I really appreciated Larry Coxs very kind letter, which appeared in the March 24 edition of National Underwriter. His letter sort of makes up for some of those that are not so kind. In his letter, Larry expanded upon my coverage of a speech given to the Life Communicators Association by Gus Cooper, and he did so from the perspective of one who was at the meeting and heard the presentation.
Larry made the point in his letter that Coopers presentation, as well as one by Tom Wolff, who was being presented with LCAs Financial Security Nest Egg Award, produced an unexpected response from some in the audience. Both Cooper and Wolff referred to sales of life insurance in the context of “old time religion” and did so fervently, according to Cox.
Cox said that after the speeches some commented, “Life Insurance is not a religion and were insulted.” This from the people charged with the responsibility of bringing our message to the public.
Larry Coxs letter served as a reminder of my own experience with the LCA, formerly the Life Advertisers Association. Cox mentioned that in 1978, I was the first recipient of the Financial Security Nest Egg Award. It is important to note that I received the award, not because of my own achievements, but rather as a representative of all agents and their work. In 1978, I was president of the National Association of Life Underwriters and it was in that capacity that I was selected to receive the award. The Crystal Egg presented to me still resides at the headquarters of the National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors, its rightful place.
I mention this because it was obvious to all that in selecting the agents of America as the first recipients of its award, there was a very positive and pro-field attitude in the organization at that time.
Now, move forward to September 1990 when I was once again invited to address this group, now known as the LCA. I shared the platform in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, with Steve Forbes and Jane Bryant Quinn. It was, to say the least, a different world. The group seemed younger and with a higher percentage of women–but that could just have been my own perception. It just seemed to me some of the “old pros” were not there.
Because of what I had perceived as a somewhat lack of understanding of the role of the agent, I tried to focus on that issue in my presentation. My central theme was to point out that life underwriters were not in the business of selling policies, but rather, they were about solving problems that defied other solutions.
To accomplish this, I walked them through a typical partnership sale. I started with the prospecting phase of the sale, which led into the process of helping the partners understand a problem that in most cases they didnt even know they had. Once the problem was understood, then came the attempt to find a solution other than insurance. I pointed out that there were no other viable solutions.
At the point where the situation seems hopeless, the agent offers life insurance to fund some sort of buy and sell agreement, thereby providing an ideal solution. The point which I tried to make was that life underwriters, by whatever name they are called, sell plans and the policy is the funding mechanism that makes them possible.
Of course, I spoke of other things of relevance to the business at that time, but my main purpose was to try to help the company communicators understand what happens in the field and at the point of sale of their products.
The only feedback that I received was a nasty letter from a woman who objected to my characterization of the need for people to “face reality.”
But the part of that meeting that I recall most vividly was the presentation by Jane Bryant Quinn. Quinn, as our perennial critic, was a known quantity and so I was able to accurately anticipate what she would be saying. I tried as best I could, without being antagonistic, to blunt some of her criticism in my own remarks, but it was obvious that I was not very successful.
During her presentation, I was amazed at the number of heads in the audience that were wagging up and down, signifying agreement, as she dragged agents through the mud of her own perception of our marketplace.
Incredibly, not one single company person challenged any of her accusatory statements. Needless to say, I left the meeting somewhat downhearted and it would appear, from Larry Coxs letter, that the situation remained the same in 1996.
It is obvious that something besides the name changed in that organization between 1978 and 1990. Given the absolutely vital role communicators play in marketing, understanding reality is crucial. To the public the agent is the company, and the wise CEO and communicator understand that.
To a person whose 401(k) is now a 201(k), it matters little that the company that sold the plan is still strong and ensconced in a gleaming tower in a big city. It is the agents job to hold these peoples hand and offer hope for better times.
I believe that all communicators would be better able to do their job if they were required to periodically spend some time in the field to see what really happens at point of sale and the continuing service provided by the agent.
Reproduced from National Underwriter Edition, June 9, 2003. Copyright 2003 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.