Insurance Sales People: Wheat or Chaff?
By Mick Constantinou
Connelly, Carlisle, Fields, & Nichols, A UBA Partner Firm
Gallup has asked Americans to rate the honesty and ethical standards of professions since 1976. In Gallup's most recent survey, only 15 percent of those surveyed rated "Insurance Sales People" as having very high or high honesty and ethical standards.
Professions that rated below 15 perecent include state office holders, members of Congress, lobbyists and car sales people. Obviously, "Insurance Sales People" includes a wide gamut of licenses and expertise - health, life, annuities, property & casualty, employer benefits, etc. - but identifying yourself as an insurance person clearly has baggage in the eyes of the public.
Insurance professionals in the employer benefits realm carry the same baggage -- guilt by industry association. Combine the already low perception of the insurance profession with the implementation of PPACA and you have the perfect storm in terms of consumer perceptions.
According to Gallup, public perception of a profession's honesty and ethical standards is generally stable year to year, but opinions do shift in response to events that reflect poorly on a profession. For example, bankers' ratings remain well below where they were before the financial crisis began.
Separating the Wheat from the Chaff
Employers are left with the task of separating the wheat (i.e. the advisor) from the chaff (i.e. the sales person) in the age of health care reform. Below are some tips to ensure you are working with a benefit advisor (i.e. a professional who performs cost management) and not a benefit broker (i.e. someone who prepares cost estimates).
Become an Advisor Yourself
When choosing an advisor, become one yourself. Create a competitive environment without relying on the declining value spiral of the bidding approach. Such an approach works against the buyer in a variety of ways (see Choosing the Right Benefit Advisor). Instead, focus first on implementing a structured evaluation process that defines your organization's overall employee benefit objectives. This creates a level playing field and facilitates an apples-to-apples comparison of potential advisors' abilities to respond to your specific needs.
Which Wheat is the Best Wheat?
A structured evaluation process includes an advisor scorecard. Apply the following measurements (and create your own) to the scorecard:
- Knowledge of your industry/organization
- Marketplace knowledge
- Carrier relationships and leverage
- Compliance knowledge and education
- Approach to program design, implementation and innovation
- Credible benchmarking data
- Accountability for results
- Scope, quality and cost of services
- Chemistry with your team
- Ability to communicate clearly and concisely
Many employers are concerned and confused about the impacts that PPACA will have on their business. Most have mounds of information to sort through specific to their business and health care reform. Somewhere between many and most are the employers that don't have the time, the resources or the analytical tools to effectively know everything they need to know in order to prepare for the changing landscape.
As economic, industry and regulatory factors continue to challenge the marketplace, finding the best wheat in a field of chaff is the most important decision a business can make.