By Jack Bobo

Some years ago, after graduating from college with a degree in finance and insurance and with some field experience under his belt, my son Glen decided to test the European life insurance market. Being fluent in Danish, he was able to gain employment with an insurance company in Copenhagen, Denmark. As part of that experience, he spent several months working as an underwriter.

In talking to him about that exposure, I soon learned that an “app” means different things to different people. He related that, as a home office underwriter, he quickly began to form negative attitudes toward the field. In the underwriting department, apps were paperwork and often a source of problems. Misspelled names slowed processing and poor handwriting complicated interpretation. Other mistakes made processing the apps a bigger chore than it needed to be. Further slowing down the process were numerous calls from agents trying to break loose cases, without realizing that such calls caused further delay.

People in field offices have some of the same problems. Mistakes in premium calculations, addresses or insurance amounts all have to be corrected. Then, there is the inevitable crush of apps at the end of a club year, a contest period or qualification for the Million Dollar Round Table. Computers and improvement in communications, while helping to streamline the process, are not without their own problems.

But to an agent, an app is something else again. It may be the culmination of effort that has extended over a very long period of time. It may have been signed at midnight or in the middle of a cornfield where the quality of handwriting was a minor consideration. To the agent an app may be the result of a thousand direct mail letters or dozens of cold calls. Sometimes, they come easy, more often they do not. An app can be the end product of a comprehensive estate or financial plan, or simply the result of a phone call from a repeat customer.

The regular generation of large apps requires years of study and experience and the stamina to deal with apathy, buyer’s remorse and competition. Suffice it to say, to agents an app is their reason for being; it is what finally counts in judging their worth. It’s a touchdown, a home run or the victory cup. To others, an app is a routine part of a job and with little, if any, glory attached to it.

Given the natural disparity of interests, it is little wonder that conflicts between home office and field exist. It is hard to build an effective team when the objectives of the players are not similarly focused.

For years sailors have debated what the deciding factor was in the spectacular win by the “Stars and Stripes” in the America’s Cup race some 20 years ago.

Was it the high tech hull, the pattern of sails or the clock-like precision of the sailing team? Not being a sailor myself, I only can speculate that it was probably all of the above. It was obvious, though, that all parties were focused upon one goal–the America’s Cup. Like our business, the glory was not spread equally among the participants, but then neither would have been the resulting blame if they had failed.

The one fundamental difference between home office and field, with respect to apps, is compensation and perhaps glory. With the agent, the linkage between success and failure is direct. Insofar as other parties, the linkage is still there, but it is indirect and often indistinct. But somehow I believe everyone understands that new business is essential to the success of the company.

Not many agents can spend six months in an underwriting department experiencing the trails and tribulations of those who turn apps into policies. Moreover, few if any in the underwriting department will ever spend time in the field where apps originate. However, that does not mean we cannot make every effort to understand our differing perspectives of what an app is. Understanding breeds respect and respect begets the harmony and efficiency of a winning team.

It seems to me then that the important question is how we can get everyone to focus on a single objective much as the people working with Dennis Conner on the “Stars and Stripes.”

Understanding what an app is from everyone’s perspective may be a good place to start in building a cohesive team of home office and the field. There is no substitute for an app and it is a worthy goal for all to focus upon.

In September we will again be telling our story to the public through the “Life Insurance Awareness Month” program. A winning team should involve all those who are involved in both the selling and production of our products. In one way or another, we will have a stake in the appreciation and acceptance of our products and services by the public.

Regardless of perspective, it is the app that brings us together in our primary mission–it should never be an instrument to pull us apart.

‘To agents an app is their reason for being; it is what finally counts in judging their worth. It’s a touchdown, a home run or the victory cup. To others, an app is a routine part of a job and with little, if any, glory attached to it.’