No doubt, there’s plenty to know to be an effective producer in life insurance — an industry chock full of changes.

“The rate of change is so rapid; it’s foolish to think you can keep up with it by yourself,” says Jack Dewald, who’s been in the insurance industry for nearly 30 years and is president of Agency Services, a full-service life and health brokerage agency in Memphis, Tenn. “Keeping up in the industry is critical to success.”

Dewald and other industry insiders say one of the biggest mistakes producers make when it comes to continuing education is procrastinating, waiting until just before their state licensing renewal applications are due and then taking crash courses to cram for the exam, just like a disorganized college student.

Gary Henkel, CEO of WebCE, a company that offers insurance continuing education, agrees and says dragging your feet hurts, which can cause undue stress and depress the actual learning experience.

Dewald says what’s even more unfortunate is agents often rely on crash courses as their only form of continuing education.

“Don’t get me wrong, crash courses serve a purpose, but you shouldn’t rely on them as your only source of training,” Dewald says. “In our industry, there are no shortcuts to becoming successful.”

Another mistake, Henkel says, is taking continuing education just to fulfill requirements. “Some advisors simply look for CE providers that tout how fast a producer can complete a course and receive credits,” he says. “I believe individual producers benefit more from spending time in the course and improving their professional knowledge.”

And he warns to be wary of taking more continuing education than may be needed. “Those who hold both a state insurance license and a professional designation, such as CFP, can save time by finding CE providers that offer courses approved for multiple licenses or designations.”

Fundamental sales training
Dewald recommends Life Underwriter Training Council Fellow (LUTCF) classes.

“They’re the best,” Dewald says. “And for more advanced training, The American College offers a large menu of practical courses. Some are more academic than others, so if you don’t know which direction to go, ask.”

Dewald adds that while home offices provide updates, they’re from the carrier’s perspective.

“Consider tapping a good local brokerage shop if you can use one,” Dewald says. “Brokerage agencies are typically on the cutting edge of what’s going on in the market, especially those that are members of NAILBA [National Association of Independent Life Brokerage Agencies].”

Associations
Dewald advises getting involved in local chapters of National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors.

“When you do that, you get access to top minds in the industry every month at local meetings,” he says. “We’re fortunate. Not many other industries have a situation where direct competitors are so willing to help each other succeed.”

Henkel is on the same page and says getting involved with these organizations is a good way to make contacts and stay acquainted with recent regulation changes and issues that impact the insurance business.

“Once you become a member, look for opportunities to lead and contribute to the organization,” Henkel says. “This will also help you keep up with the trends and changes and will give you a leading edge in the industry.”

Ethical and suitable business practices
Henkel says these are hot topics in the insurance industry today, and many states are responding with new continuing education requirements.

“Without question, much of the concern focuses on how producers interact with consumers, and what is considered suitable when selling and placing insurance products,” Henkel says. “So it’s important for producers to stay on top of newly mandated state requirements, as well as the expected ethical standards associated with selling insurance products and services. When producers understand and adhere to suitable business practices, they’ll have a higher level of service and success.”

Technology
Henkel recommends advisors stay on top of technology, especially the mobile kind.

“What’s important about mobile technologies is that they leverage an insurance producer’s productivity,” Henkel says. “Many of the producer’s daily tasks are now being performed from their personal digital devices.”

The fundamentals
“A good refresher of the basic value that life insurance provides is always a worthwhile educational experience,” Henkel says.

The Life Foundation (www.lifehappens.org), a nonprofit that offers education on life and health insurance, is worth a visit, he adds.

Partnering
Outside of course work, Dewald is a strong proponent of partnering with more experienced agents and says two associations in financial services, The Million Dollar Round Table and GAMA International, both sponsor mentoring programs that match producers with varying levels of experience and talent.

“Getting MDRT membership is the ultimate goal every agent should seek,” Dewald says. “That’s where you’ll rub shoulders with the best of the best.”

But no matter what organization or type of continuing education you consider, Henkel says not to assume all providers are the same. Many states recently increased their course delivery requirements to make sure all producers invest the proper time in their courses, Henkel says.

“So ordering a course that doesn’t meet all of your state’s continuing education delivery requirements could have unpleasant licensing ramifications,” he says. “Make sure your provider is up-to-date on your state’s current requirements.”

And, in general, when it comes to choosing an online provider for continuing education, Henkel urges caution.

“Undoubtedly, there are many benefits to using an online CE provider for your continuing education needs, but not all providers offer the same levels of services. When you evaluate a CE provider, look for premium service without having to pay a premium price.”