The Pond That Had Never Been Fished
When I was about 12 years old and my brother was 10 my dad took us fishing at an old farm pond just north of Atlantic, IA—the small community in southwest Iowa where I was born. Of course, as I’ve written about in the past, this was a weekend ritual with my dad in the summertime just as hunting was the weekend ritual in the wintertime. Anyway, an old farmer my dad was friends with let us use his pond that was adjacent to a smaller pond. As we drove into the pasture in the pickup truck, we passed by the smaller pond that looked like it had never been fished before because it appeared to be lacking in opportunities. We went straight to the big pond where–over the next hour or so—we drowned a few worms without any bites. As a 12-year-old fidgety kid, I got impatient! As we were sitting there, I asked my dad if I could walk 100 yards or so to the other pond and try it. He said, “Go ahead, but you won’t catch anything.”
I walked over to the other pond, put a worm on my hook, and let it fly. As soon as that bobber hit the water it went straight under like a submarine! I was shocked as I wrestled to shore the biggest Bull Head that I have ever seen in my life. As soon as I pulled it out of the water, I began to run across the pasture to tell my dad and brother that I hit the motherload. Envision a 12-year old kid running across a pasture wearing a giant smile lugging a fishing pole that was about to break because of the giant fish swinging on the end. By the time I got to my dad and brother at the other pond they already had their stuff packed because they heard my commotion and knew I struck gold. They were already heading my direction. An hour later we had an entire stringer filled up with about 40 fish. I am not exaggerating when I say that our bobbers were sinking as soon as they hit the water. These fish must have been on top of each other! I don’t know the science behind the abundance of fish in this pond, but one can certainly attribute a part of it to the fact that nobody had ever fished it.
A Lot of Fish and Retiring Fishermen
I think there is a similar opportunity today for new agents, carriers and agencies/IMOs. As we know, we are in the middle of the largest wealth transfer from pre-retirement into retirement in the history of our country. The baby boomer generation that controls $30 trillion in wealth is retiring and moving their money into IRAs, which we can help with. Eventually they will also transfer that wealth to the next generation, which we can also help with. To use my fishing analogy, the fish are multiplying by the day!
Furthermore, while you have this increasing demand for our services, what is happening to the “supply” of our services, or the supply of fisherman? As we know, the average agent is a baby boomer as well—at around 59 years old. A large chunk of them are and will continue to retire—leaving the fishing hole relatively free for the taking. I have seen several studies over the years—many of them by my friends at LIMRA—that cite 40,000 as the number of agents that need to be recruited per year to fill the gap that will be left by agents retiring. We have not been filling these vacancies and will continue to fall short unless we as an industry get our act together. Although this is a serious issue for our industry, it is the “motherload” for those agents coming into the business or those that will be in the business over the next decade or so!
What about technology filling this gap? Although technology is obviously a part of the research process for many consumers today, fortunately consumers still want to talk with a living, breathing human being before they actually purchase. Humans will still be in the mix!
Do a google search on “bringing new agents into insurance.” See what you come up with. You will find nothing profound outside of the typical “The average agent is almost 60 years old; selling insurance is hard; carriers need to embrace technology; etc.” There is not much out there because this is a hard problem to solve. Well, as I tell my kids, the beauty of things that are hard is that your competitors likely cannot do them—which means if you do them, the potential rewards are high.
How do we as IMOs and carriers attract new people into our business? Although one can write a novel on this, here are ten of my thoughts.
- Be a Cheerleader: We need to continue to be cheerleaders for our industry and scream from the mountain tops the huge opportunities that exist for our recruits— because the fish are multiplying and we need more fisherman! Quantify the opportunities for these recruits! Our business is tough because we are selling something that is not immediately apparent like a beautiful new car or a shiny new Harley Davidson. By quantifying the opportunity you are putting them in the moment of enjoyment.
- Look to the Millennials: Although at CG Financial Group a bulk of our production is from agents in the Baby Boomer category, we are also putting a significant focus on the millennials, which I define as roughly 22 to 39 years old. This is an 83 million strong group of talented people that are the largest working age group in the U.S. today. Research shows that this group is more conservative than their parents were when they were that age. They are a great audience for the “protection products” we represent. Also, millennials love the flexible hours and the work/life balance that can come along with being an agent. And again, this is a bright, technology savvy generation.
- Agent Education, Training and Professional Development: This is a big one for me. As we know, the “feeding system” of the career companies that used to train the agents that later enter the indy distribution is not the same as it has been in the prior decades. Per LIMRA, the number of “affiliated agents” has declined by more than 40 percent over the past 40 years. Many carriers have embraced independent distribution to cut the costs of having the agents as employees. At the same time, our products have gotten more complicated, the tax code is now 75,000 pages long, regulation is vast, and consumers’ mindsets are more complicated than ever before! New agents need help!
This means us leaders (agencies/IMOs/carriers) in independent distribution need to fill the function of education, training and professional development. You don’t just give a kid a fishing pole and have him learn himself! This can be difficult because training, education and professional development take a long-term view versus a quarter-by-quarter view. However, you enjoy the shade today because you planted a tree 10 years ago.
Some carriers and IMOs have great training material but, like anything we buy in life, the packaging is almost as important as the product itself. As I say, “At McDonalds nobody ever buys the Bic Mac. They always buy the #1.” If a carrier or IMO developed a comprehensive training system that is packaged in a way that can be “turnkey” replicated by an agency for use with their newly recruited agents, that carrier or IMO would come closer to cracking the code. More coming from CG Financial Group on this “turnkey system.”
- Education to the Client: This doesn’t necessarily pertain to recruiting agents, but it does pertain to keeping agents. As we know, 90 percent of agents that come into the business will not last in the business. Help them last by educating them on how to educate their prospects.
In the annual Insurance Barometer Studies that LIMRA and Life Happens conduct, they often cite the lack of enough life insurance coverage being very correlated with the lack of knowledge consumers have of life insurance. In other words, the more educated the consumer is about the need and benefit of the products, the more coverage they have! I would argue this correlation exists regardless of the products being sold. Help the agents with the educational content as well as the media to use in educating their clients.
- Social Media: To my previous point about the “media to use.” Social media is today’s equivalent of direct mail in the 1980s and 1990s. Social media is used by 85 percent of U.S. consumers as a whole and over 90 percent of millennials. Whether it is recruiting new agents or educating consumers, social media should be a top focus. Believe it or not, many of the agents and agencies working with CG Financial Group began with the social media relationship.
For consumers, the below quote tells the story:
“There are more than 42 million consumers in the market for financial guidance. About two-thirds of those using social-media sites for finance-related topics are looking for information on product and services (62 percent), or looking for reviews on financial professionals (61 percent). Consumers, predominantly Gen X and Millennials, are using social media when assessing financial professionals; 34 percent say they would research financial professionals on social platforms.”—www.Lifehappens.org.
- Video: This is well known to all of us in the industry; Video works! All my first five points above should incorporate video. When it comes to “cheerleading” for our industry, use video. When it comes to education, use video. When it comes to social media, use video.
A thought on video: If you have seen my videos, they are casual! Sometimes I am in a T-shirt after working out. This is because I have learned after creating thousands of videos that there is almost a negative correlation in how “polished” I am and the level of viewership. People are human and it is natural for humans to cringe at a stuffy looking person giving a stuffy message. Don’t get slowed down by feeling that your videos must be perfect!
- Group Benefits: Some carriers have contracts that allow for group health benefits to the agents, even though those agents are not W2 employees. For obvious reasons this is a valuable benefit for agents coming into the business!
- Mentoring: If you are an IMO and have staff that are recruiting new agents into the business, it may make sense to have a mentor assigned to those new agents should that new agent so elect. That mentor would be somebody like their marketer (or whatever the title is). This mentorship program may include bi-daily calls between the agent and their “mentor” as well as many other things. That mentor should be held accountable for activity with the agents that they are mentoring.
- Persistence with Social Media: Social media is a beast that can defy gravity at times. Not just because they incorporate human behavior but also because there are algorithms in all the platforms that can boost your viewership. These algorithms I won’t go into, but I will say it is all about being consistent and persistent. For example, some days I will post something that I think is quite profound and only get 1,000 views. Another day I may post something that I think is nothing great but it gets 15,000 views. Example: One day I posted something I thought was fairly irrelevant to the audience. It was me just discussing how I got back my Series 7 after letting it go years back. Who cares, right? Well I got 130,000 views and probably 200 new contact requests because of that post. And many of those new contacts were reps that I later recruited! Be persistent and do not get discouraged.
- Believe in Karma
If you are doing the right thing and trying to help the agents and their clients you will eventually win. If you have a mindset of “abundance” and share openly, you will win. The “Abundance Mindset” is what Stephen Covey talks about when he says that you should share openly with others and there are enough “fish” to go around.
Something funny as I look back at the fishing trip I mentioned at the beginning, is what happened a couple of hours into our fishing spree. An old farmer that my dad knew was driving his tractor down the gravel road. This gravel road was within shouting distance of the water’s edge where we were sitting. That farmer stopped to yell a few pleasantries to my dad. As you can imagine, the farmer asked “the question” that usually requires a thoughtful response from fisherman that are protective of their fishing hole. The farmer asked, “Are you catching any?” If you knew my dad, you could guess his answer: “Nope, just drowning a lot of worms.” As a naïve 12-year-old I was confused about why my dad said that—he should’ve been proud of what we just caught! He should also let that farmer know about the huge opportunity that exists! I spoke up and said “What do you mean dad? We caught a lot of fish!” And I pulled our stringer up out of the water to display what we just caught. I later learned from my dad that unless you want other fishermen to catch your fish, you never tell them how good your fishing hole is.
Well, 78 million baby boomers and $30 trillion in wealth equals more fish than any of us can catch—and therefore we need more fishermen. So, don’t follow the advice of my dad—display your stringer proudly! Tell these new recruits about the amount of fish in this pond that you will give them access to if they join your agency/IMO/carrier. The opportunity has never been greater. Have an abundance mindset and you will win.