A decade ago a transformational shift occurred in the life insurance industry. Products were being made available online for a consumer self-service approach; one insurer sold its agency distribution; and robo-advisors began to appear. This may signal to any potential financial professionals that the agency force, as a distribution channel, was slowly fading away.
Yet, every day the insurance industry pays out $1.7 billion to families and businesses. That is about 70% of what Social Security pays out every day, according to data from the American Council of Life Insurers.
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Our industry has contributed to security, recovery and well-being for centuries. And we can continue to provide this service for another century by reassuring potential financial professionals that an agency career track is not only viable but necessary. The career agency force is needed now more than ever, and we need to emphasize the critical role human advisors have on a clients’ financial confidence.
Instill Greater Intention in Recruiting and Training
Research from Guardian indicates that Millennials look for advisors who exhibit trustworthiness, knowledge, experience, listening skills, and understand their financial position. Yes, Millennials value tech-driven solutions and dashboards in their financial planning but they also want the face-to-face advisor experience on their road to financial confidence. As younger generations increasingly seek out financial guidance, the agency career track can provide a rewarding profession for incoming talent.
Many recruits believe the only career available in financial services is to become an investment advisor, who in the most limited sense, can only help clients execute investment decisions. They may not be aware that the broader financial professional title affords them the opportunity to provide investments, retirement, insurance and estate planning guidance to build strategies for clients’ unique goals and hold meaningful in-person conversations to form strong relationships. And, working with an established firm provides them with access to extensive product portfolios and in-house experts who can help them create a plan for a client.
We must emphasize learning opportunities across agencies to attract young talent and showcase possible career paths such as working with clients, managing teams and leading an agency. Guardian, for example, offers a protégé contract so new hires can test drive different positions within the company before committing, as well as an internship program to train younger recruits.
Value Diverse Backgrounds
As current agency leaders throughout the industry near retirement, we need to reassess how we position agency careers and how we currently recruit. Today’s incoming financial representatives have the potential to become tomorrow’s agency leaders; but to do so successfully, our current recruiting practices need a shakeup. We must expand the net to a wider, more diverse pool of potential leaders who reflect the customers of tomorrow.
For example, it’s been documented in the past that most pharmaceutical representatives participated in collegiate cheering squads. Even in financial services, many of our representatives are former college athletes. But have we looked close enough at the attributes that made them star athletes? Traits like dedication to practice, problem-solving, and mastering a technique. We need to look at non-traditional pools of talent that create similar work ethic, whether its former musicians, chefs or mechanics. It’s our responsibility to foster a community of inclusion and go beyond traditional “finance” check marks when recruiting future agency leaders – Often the best in the industry are not former finance majors. They’re from diverse backgrounds with strong interpersonal skills and an innate curiosity.
Another critical step is to train and move women into leadership roles. A study from Guardian explored why women may not be attracted to a financial services career and revealed that they were not aware that leadership positions were available to them or what a future could look like. Agencies must build programs to bring female advisors together for networking and educational seminars and expose them to leadership and development opportunities.
Recruiting from non-traditional talent pools also allows for diversification in our client base. Too often advisors focus on landing medical professionals and high net worth individuals as clients. But by bringing in broader talent, they may know first-hand the financial needs of dental hygienists, school teachers, and blue-collar workers who will welcome human guidance to reach financial confidence.
Insurance is a great industry in which to grow a meaningful career. Many professionals yearn for the type of purpose that our work affords. Now is the time to ensure the pipeline of talent to serve the next generation is being developed to their full potential. Instilling intention and diversity into recruitment efforts will identify future leaders who can build on a firm’s progress and continue to keep the promises we make to our clients.
Emily Viner is vice president of agency growth and development at the Guardian Life Insurance Company of America.