In the fifteen years I spent in Washington working at NALU (now NAIFA), one of the events I always enjoyed was the Fourth of July celebration on the Capitol grounds. The music by the Washington Symphony and military choirs was inspiring, and the fireworks awesome. It was at such times that I often recalled the writings of an anonymous priest.
“It is the soldier, not the reporter, who has given us freedom of the press.”
“It is the soldier, not the poet, who has given us freedom of speech.”
“It is the soldier, not the campus organizer, who has given us the right to demonstrate.”
“It is the soldier who salutes the flag, and whose coffin is draped with the flag, who allows the protestor to burn the flag.”
As I pondered these words, I thought about how often there is confusion in society as to how things really come about. These thoughts led me to consider some important aspects of our own business and the role agents have played for more than 150 years.
Allow me to paraphrase the foregoing soldier’s salute in the context of the life insurance agent as a soldier in the “war on poverty.”
It is the agent, not the government, who pioneered the idea of employee-sponsored health insurance among small businesses, thereby bringing affordable healthcare to millions. It is the agent, more than friends, charities, and car washes, who brings financial security to grieving families at the loss of a breadwinner.
It is the agent, who more often than the lawyer or accountant, first broaches the subject of a “buy and sell” agreement to owners of a small business.
It is the agent, not the banker, who shows them how to fund the agreement.
It is the agent, not federal agencies, who has to communicate a message of hope to families and businesses that face loss in the event of an untimely death.
It is the agent, not the company officers, who daily faces rejection in the marketplace, and, despite this, perseveres to make a sale.
It is the agent, not the media, who converts conviction to action.
And it is the agent, not the philosopher, who gives tangible substance to the concept of love.
I have always been proud to have been a soldier in World War II, but also just as proud to be called a life insurance agent. I suspect that is because, as Ben Feldman used to say, “We can do what no one else can do.” And that is a great blessing to our calling and the people we serve.
The vast majority of our people in uniform understand they are in an endeavor that requires dedication of purpose and of self. And that is also a great blessing.
I have known people who, without hesitancy, admit that their only objective in becoming a life insurance agent was to make a lot of money. Some succeeded, but most did not. I am reminded of J. Paul Getty, who at one time was regarded as the world’s richest man, and who, when asked how one goes about making a lot of money, replied, “I have never known anyone who set out to make a lot of money who succeeded in doing so. But I have known a good many people who set out to build a business who, in the process, made a lot of money.”
Over the years it has been my observation that when our business has been faced with a crisis and heavy lifting was required, it has always been those dedicated to the higher calling of our profession who come forth to help.
Countless agents have taught LUTC classes while others walked the halls of Congress or state legislatures seeking better legislation or opposing destructive proposals. These are the soldiers upon whose shoulders rest the future of our business and the welfare of the insurance-buying public.
Making money is important; we cannot really live without doing so. But it seems to me Getty had it right–it should be the byproduct of building a business that is useful to society as well as ourselves.
Most successful people in our business subscribe to this credo and tend to prosper over time. But there are always a few others who only want to exploit the provisions of our products to their advantage. They may do well for a while, but usually fade away after their gimmick has been legislated out of existence.
I have been told that the decline in membership in our field organizations is in large measure because new people are “different.” They are alleged to have a different set of values and priorities. This may be merely another way of saying, “I’m in it for the money.” If that is true, then the real job for our business is to restore the sense of conviction that what we do is important to others. That is the foundation upon which any lasting structure must rest.