How are you handling the changes in the industry? Are you hunkering down, hoping to weather the storm? Or are you jumping up to catch the wave? I see colleagues responding in both ways, and I believe that the most challenging response — catching and riding the wave — is also the most successful.

One major change involves our roles as gatekeepers. Consider this big-picture view about the gatekeepers in our lives. How often do you…

  • Use a travel agent to book an airline ticket?
  • Walk into a bank and talk with the tellers?
  • Open a printed copy of the Yellow Pages to find a phone number?

Technology, combined with consumer trends and federal legislation, has changed gatekeepers and their roles.

Gatekeepers aren’t going away — we have more librarians than ever — but their roles are changing. Similarly, our roles as insurance gatekeepers are changing. We must change in order to succeed, and part of that transformation includes becoming educators for our clients – including end-user consumers.

Reaching and teaching our clients

In the fast-changing environment where ancillary benefits are selected and paid for by employees, the workers are empowered. They represent our most important clients, and we must interact with them and educate them about the products that best meet their needs.

While employers used to decide where insurance dollars would be spent, the employees are now choosing whether or not to invest in insurance. This plays out clearly regarding voluntary products: If the employer covers major medical, the employee is considering whether to purchase DI, dental, life, and so forth. Employees make up the audience we must reach and teach, so that they’ll understand how to protect themselves and their families by making wise choices with insurance.

While the employer often helps us reach the employees, we must be prepared to offer innovative education and options via preferred communication avenues. For example, employees go online both to learn and to purchase, so we must offer online options to educate them and support the sales process.

As we encounter more and more changes in our industry, we can’t just put out heads down and hope the changes go away. They won’t. Successful producers will catch and ride the wave, educating clients — both employers and employees — about the insurance products and processes best suited for their needs.

Steve Howard is vice president of benefit solutions at American General Life Companies. He can be reached at steve.howard@aglife.com.