in the equally competitive world of business.


Reproduced from National Underwriter Life & Health/Financial Services Edition, September 10, 2001. Copyright 2001 by The National Underwriter Company in the serial publication. All rights reserved.Copyright in this article as an independent work may be held by the author.


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