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On those occasions when our business has been criticized or under fire from lawmakers, an often heard lament from the field has been, “Dont they realize that what we do is important? Dont they realize how we save families and businesses in times of greatest distress?”

For many years the lament was nothing more than a cry for help from agents who felt they were being unfairly criticized and their products maligned out of ignorance and bias.

But then came the advent of the “Real Life Stories” sponsored and publicized by the Life and Health Insurance Foundation for Education (LIFE), the industrys answer to the aforementioned distress calls.

Each year LIFE invites agents to submit real-life stories where they and insurance products have made a difference in peoples lives. Out of the many cases submitted, five are selected to be featured in Newsweek magazine and other media in the coming year.

This year I had the honor of being asked to be one of the judges to select the final five. At this writing I have no idea who those final five will be, but I have done my own review of the candidates out of which the five will be selected, and I have a few observations.

First of all, I want to affirm that I have always been proud of the work that we do, the companies we represent and the products we sell. However, I do not believe that I have ever been more proud than when I reviewed the many entries to the “Real Life Stories” program. Some were so emotionally moving that I had to stop reading and do something else for a while to get myself back under control.

As I read the stories, I was reminded of some of my own experiences in the days when I was in the field. One of the interesting facts that was common to every one of the cases was that after becoming a policyholder, the insured and the agent (by whatever nomenclature they used) became good friends. A few had been good friends before they bought–but most of the friendships developed after the sale or sales.

This reminded me of an instance where I called on the owner of a well-drilling company. The prospect treated me rudely and would not grant an interview. As I was leaving, his office manager called me over and said, “Dont feel badly about the way you were treated, the owners only son was killed in a hunting accident two weeks ago and he is very bitter.”

Then he went on to say he would like to talk to me for he reasoned that it could just as well have been his son. The result was a policy on the son of the office manager.

Tragically, two years later, it was his son that was killed in an auto accident. I remained a friend of the office manager and his family for more than 30 years until his death 10 years ago. At the fathers death, his daughter said to me, “We always felt you were one of the family.” That was a common thread in all the cases I reviewed for “Real Life Stories.”

In virtually every case, the agent involved went above and beyond the call of duty. Wills, trusts, financial plans and partnership agreements that might never have been thought of came into being at the urging of the agents. One agent discovered a policy that was still in-force when the family had assumed it had lapsed before the insured died. The claim was paid because of an alert agent.

That incident also reminded me of a similar situation of my own. I was asked to settle a death claim on an orphan policyholder. After completing the necessary forms, I asked the widow if her husband had other insurance that I might help her with. She replied that the only other insurance was a group policy with my company, but he had been disabled for almost a year and the employer had gone out of business. I told her that there was a bare possibility he might still have been covered and that I would check it out. To make a long story short, it took three months for the company to investigate and verify that coverage did exist. The check I presented to her was larger than all her other policies combined–and totally unexpected.

The companies also fared well in these stories for even when faced with a doubtful claim, they stepped up to the plate to find a way to pay the claim rather than duck it on a technicality. One claims adjuster in just such a situation said to the agent involved, “Give me a reason to pay it.” The agent did and the company paid up promptly.

All of these stories, I believe, reinforce the personal nature of the relationship that exists between the insured and agent. There is no doubt about whose “customer or client” the insured relates to. There were other stories that brought back memories of my own field experience. One was a case were the family was so distraught over the death of a son that I had to make the funeral arrangements and pick out the gravesite.

Every agent that has been around for a while has had similar experiences and many will regard the “Real Life Stories” as a way to vicariously relive their own examples of the magic that our products can work.

As I have pondered this, I cannot think of another business or discipline that can make such a difference in real life.


Reproduced from National Underwriter Edition, June 23, 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.