In several countries and for years, life insurance has been brought to the customers by the “agent” of the insurance company. In spite of introduction of several new channels of distribution, including the Internet, the agency channel contributes 86.6% (2010-11) of the premiums in the Indian market. Hence, even during the current era, when the insurance market is undergoing a massive transformation, the significant role of the adviser/agent cannot be underestimated.
Almost every life assured has had at least one tryst with this person but everybody holds different opinions about him. Those who believe in the merit of life insurance treat him as a family friend, but a vast number of existing and prospective customers would treat him as an intruder. However, the professionals and life insurance companies are responsible themselves for this perception. There is an urgent need on the part of the agent community as well as the industry to redefine the role as well as the image of the life insurance agent so that the growing Indian economy gets maximum advantage of this professional group, which by number is larger than the employees of the Indian Railways and almost double the size of the Indian defence forces. By any standard, this group has the potential to channelize several trillions of rupees for investment in the development of infrastructure and the capital market.
Treat as a profession: The first step to an effective transformation would be to modify one’s own perception about the profession and the career. Selling life insurance is a very challenging job; transaction with each prospect is a unique experience. The insurance agent, therefore, needs to position himself in the market as someone who believes that everyone in the society needs life insurance because financial security of the family is a basic need of an individual. This belief unfolds a vast market before the salesperson.
Acquire knowledge: The agent is basically an adviser in financial planning, hence, he should have an intense desire to acquire knowledge and information. Selling would become much easier for him if he talks with conviction and authority. Knowledge-based information appears to be logical and worth accepting. Continuous training and regular reading would be very effective just like regular sharpening of the saw.
Be organized: He has to be a very well-organized person and has to learn how to seek appointment and how to honour it without fail. He needs to prepare well in advance, find out the financial and social profile of the prospect and then suggest the most need-based plan.
Keep customer’s interest on top: Money-centred agents often end up suggesting wrong products as they can’t resist the temptation of allowing their personal interest to supersede the interest of the customer. One has to grow in his profession by understanding and practising certain principles such as life insurance is a kind of social service, life insurance protects people from being homeless and destitute, life insurance ensures good education and marriage for children and life insurance enables the elderly to live life with dignity. Anyone performing with this end-result in mind is bound to stay motivated.
In India, there are lakhs of agents, who offer end-to-end solutions and services to clients, but some have defamed the profession and unfortunately their conduct is discussed in a sweeping and derogatory manner.
Interestingly, the large group of salespersons, who by virtue of hard work provide social security across all sections of society, are the most neglected lot. Social security is primarily the responsibility of the government. Hence, those who render such service to the society need to be encouraged, supported and given the respect that they deserve. It is a great irony that for such a large group of workers, the government has not established even a single institute nor provided benefits such as Employee State Insurance Corporation as they have done for employees and workers engaged in several other vocations.
The regulations push for acquiring the minimum possible knowledge about the job, but doesn’t say anything for staying motivated and enhancing productivity. This professional group has the power to act as a major catalyst in our economy’s growth if it is taken care of by all stakeholders.
Kamalji Sahay was managing director and CEO, Star Union Dai-ichi Life Insurance Co. Ltd.
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