When I wrote a piece several weeks ago in opposition to the “Do Not Call” list and its restrictions, I was reasonably sure I would catch some heat from people who disagreed. Well, the flak did materialize in letters, phone calls and private conversations. I even got a polite letter from my son who very diplomatically said I was dead wrong. We do have a very democratic family when it comes to differing views and I appreciated his willingness to try and straighten me out.

Those with differing views all made valid pointsthe chief one being that 51 million people like the list. Im not sure where that leaves the other 225 million Americans. Most of the rest of the criticism centered around the general ill-will toward the concept of cold calls and the intrusiveness.

I have never been an advocate of cold calls and in my almost 48 years in the business, I could count on one hand the number of people I have known who have used cold calls effectively. Most agents hate cold calls and are not good at them. I have in the past attended seminars on cold calling conducted by so-called “telephone experts” and always have found their tactics tasteless, if not ruthless. Cold calls are not the issue as far as I am concerned.

I also believe that the nuisance factor has been somewhat exaggerated. I am not on the D.N.C. list and continue to get calls (many automated) and I suspect, given the sucker lists that I am on, in a volume greater than most people. I made of point of timing the amount of time consumed answering such calls (and hanging up) and over a period of 5 days, it averaged less than 3 minutes a day.

There are a lot of things that annoy me more than that. Sitting in a booth in a restaurant while the person in the next booth talks for 20 minutes on a cell phone is to me more obnoxious. But do we pass a law against it? Loud and stupid commercials on TV drive me up the wall. But should they be outlawed because I find them to be a nuisance? What happened to our free market system?

There is no question that telemarketers have abused this marketing technique and some form of constraint does seem desirable. However, I believe the present “cure” is a classic case of “throwing out the baby with the bath water,” and a lot of people are likely to be hurt by it, our business being a case in point.

I believe it is important to perceive properly both the nature and the dynamics of our business to gain the insight needed to judge our activities. Our business operates essentially at 2 different and distinct levels. First there is the corporate level and that, in every sense of the word, is big business. Billions of dollars are traded and invested, and a high and important visibility is maintained. Corporate officers hobnob with investment bankers, real estate tycoons and others that are essential to making our financial markets work smoothly and to produce results for the common good. Sweeping rules and regulations affecting marketing do not have a direct or immediate effect on the conduct of that aspect of our business, although in the long run, the impact can be felt.

But at the consumer level, we are basically a cottage industryindividuals dealing with individuals. Cottage industries do not employ telephone banks in India and the Philippines to reach customers. Rather, it is a laborious process of one-on-one contact, often facilitated by the use of the telephone. The fact that an agent can telephone existing clientele is of little comfort to the new agent who has no existing customer base. And even established agents will soon discover they are talking to an ever-decreasing circle of customers if their ability to expand their clientele is inhibited.

LIMRA estimates that 94% of an agents business, in one way or another, can be traced to referred leads. But what good is a referred lead that you cannot call? Of course, you could go out and knock on their door, but what a waste of time, energy and fuel. Besides, isnt that even more intrusive than calling first to make an appointment at a convenient time?

One of the saddest plights an agent may experience is when an acquaintance dies without insurance and the family says, “Why didnt you come see us and tell us we needed insurance?” To which the agent lamely replies, “You knew I was selling insurance and I thought you should call me.” People dont call except in rare cases, and if the agent cant call, the system breaks down.

Because of its size, the broad social purpose served and the millions of people affected, for more than 100 years, lawmakers and the courts have adhered to the principle that the life insurance business is “affected with a public interest.” That public interest has manifested itself in the financial relief of millions on millions of families and businesses as well as helping to lubricate the wheels of our dynamic economy. The concept also has spawned thousands of rules, regulations and pieces of legislation to assure the continued availability of life insurance on a sound and equitable basis. Most of these measures have been directed at insurance companies to be certain that the public interest is served.

With the advent of the D.N.C. list, one could argue, and I believe quite correctly, that now the government itself has put in place a constraint on the publics access to this important social and financial tool that is truly “affected with a public interest.”

The old adage that “life insurance is sold, not bought” is as valid today as it ever was. It is a lot better to tolerate a few phone calls than to leave a family without the protection of life insurance they might have had.


Reproduced from National Underwriter Life & Health/Financial Services Edition, December 5, 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.