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Tools, Electricity and the Learning Curve

Whether insurance is sold across the kitchen table, during a seminar or over the Internet, we have the tools—great tools with great products for great opportunities. By Stephen Gerdel

By Stephen Gerdel

It happened to me just the other day. It had been the first time. The actual process was nothing new, but the uniqueness of who and how struck me. For the first time in my 20-plus years in this business, I sold life insurance to Ben, the son of a long-standing client. And the sale was made on the Internet through our on line agency.

The combination of those two factors is what struck me. When I first met Brad and Karen (the parents), they were a young couple working hard to raise their sons. At that time, Ben was nine years old. Personal computers were younger than that, and universal life was an innovative concept born on the wings of high interest rates and eager speculation.

Back then, we had one computer in the office operated by the properly trained secretary. We also had products to sell?tools of the trade. How those tools have changed! Now we have lower costs, higher speeds, 100%-plus commissions, long guarantees, short surrender periods, boom-bita-bang! We’ve got it all, variable this and that with indexing or non-indexing options projected at guaranteed, current and mid-range interest rates, signed illustrations in paperback editions and errors & omissions insurance just in case. It’s a different world with a whole new set of tools.

Since they were first developed in some prehistoric age, tools have become great instruments for accomplishing remarkable tasks. But even then, any undertaking is subject to some random act of chaotic misadventure.

Perhaps a most extreme example of this curiosity was demonstrated by another client of mine named Cathy. Cathy and her husband Jeff have a large dog named Queen. Queen is about the size of a Shetland pony, a serious carnivore possessing a bark you don’t care to hear behind you on a late-night walk through the neighborhood. Her deep, threatening bark can bring every hair to full attention.

Therein lay the problem. Neighbors. A barking dog doth not a dear friend make, especially in the wee hours of a far-too-short night. Something had to be done.

Technology had created an opportunity for more control, or management of a resource that was something a little out of hand. It’s good to have a family pet. It’s also good to have the added security of a large dog. Did I mention “Shetland pony?” But the barking had become a problem.

The answer appeared to be the new anti-barking collar. Fitted with a state-of-the-art sensor, the collar would measure the noises made by the family pet. If the emissions were beyond certain pre-set decibel limits, the collar would deliver a strong electric shock to the careless canine’s neck, the intent being to train the animal into more acceptable civic behavior?sort of like political correctness for pets.

Cathy thought it would be a good idea to test this new tool for canine obedience training. If her puppy was going to engage a new dimension in maturity and responsibility, she wanted to understand it. New batteries were placed in the sensor packet on the collar. Then Cathy put the collar on herself!

It is rarely provided in instances like this one, but a clear explanation of why a grown person would do such a thing would be most enlightening. Far be it from this writer’s imagination as to what might ignite such an inspiration.

And now for the test. Cathy barked. It wasn’t the deep German Shepherd bark the neighbors had complained about but it was a bark. Nothing happened. Again, she barked. Did she feel a twinge? Perhaps. Then with all her inner-animal Cathy let loose with a thunderous bark.

The events of the next few seconds occurred with blinding speed. Cathy barked. The collar bit. Cathy responded, “OUCH!” The collar bit. Cathy replied, “AAUUCH!!” The collar bit. And on it went.

Each electric shock was generated in precise measure as it was designed. The response to the shock was in accelerando and crescendo from the previous response, each being measured, determined to be in excess of the allowable decibel limit and therefore requiring another shock. The tool was working perfectly.

Perhaps one might imagine a computer keyboard that delivers an electric shock when an interest rate of unreasonable expectation is inserted into the proposal system. Or a wristband that shocks one providing information on an application that isn’t exactly within the parameters of honesty. A tool is, after all, only an instrument being applied to defined circumstances or conditions. Proper implementation is a must.

And so it is with the tools of our trade. The tools considered commonplace in the financial services industry are ever-changing. We have to keep up. The changes in the last 20 years are remarkable. Those of the next 20 will be even more so.

Whether insurance is sold across the kitchen table, during a seminar or over the Internet, we have the tools?great tools with great products for great opportunities. The challenge will be to see if our industry can learn to use the tools in hand properly, along with those soon to come. If so, perhaps their development and arrival won’t be quite so ... shocking.

Stephen Gerdel operates Professional Insurance Services, in Washington, Mo., and online at He can be reached by phone at 314-578-4183 or by email at .


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