Meeting The Expectations Of Todays Agent

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Todays life insurance professional is being asked to bring more and more to the table. Take a securities license, for example. Five years ago it was mostly just a nice thing to have–today its practically a prerequisite for success.

Designations such as CLU, CFP, and ChFCor at the very least a verifiable effort to obtain them–are also becoming more important, as is getting licensed in more than one state.

Knowledge of equities, retirement plans, and the tax laws has become an expectation, as has proof that continuing education requirements are not only being met, but put into practice. And all of the above expectations are in addition to a working knowledge of the ever-changing market conduct rules and regulations.

But what about the agents needs and expectations?

All things being equal, what canindeed, what shouldan agent expect the companies that are clamoring for his or her business to bring to the table? When you actually sit down and think about it, the list is fairly substantial.

Product is usually the first item on an agents mind. Companies that expect to attract, retain, and motivate successful agents need to offer a broad portfolio of both insurance and equities-related products.

Whats more, they should give agents the ability to be licensed with a number of other carriers and, preferably, through a single clearing-house capable of handling both registered and non-registered products. Arrangements such as these not only reduce confusion and encourage consistency, but they can be factored into recognition and incentive programs as well.

An agent’s primary company should also be competitive in everything it manufactures. Simply having the best whole life, universal life, variable life, or term product isnt good enoughthe product wont always be number one, and no one product is ever the answer to every clients needs and objectives. Competitiveness across the board, however, allows agents to do what is truly in the best interests of their clients.

The primary company should also have a full-service broker/dealer with up-to-date platforms, technology, marketing, and a full array of proprietary and non-proprietary products and services.

The next expectation an agent should have is a strong marketing area. A company without strong marketing programs is unlikely to be much help in the way of putting agents in front of the people they need to be seeing to be successful. Toward that end, companies should market to their strengths, and not attempt to be all things to all people.

In addition, companies should offer more than just direct mail and they should have more than just one person assigned to answer the phone.

Attention should be paid not only to corporate branding, but also to branding at the agency and individual level. Lets face it, todays agent is so much more than an account representativehe or she is a one-person business/professional office with a unique identity.

Marketing programs capable of putting agents in front of as many qualified prospects as possible–on a favorable and ongoing basis–are essential to success in todays marketplace. Such programs should encompass a variety of selling strategies, from face-to-face to seminar selling, and they should extend to both the qualified and non-qualified marketplaces. Naturally, it goes without saying that they should also generate both leads and referrals.

Next on an agents list of expectations should be compensationof course, in terms of commissions and renewals–but also in terms of bonuses, incentives, co-ops, expense reimbursement, benefits (which may or may not include life and health coverage), pension programs, and 401(k) plans.

In short, the company should offer a total benefits and compensation package based on performance and include such areas as placement and persistency. Agents should expect their total compensation package to be competitive, consistent, equitable and fair.

Another important–some might say vital–area that agents need to consider is the level of support services the company offers. What kind of administrative support is available? What kind of training? Does it offerand track–continuing education credits? Is its technology current? What happens when you call the home office? Are you sent into a maze of voicemail and messages, or does a real person pick up and offer their assistance?

While these questions may seem far removed from the prospecting, marketing and sales process, they really arent. In fact, seasoned agents will tell you that quick, responsive Home Office support, be it help with illustrations or simple recognition for a job well done, is critical to success.

Along those same lines, what kind of support does the company offer at the agency level? Being part of a companys field office can make a lot of sense, both economically and in terms of keeping abreast of programs in the industry, the economy, and the home office. A solid, supportive agency offers agents the best of both worldsbeing in business for themselves, but not by themselves.

Another important question agents need to answer before signing on with a company is what kind of contracts it offers? With everything agents are asked to be these days, it shouldnt be a stretch to think that a company should be able to accommodate any one of the various methods agents have of organizing their business. In other words, the contract an agent signs should be based on his situation, not the companys. Look for a company that offers vested contracts, both corporate and individual, including full-time, part-time, or a combination of both.

Finally, look at the company itself. Does it know what it wants to be when it grows up? Many companies re-invent themselves year after year to accommodate the latest market trends, only to find themselves adrift when the winds of the marketplace change.

Look for a company with vision and directionone that not only knows where it is and who it serves, but where it is going. Then ask yourself: Is it agent oriented and committed to helping its associates meet their needs and objectives? Is it a good listener and communicator? Is it financially strong and well positioned to meet the needs of the markets in which it is operating? What about diversity? Does it offer life insurance, a full service broker/dealer, trust services, money management, a strong pension and retirement planning area, as well as highly trained advanced sales professionals? Is it progressive and aggressive, yet conservative when it comes to managing its clients assets? And equally important, is it licensed to do business in mostif not allof the 50 states? If not, why not?

Over the coming years, agents will be asked to bring ever more skills, licenses, and designations to the table. At the very least, they should expect the sameif not more

from the companies with which they do business.

is second vice president of agency development at National Life Insurance Company, from their regional office in Orlando, Fla. He may be reached via e-mail at pgreenfield@nationallife.com.


Reproduced from National Underwriter Life & Health/Financial Services Edition, January 7, 2002. Copyright 2002 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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