Lawyers, it seems, have always been the butt of jokes: some funny, some cruel. They have also been referred to in unflattering terms such as ‘shyster’ and ‘ambulance chaser.’ I don’t know where this practice began; perhaps with Shakespeare when, in his play Henry VI, he penned his famous quote, “the first thing we do is kill all the lawyers.”
The foregoing describes, in a pejorative way, the view of many people of lawyers as a class. And yet, some of our most honored and distinguished persons, when considered individually, are lawyers. In speaking of their personal lawyer people are likely to say something like, “My lawyer is different-really great.” I have my own bias regarding the hordes of personal injury and product liability lawyers who are abusing our tort system and burdening our healthcare system with enormous costs. But again, my personal lawyer is great, and I admire him and his ability enormously.
I mention this because I believe there is a parallel in other professions, and in particular, those who sell life insurance. Like the lawyer, the life insurance agent has been the subject of many bad jokes. The old bromide–”There is no one with endurance like the man who sells insurance”–has been around a long time and was not meant to be complimentary. And yet, when you think about it, despite the intent, it really is a compliment. There have been countless thousands of families that owe their financial survival to the persistence of some agent who would not take no for an answer.
Many writers today refer to the fact that the preferred nomenclature for insurance salespeople is now “advisor” because of the poor image of the agent. I believe that surveys that support this concept overlook one important fact. Again, like lawyers, as a class, agents may be looked upon unfavorably–but policyholders view their own personal agent in a very different light.
In my former business I was a specialty salesman working with automotive, farm, and industrial jobbers. I helped them make sales of my products and to make money. Nothing endears one to a businessman like helping him improve his bottom line. Many of these former customers became my policyholders and clients when I made the transition to life insurance. To my surprise, my relationship with these people became more prestigious and important to them as their life insurance agent than as a profit center. I became more acquainted with their personal lives and their plans for the future than ever before and I was proud to be their agent.
We have also had our share of unflattering labels to contend with over the years, some stupid, others oblivious of the work we do. Perhaps the most offensive label I know of is ‘product pusher.” This usually refers to someone selling single or limited lines of financial products–most notably insurance. I find this terminology incomprehensible because I have always thought of the sale of life insurance as a problem-solving endeavor. I believe that because the sale of life insurance starts with a “problem.” This may be a simple need to pay off a mortgage or a complicated stock redemption plan in a corporation. You can “push” all you want, but if there is no problem to solve, a sale is highly unlikely.
The unique thing about life insurance is that most of the problems it solves cannot be done any other way. It buys the time that other solutions or products cannot grant. I have also observed that most of the top producers (the legends of the business) that I know personally, despite having an array of products available, still concentrate on solving problems with life insurance. Do they provide all of the financial needs their clients have? Of course not–but they are content to tackle the problems others cannot touch and I am sure they do not regard themselves as a “product pusher” just because they limit the products they sell.
There are a good many fine financial services organizations offering a full array of financial products and advice and most do a great job. But I have always observed that most bring a bias to the table that stems from their original orientation. Advice is often opinion based upon past experience and beliefs. Changing one’s title does not necessarily destroy beliefs that have been built up over many years.
Sometimes titles are confusing in that they may imply too much. This, from what I read, is a growing concern of regulators, and rightly so. I still remember a late night call I received from a policyholder asking that I return the policies I was servicing for him at the time. He said he had an appointment with a financial analyst who happened to be a member of a prominent family my policyholder did business with. I got the policies back 2 days later after my client learned that the so-called analyst was an insurance agent in the business less than 3 months.
Two of my favorite speakers were Dr. Ed Timmons and Dr. Hugh Russell, both psychologists. In one way or another they both made the point that it was important to lead a life that was congruent–both personally and in business. Their point being, you should hold yourself out for what you really are and not be a captive to pretension. Success and happiness in business can be achieved in many ways, but one is most comfortable in success if they are a congruent person. Labels should always reflect reality.