Compliance is often seen as a barrier to sales success when it really doesn’t have to be. The extra steps required by compliance sometimes can create delays and frustrations, and tempt agents to take dangerous shortcuts. Questionable short-term solutions to compliance sometimes can lead to long-term problems as shortcuts undermine the quality of the sale. Agents who take too many shortcuts sometimes end up finding themselves under scrutiny, which can end up leading to sanctions and fines.
What can an agent do to keep compliance from being a sales success barrier? The following are some ideas agents can use to help themselves avoid problems.
1. Know the rules. Educate yourself about what compliance means. You can’t make compliance easy if you don’t understand it. In its simplest sense, compliance is doing to others what you would want done to you. It has rules and regulations you must know to meet the expectations of companies and regulators. Build a reference library of the manuals and guides provided by the companies you represent. Check the websites of the states in which you are licensed for updates. Read industry publications. Invest some of your continuing education credits in compliance-related courses.
2. Take responsibility. Blaming others for compliance problems doesn’t help you get in compliance and stay there. Only you can make what you do the right thing to do for your clients. Set high standards for yourself and your staff. Though others may take questionable shortcuts, don’t use that as a rationale for doing the same. Compliance-savvy agents know they cannot rely on anyone but themselves to keep from making possible compliance errors.
3. Learn from the past and move on. You cannot change the past. If you have made compliance mistakes, admit them. Learn from your mistakes and get on with your business life. Don’t try to justify what you did in the past by repeating it. Understand where you went wrong and why, as a first step in avoiding future errors.
4. Enjoy selling. Don’t allow your concerns about compliance get in the way of making your living. Compliance is only one factor that influences selling. Put it in perspective and don’t let it consume what you do and how you do it.
5. Simplify. Eliminate the unnecessary and the unimportant parts of selling that create compliance issues. Eliminate the barriers to being in compliance like disorganization, lack of planning, etc. Focus on the necessary and the important. Know the difference between what is required and what is just suggested in company policies and procedures.
6. Invest in compliance. Spend the money to reduce the complications posed by compliance rules and regulations. Compliance is a part of doing business and requires an investment in systems. It also requires an investment in time and focus. Extra, high security file cabinets, scanning documents, training for administrative staff, attendance at meetings, new computers, more efficient needs analysis software, etc., can help reduce potential compliance issues.
7. Be positive. Maintain a positive, can-do attitude with respect to compliance. The more negative you are about being in compliance with rules and regulations, the more difficult it becomes to stay in compliance. Being in compliance can be a mental challenge because some agents react negatively to the implication that they would ever commit an impropriety.
8. Work smarter. The difference between an agent who masters compliance and one who struggles to get it right isn’t that one is smarter or harder working than the other. Focus on what you do best and delegate the rest. Use your administrative staff to manage and follow up on the compliance-related work that they are capable of doing. Let them help you keep in compliance by reducing the nonessential compliance work.
9. Get help and take help. There are a lot of resources available from companies and other compliance-savvy agents and managers, but you first have to ask for the help. Once you get it, you need to accept it and use it to make it valuable. Seek out knowledgeable compliance contacts at the companies you represent. Look to management for advice on potential compliance issues, before taking action and putting yourself at possible risk.
10. Be a pro. A sales pro has a game plan worked out in advance for every sale. Most compliance problems occur when you don’t follow your game plan. If you don’t have a game plan for every sale, then you just are looking for trouble. Many market conduct problems can be traced back to a disorganized sales process. Good sales process planning means that you are prepared to analyze the clients’ needs fully and provide proper disclosure. You cover all of the required steps in the client education process and make certain that you fully and fairly have presented your recommendations.
Dennis Groner, Ph.D., CLU, ChFC, is a principal in Groner & Associates, a Livingston, N.J., consulting firm providing compliance and market conduct support to the financial services industry. He can be reached by e-mail at GronerAssociates@aol.com.