This past October, Gladys and I celebrated a milestone with family and a few friends. The occasion marked the 65th anniversary of our first date. We met in October 1943 by sheer accident while I was stationed at Luke Field near Phoenix. Eighteen months later, at the tail end of World War II we were married. As I reflected upon the years we have spent together, two things dominated my thoughts.
I marveled at how quickly the time has passed and how much water has gone under the bridge these past 65 years. It seems only yesterday that the war was over and I was making my way back to civilian life. It is also hard to realize that in a few months I will have spent 53 years in the insurance business in one capacity or another. Time does indeed fly, so it is important to make every day count.
The second thought dealt with the whole idea of commitment and how important it is. Not just in marriage, but in most aspects of one’s life–beliefs, religion and organizations, both business and social. The same is true of one’s business or profession and the clientele you serve.
But before commitment there must be conviction. My conviction that Gladys was the right person for me is what has led to a lifelong commitment. My belief in the work of life insurance people and the products they sell has instilled in me a similar commitment. In a way, I am married to this great business that we serve and by which we are also served.
One of my mentors in the early days of my insurance career was Rulon Rasmussen, past president of the Million Dollar Round Table. Rulon told me that the best advice he had received when he was new was to develop a strong conviction about the business. His mentor was Reed Brinton, another leading New York Life agent. It is important, I believe, that such advice be passed on to future generations of life insurance people.
People have to believe in what they are doing in order to remain faithful to the cause year after year. A person cannot sell a lie for very long. True conviction and commitment mean you feel good about what you are doing, or, as some of the clinical psychologists speaking at our meetings put it–you are a “congruent person.” You are what you believe.
Conviction grows with experience. As we witness how our products solve complex financial and personal problems, conviction becomes easier to achieve. Over the years I had many opportunities to observe our products in action. One such incident comes to mind as I write this.
In my first year in the business I took an application for life insurance on a young Air Force captain. As I was completing the paperwork, he said, “I would also like to buy a $5,000 policy on each of my two boys.” (In 1956, $5,000 policies were still sold.) As I began asking the questions relating to their applications, I noticed the captain was starting to get misty-eyed. Before I was finished he said, “You know, we have just returned to the states after a tour of duty in the Philippines. While we were there we lost our little girl.” He continued, “Like most servicemen, I had accumulated very little and bringing her back to the U.S. for burial and all the rest was very expensive. I just didn’t have the money. As a result, we had to take out a loan.”
Then he asked me a question I will never forget: “Do you know what it is like to pay for your child’s funeral on the installment plan? Every time I wrote a check for a payment, I relived the trauma of her death.”
Whatever conviction I may have had about our business was immeasurably reinforced by this experience. It helped me on numerous occasions to dramatize what it is that we do, and the unique way that our products can relieve suffering and anguish. I might add that relating this experience has, on more than one occasion, ended the argument about whether children should or should not be insured. Hardly a week goes by without a tragic story unfolding on TV regarding the untimely death of a young person and that a car wash will be held to pay for final expenses. Each time I see this I am reminded of that Air Force captain.
As we begin a new year, tradition calls for an assessment of our business and personal lives, which often results in New Year’s resolutions. I have never been a big fan of these types of resolutions for it seems to me that most are forgotten by mid-February. I suspect the main reason for this is a lack of a deeply held conviction–hence, no commitment.
When I was in the field, conviction, insofar as product was concerned, was mainly focused on life insurance. Today’s agents/advisors have to consider a wider array of products, some competing with one another. It must be difficult to maintain an even level of conviction in such an environment. Does the agent cater to the customer’s desires or press for the real needs that may exist?
It is worth noting that today many of the popular financial products are in disarray. Real estate values are down about 30%, stock markets are in chaos with some issues down as much as 90% and interest rates for investors have tanked. We take solace in the hope that over time many of the values will return. But how long will it take?
Several weeks ago I received a premium notice on one of my life insurance policies. The annual dividend had increased to over 99% of the premium. I paid $14 instead of $3,600. When I compare this with other things that I own, my conviction grows even stronger.