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Securing the Future: Howard Wolkowitz on Innovations and Hard Truths in the Insurance Industry

Howard Wolkowitz

Howard Wolkowitz

INSURANCE AGENT

  • Relationships are the heart of sales. The life insurance industry hires for two reasons: you have a natural market of people to prospect or are fearless in selling and will find people to sell to.
  • Helping protect families and businesses from financial disaster due to death and disability is the most rewarding aspect of being an insurance agent.
  • Building a practice is a long-term process. To succeed in sales, you need a long-term plan and financial resources to sustain yourself in lean times.
  • Effective communication is about focusing on your client’s needs and not your commission. People don’t care how much you know until they understand how much you care.
  • A sales professional’s life is the most extraordinary life you can have if you know what comes with it. You can make a little or a lot. Ultimately, it is up to you. If you produce, it will be very lucrative; if not, you learn some important lessons.
  • A closing is not when the application is signed. The closing is when you get paid.

What inspired or led you to pursue a career in the insurance industry?

“My life insurance agent recruited me. Why? I knew a lot of people. Relationships are the heart of sales. The life insurance industry hires for two reasons: you have a natural market of people to prospect or are fearless in selling and will find people to sell to. You are hired to sell; it is a production-driven business.”


How has your educational background in business management and psychology influenced your approach to the insurance industry?

“I started my career focused on owning a business. My education was built around that career path. Getting a BBA in Industrial Psychology and an MBA in Business Management supported that goal.

I always intended to have a broad business background and understanding of how business-oriented minds work. I wanted to understand the road to success.”


Can you share the pivotal moments that led you from being a licensed insurance broker to founding LifeInsureAssure.com?

“I have had several successful and diversified careers and was never afraid to change paths. I was motivated by a passion to create something by taking something and making it better.”


What’s Life as an Insurance Agent?


Could you describe a typical day or week in the life of an insurance agent? What are the primary responsibilities and tasks?

“A typical day or week includes:

  • Calls: You will be dialing for dollars. You will have hot, warm, and cold lists. You will be given sales scripts to memorize and you’ll be encouraged to network and meet new people.
  • Appointments: Your life will be a constant quest for appointments, the holy grail of sales training 101. In sales meetings, sales managers will list what worked and what did not. 
  • Presentations: Until you succeed, you will have calls, appointments, presentations, and closing formulas to manage.
  • Underwriting and approval: Customers, especially friends, sometimes want to keep their personal information private. You must obtain all health-related information upfront. They are your clients and need to know that your job is to have all the facts before you give them a price. This will be challenging at times, but it is critical to your success.
  • Closings: A closing is not when the application is signed. The closing is when you get paid.”

What do you find most challenging about being an insurance agent? On the flip side, what are the most rewarding aspects of your job?

Most challenging:

  • (ABH) ALWAYS BE HUSTLING: Sales is a contact sport. You are always looking for your next lead.
  • (ABS) ALWAYS BE SELLING: You have to keep asking for their business. People will procrastinate, not consider life insurance a priority, or believe it is another expense they don’t want to pay.
  • (ABC) ALWAYS BE CLOSING: You have to keep asking for the check. The industry knows that life insurance is sold, not bought. Therefore, signing the application may take several meetings over weeks or months.”

Most rewarding:

  • Helping protect families and businesses from financial disaster due to death and disability.”

What are the biggest misconceptions people have about purchasing life insurance, and how do you address these when serving clients?

“Some consumers think that life insurance is a commodity. Therefore, anybody with an insurance license can offer the same thing.

YET,

Life insurance is a very sophisticated product. Therefore, experience, integrity, independence, and an open platform of companies and products are critical. Sometimes, consumers don’t want to bother with it, yet they want to do it, so they delegate decision-making to a friend.

I have never met a person who bought life insurance because they thought that they were going to die. Therefore, many people get the risk mitigation wrong. They either don’t buy enough, don’t buy the coverage for the proper length of time, or buy more expensive and inappropriate coverage.

Many consumers allow emotions to override logic. The industry knows and trains its salespeople to understand that people buy emotionally and justify decisions with logic.

The biggest misconception revolves around trust. People want to trust their employer’s insurance company. Consumers don’t understand that the agent’s employer insurance company is their client, not the consumer.

How do I address these misconceptions? 

First, salespeople love to tell you you can trust them, especially if they are family or friends. I tell people I do not want them to trust me; I want them to trust themselves. Unfortunately, until now, no quality resources have been available to consumers. This drove me to develop a new way to BUY life insurance.”


Considering the evolving landscape of insurance, how do you foresee the role of an insurance agent changing in the future?

“Are life insurance professionals salespeople or consultants? We are salespeople. Potential changes in the future can be compensation moving from commission-based to fee-based and life insurance companies being legally required to divest themselves of their sales forces.”


Advice for Aspiring Insurance Agents


What advice would you offer to someone considering a career as an insurance agent?

“Building a practice is a long-term process. To succeed in sales, you need a long-term plan and financial resources to sustain yourself in lean times.

The secret of the industry is that life insurance companies know how difficult it is to sell a piece of paper that is for the benefit of someone else who will not live to see the results. That is why sales commissions and employee benefits are very generous. 

A sales professional’s life is the most extraordinary life you can have if you know what comes with it. You are your boss, and you are expected to hit your sales targets. If you don’t, you will be terminated for lack of production. You can make a little or a lot. Ultimately, it is up to you. However, in exchange for the independence comes the uncertainty. As I said, sales is a contact sport. If you produce, it will be very lucrative; if not, you learn some important lessons.

Sales can be very lonely and competitive at times. It’s your commission for your family or your competitor’s commission for their family. I have seen collaboration and war between agents even within the same office.”


What strategies or approaches have you found most effective in building trust and rapport with clients in the insurance business?

“Building trust is a lifetime process. Trust is most important regardless of titles, professional designations, or college degrees. Always maintain your integrity meter.”


In your experience, what skills or traits are the most crucial for excelling as an insurance agent?

“Selling includes as many soft skills as hard skills. However, skills or traits don’t replace experience. Experience has a cumulative effect, and each experience is an opportunity to learn. You are dealing with life and death, safety and security, certainty and uncertainty. Find a mentor you trust.”


Reader Q & A with Howard Wolkowitz


“Being a salesperson on 100% commission can be very stressful at times. A secret to decreasing your stress level is to become a professional listener.

After hours and hours of sales and marketing training, we can’t wait to get in front of someone so we can tell them how smart we are. As a result, we talk way too much and listen way too little. 

All sales jobs can be stressful, but they can also be motivating. In my experience, if sales are more stressful than motivating, people usually quit and look for another job.”


“The best product to sell is usually the easiest to understand. Term life insurance has the fewest moving parts and is the simplest to understand. With fixed and guaranteed premiums extended to 40 years, it has become a compelling solution, even for sophisticated buyers.”


“Effective communication is about always focusing on their needs and not your commission. People don’t care how much you know until they understand how much you care. The second you see someone as a check writer and not your client, you put your relationship in jeopardy.

  • Good salespeople listen. Great salespeople listen twice as much as they speak.
  • When meeting with couples, never assume who the decision maker is. Pay attention to all parties and get buy-in from both before proceeding to the application process.
  • If you meet with a couple and they start discussing, arguing, or fighting, stay out of it. The second you attempt to fix, clarify, or side with one of them, you run the risk they will both turn on you.
  • Never try to invalidate a prospect’s opinion or point of view. Always validate before you educate. Your job is to fulfill their needs and make them feel like they made a good decision.”

“This is a great and complex question. Professionals always need to be learning. I would ask each individual whether the knowledge is more important than the certification.

For example, I have a BBA and an MBA. I don’t put this on my card, door, or anything I publish. WHY? I got these degrees for myself, not as an advertisement. I never earned any professional designations, but I attended every educational event I could attend and continue to read industry publications regularly.

Certifications can indicate a specialty or interest you have. But don’t try to impress people with your titles or designations. Impress them with your caring, your attention to detail, and your attention to getting them.

* * *

While this article contains some scary information and answers, it is worth reading if you enjoy the hunt, the challenge, the independence, being your boss, and having an endless inventory of products at no cost to you.

Life insurance sales will always need a professional to guide consumers in good decision-making.

Still not convinced?

What industry sells pieces of paper filled with assumptions and what-ifs that people pay for most of their lives and never live to see the results of their decisions?



Howard Wolkowitz

About the Author

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