He was 22 when he came into the agency. He couldn’t find a suitable job out of college and his father told him he needed help in the business. And, by the way, the pay wasn’t shabby at all! He’d grown up with a father who was an insurance agent. He didn’t think much of it and he made some summer money working in the agency during high school. But he sure didn’t think of going into the insurance business. He was going to be a marine biologist – until he found out as a graduating senior that no one was hiring marine biologists. So he took the job in the agency – temporary, of course, — until something opened up in his field.
That was thirty years ago. Now in his mid-fifties with his father gone for ten years, he was still an insurance agent. While his dad was alive, he didn’t mind the agency so much because he could pretty well do what he wanted and he could avoid dealing with the nagging customers.
Now that was all changed. For the last ten years he had to deal with customers, treating them like kings even when they made asses out of themselves. After all, he had a wife and children to take care of and he had to care for his mother, as well. Money wasn’t the problem. He was quite surprised how renewals flowed and referrals brought in more business every year. But every year he became more frustrated with the clients who bugged him with problems about insurance over which he had no control and with company people who were jealous because he made more money than they did and reflected their jealousy by making his life difficult whenever they could.
After 30 years he was completely fed up – but there was nothing he could do about it. He learned to play golf, a mindless escape from the day-to-day problems he encountered. He tried to get interested in Company Counsels and Agents Associations – but they, too, were filled with self-important people with personal agendas. He even had a few “flings”, but they, too, didn’t last. The only thing that seemed to help was to have a drink or two – or four – every once in a while. Now his doctor was telling him to lay off and lose weight or he’d be headed for heart problems.
But what the hell did he have to shape up for anyway?
The above is a true story of an agent who we encountered some time back. When he told us this story over some months as we tried to assist in the development of his agency we realized that SUCCESS was more defined by feeling happy and satisfied with one’s lot in life than it was with financial rewards.
Over the years we have encountered a shocking number of insurance agents who fit this mold. We have assisted a fair number of them to sell or merge their agencies to permit them to “lay back a little” (defined as retiring early or RIP, Retiring In Place). After all, they say, they’ve ‘paid their dues’. It was time to let someone else pull the load.
Most of these people had no hobbies, no outside interests and a feeling of deep frustration about their lot in life, their businesses and the industry as a whole. The may have been earning several hundred thousand dollars every year, but they still felt as if they were failures.
These people were forced into a business that they didn’t want or enjoy and were tied to it with Golden Handcuffs. They earned enough that they couldn’t escape their bonds and they were in the game long enough that they could never leave.
When we encounter children of agents entering the business now we pause to interview them to determine whether they really want to be in the insurance business or whether they have been tempted by a non-threatening position with the job security only a family business can offer and a paycheck that they could not achieve working for someone else. We will try to offer alternatives that will keep these youngsters from making the same mistakes that we have seen in prior generations of agency perpetuators who are almost forced into a position for which they are not suited by parents who only see a way of securing their childrens’ futures within a well-paying profession.
Be warned. If you are transferring the agency to another generation of family members make sure you are helping them into a career that they desire. Don’t simply take the youngster’s word for it – they certainly love you enough to do what you think is right. Test them for the aptitude to be an insurance professional. If they don’t test well, consider helping them toward a career that better suits their personality. Don’t sentence them to a LIFE TERM as an agent if they would be better suited in another profession. The only difference between the agency and jail would be a more comfortable life-style. But don’t fool yourself – they won’t thank you in thirty years if they dislike the role you’ve put them in.