By Jack Bobo

Like many other businesses, the early days of marketing life insurance were very primitiveparticularly if measured by todays standards. There were mistakes in judgment and in practices by both agents and companies. As the industry matured and leaders began to emerge, the level of concern over the consequences of such mistakes began to rise. The public perception of the business also suffered greatly. It was not uncommon to see signs in the lobbies of buildings that read: “No peddlers, solicitors or insurance agents allowed.”

One of the major reasons the National Association of Life Underwriters (now the National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors) was created in 1890 was to establish some order out of the chaos that permeated our marketplace then. As the organization began to take root and became a factor in addressing our problems, it became clear that the primary thing the field force lacked was education and skills training.

A number of attempts to remedy this situation were made by a handful of NALU leaders but with only limited success. It seems hard to believe given todays emphasis on education, but the insurance companies showed little or no interest in supporting agent education. There is no record that I have seen as to why this was true, so I have to conclude it was because they simply did not wish to spend the money. This is also why I am concerned today when I see some companies cutting back on their allocations for agent education and training. It is true, education is expensivebut then ignorance is even more costly.

A major breakthrough occurred in 1915 when Dr. Solomon Huebner agreed to write the first-ever textbook of life insurance and NALU agreed to guarantee the financing of its publication. More importantly, though, this began one of our most vital partnerships: the insurance business and academia.

Dr. Huebner was a guiding light for the industry, lifting up the possibility of professionalism and the development of a scientific way to measure the “human life value” for insurance purposes. It was a wonderful partnership and ultimately led to the creation of the American College of Life Underwriters (now American College) by NALU.

There have been other partners from academia. Dr. Arthur M. Spalding, professor of marketing and selling at the University of Pittsburgh, was the first paid staff member of the American College of Life Underwriters, helping to create applications for CLU exams, study lists and criteria, and arranging for examination centers. Since the colleges humble beginning in 1927 there has been a steady stream of academics who have made significant contributions to the maturing of our business. Without this partnership I am convinced we still would be struggling with some of our early day problems.

Other professors and institutions also have been part of this partnership. From my early days in the business I can recall inspiring messages from several great professors. Hal Nutt of Purdue and Chuck Gaines (Texas, I believe) were able to simplify our sales process. Professor Timmons of Louisiana and Dr. Hugh Russell helped us untangle the mysteries of human behavior so that we could better serve our clientele while at the same time keep our own heads on straight.

But the one member of this partnership I remember most fondly is Dr. Kenneth Black Jr., who passed away just recently. One of the outstanding university insurance programs in the country is at Georgia State University and was for many years headed by Ken Black. He was a great friend of the industry, contributing immensely to our growth by his teaching and the books he authored or co-authored. One of the most significant of these was a text he co-authored for use in Part V of CLU and was entitled, “Human Behavior and Life Insurance.”

Several years ago Dr. Black sent me an autographed copy of the 13th edition of the textbook “Life and Health Insurance”; which he co-authored with Dr. Harold Skipper, also of Georgia State University. The first edition was, of course, Dr. Huebners book in 1915but what a difference the years have made.

Dr. Black was faithful in attending industry meetings and always was available when the industry needed him for advice and consultation. He was a true friend.

For his contribution to our business as part of this partnership he was selected to receive the John Newton Russell Memorial award in 1999. This is the highest award the industry can bestow upon an individual. And it was a most popular choice among those attending the ceremony where the award was presented.

H.G. Wells once observed, “Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe.” From Dr. Huebner to Dr. Black our partnership with academia has led us in paths that have brought fulfillment and professionalism, while avoiding catastrophe.


Reproduced from National Underwriter Edition, March 25, 2005. Copyright 2005 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.