In the four-and-a-half years I have worked for National Underwriter, LifeHealthPro and PropertyCasualty360, I have had the opportunity to produce some stories of which I am very proud. Writing for these brands, and most importantly, serving this audience, has been a special honor and privilege, and I am glad to have been afforded this most wonderful opportunity, not just by those for whom I worked with at Summit Professional Networks, but by you, the readers. You are a demanding, delightful and dynamic audience, and always trying to make sure I do right by you has been an extraordinarily edifying experience.
Alas, the time has come for me to move on, though I suspect that I will continue to write about the insurance industry, mainly because I find the business of insurance to be endlessly fascinating, and I find this industry’s professionals to be some of the most compelling sources any writer could ask for. Insurance has given me the opportunity to write about heroes and villains, and about every kind of class of risk from ostrich farming to commercial space flight. What’s not to love about it?
As I like to say, insurance is a huge industry, but a small world, and it is my deep hope that as I continue my own travels, I will continue to cross paths with you all out there, whether it’s at industry conferences, on the pages of publications, through social media, or wherever else. I have never regretted making contact with one of my readers, and I hope you have felt the same. If you haven’t already, please feel free to follow me or send me an invite on your favorite social media platform – I can be found at the following links on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Google+.
In the meantime, I’d like to leave with you a bakers dozen of my favorite stories I wrote for National Underwriter. These are all stories of which I am particularly proud, either because they represented something I like most about my craft, or they garnered a strong response from the audience, or they won awards, or they made a bona fide difference out in the world, or some combination thereof. But in all of them, I am proud because they also held true to the words of National Underwriter’s founder, E.J. Wohlgemuth, whose words hung in my office when I first arrived there:
“…where the interests of the insurance business and the public which it serves, after making every possible effort to harmonize those interests, conflict, The National Underwriter believes that the best interests in the insurance business are served by taking the stand of the public. In the final analysis, the insurance business can only be successful if it is conducted on the basis of the truest and best service of which it is capable to its clients and the public. This, I take it, is a fundamental principle and the one which has kept the National Underwriter from being a mere paid organ of special interests. Its policies are based on the broad foundation of good citizenship and the recognition that insurance, as well as all other business, exists primarily not for the men who are engaged in it, but for the people whom they serve.”
Words to live by.
And now, onto the stories…
When Congress passed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act into law, and President Obama signed it, it caused utterly seismic changes to the business of health insurance. No one felt this more than health insurance agents, whose very model of business was specifically targeted by Obamacare. Carriers secretly loved the law, since it mandated some 36 million people to buy their products, and since the product they were buying were structured and priced such that yes, people had coverage, but it wasn’t the kind of coverage that was going to break the back of most insurers.
Still, Obamacare was a radioactive topic for most of my time here. Many of our readers felt that unless we were actively demonizing the law, we were supporting it, and that was not so. We always tried to be neutral about the law, since there was already plenty of opinion to go around as to the law’s benefits and flaws.
One exception, though, was this editorial of mine, in which a provision of Obamacare made it much more easy for a dear friend of mine to get a certain kind of cancer testing that she otherwise would not have been able to afford. That cancer testing very likely saved her life, even though it left her with scars. But some things are more beautiful for having been broken.
You can read “Kintsukuroi” here.
#12. GOOOOOOOOAAALL!! 10 things the World Cup revealed about insurance
Years ago, I decided that when I wrote columns, I would not go out of my way to antagonize my readership. Their business is stressful enough without some writer slinging barbs and arrows their way. Instead, I decided that I would simply express in writing what I love most about insurance: that in some way, shape or form, it manages to touch every aspect of life. The converse of this, then, is that you can pretty much write about whatever you want, and if you study insurance enough, and respect it enough, you can see invisible lines that connect whatever you’re covering back to insurance, and more specifically, the issues of importance to your audience. That’s the trick, you know. It’s not about writing about that which entertains you. It’s about writing that which matters to your audience. Everything else is ancillary. The audience must reign supreme, always.
Which is why I so enjoyed this particular piece. I wrote it during this year’s World Cup tournament, which I absolutely, positively, unabashedly adore. I follow Arsenal in the English Premier League, but that doesn’t hold a candle to the enthusiasm with which I follow the World Cup. To me, it is a purer competition than the Olympics, and it’s scaled to a level where one person can conceivably watch the entire thing. And, it gives me another reason to don the red, white and blue and scream “AMERICAAAA!” at the top of my lungs, which is never a bad thing.
For those reasons and more, I really enjoyed this particular piece, in which I took what I loved most about the World Cup and tied it to those things that I saw dominating the world of insurance at that moment. I always enjoyed doing this, but in this piece, I enjoyed doing it most of all.
You can read “GOOOOOOOOAAALL!! 10 things the World Cup revealed about insurance” here.
#11. Live with your kids and work till you die
One of the things that interests me most about life insurance is how it is a product that is sold, not bought. This is very much unlike property and casualty insurance, which sometimes you are required by law or by commercial contract to buy. And even when you are not required to buy P&C coverage, you typically cannot conduct your business without it. But life insurance is different. People often think they can do without life insurance, because they don’t admit that they could die at any time. Or, they think they have enough life insurance when they really do not.
Likewise, people walk around critically underfunded when it comes to their retirement plans. Most folks simply do not have enough saved to retire to a lifestyle with which they are already accustomed, and this all adds up to a very unpleasant surprise awaiting entire generations of Americans who worked hard for decades only to find out, too late, that they did not save enough along the way.
These two challenges loom large in life/retirement marketing, as well they should. But along the way, it seems that sometimes the life industry forgets that its products are still ultimately about mortality protection first and foremost, and that perhaps the modern notion of retirement simply isn’t all that applicable any longer to today’s economic realities. Maybe instead of complaining about being unable to sell more to the middle market, the industry should examine what it is trying to sell in the first place, based on the needs it tells itself its customers have.
I thought I would get a lot of flak from the audience when I first wrote this editorial. The deluge of letters I got applauding its conclusions were a most welcome and pleasant surprise, indeed. It told me that perhaps life insurance carriers and their producers might not be seeing things entirely eye to eye, and that a lot of those producers still look at their business and their clients with the same old-school values upon which this business was built.
You can read “Live with your kids and work till you die” here.
#10. Negroes I’ve Met While Yachting
There is a saying that everybody in America likes to talk about race, but nobody likes to talk to each other about it. I think that is true. More true than we care to admit. As chief editor for National Underwriter and Summit’s other Life/Health publications, I oversaw a few different editorial efforts to examine the multicultural efforts of the industry itself. Was this industry still just a collection of aging white gentlemen, or had it become something more reflective of modern society?
As it turned out, plenty of carriers took multiculturalism seriously, including some that even had initiatives in place that called for their own distribution system to mirror the same racial demographics as the country at large. If that’s not taking the problem seriously, I don’t know what is. I also got to speak with producers of various racial and ethnic backgrounds who were quick to tell me that the reason why they loved life insurance sales so much was because it is was limited only by their own work ethic. They could write their own success story however they want.
And yet, one couldn’t overlook that racial minorities seemed to have far lower insurance penetration stats than other groups, and it made me wonder why that was. The funny thing about institutionalized racism is that even when it goes away, the after-effects linger on, often in ways that are invisible to those who never had anything to do with it in the first place.
I based this column off of an awful joke I heard while I was in college, as a way to break the ice that racism is real and we need to discuss it frankly. This article generated no small amount of lively discussion, including many private comments, some of which were from college friends who witnessed the joke in question, and who remembered it, as well. It’s funny what we remember over time.
You can read “Negroes I’ve met while yachting” here.
#9. Rogue’s Gallery
I love telling the industry’s hero stories, because there really is an inherent nobility in any kind of business that provides people with the kind of second chances that rebuild careers, lives and families. By that same token, I cannot abide how easily villainzed insurance is. It is a complicated business selling complicated products,and the nature of the transaction often leaves consumers feeling unhappy, sometimes for reasons that have nothing to do with their coverage. A claimant has suffered a loss…what is to be happy about that?
And so, we so often see the ignorant and the opportunistic try to score cheap points by telling villainous stories about the insurance industry, and the unfairness of that really grinds my gears. The reason why these villain stories work is because like any business, there are bad seeds within insurance, and those few bad seeds manage to cast an air of suspicion over the legions of hard-working, honest professionals who make insurance work.
This is unlikely to change any time soon. But there are villain stories worth telling, and I thought it would be interesting to take this and turn it into something our audience might especially enjoy: the annual Rogue’s Gallery, which points out those people or things that make our audience’s professional lives more difficult than they really ought to be. Some of these choices were controversial, especially those with a political element to them. But all of them were influential, and this became an annual tradition that I hope never goes away. Assembling the list is too much fun.
You can read the 2011 Rogue’s Gallery here. Top Rogue: Verus Financial, LLC
You can read the 2012 Rogue’s Gallery here. Top Rogue: The Romney/Ryan Presidential campaign
You can read the 2013 Rogue’s Gallery here. Top Rogue: Healthcare.gov
#8. Stars and Stripes Forever
I was invited to tour USAA’s corporate headquarters in San Antonio, Texas for a few days, to speak with a broad array of its professionals and to see what makes this financial services company truly unique. If you don’t know much about USAA, all you need to know is this: it serves the families of those who served in the military, it is a diversified financial services company that offers banking, insurance, retirement planning and more; and it is somewhere between a mutual insurance company and a not-for-profit service agency in terms of how it conducts its business. USAA is, simply put, one of the most interesting and unique insurance companies I have ever covered, and it was a real pleasure to spend time with these folks, hear their stories, and in turn, tell it to the rest of our audience.
I wish I had more opportunities to do this kind of writing. Some of my colleagues jokingly chided me for writing what they considered to be a “love letter” to USAA, but to be honest, I would gladly have written more of these if more carriers had granted me the access to do so. Often, the media is seen with suspicion by insurers, and I understand why. All I can say is that sometimes, it’s worthwhile telling a success story or two, and calling out the best of the companies you cover in terms that demand admiration. Sometimes, it’s better to write about the solution than the problem. And that’s what I tried to do here.
When my visit concluded, I was given a special military coin by USAA’s president, which symbolized all five branches of the U.S. Armed Forces. The coin tradition was one I did not know about until I received my coin, but once I understood the importance of the gift, the coin became one of my most treasured possessions. It sits on my writing desk, next to my Neal Award medallion. And I shall never get rid of it.
To all who serve in uniform, thank you. Because people like you serve, the rest of us do not have to, and that is a very important thing to remember. If we take that for granted, we have lost a sense of perspective we cannot afford to live without.