Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Dumbing down the biz...

Way back in the day (when I first started in this industry), there was a particularly pernicious group of agents we called "termites:" their sole mission in life, as directed by the home office of now defunct A L Williams, was to dupe unwitting victims into cashing out perfectly good permanent life insurance policies in favor of a long-discredited concept known as "BTID" (buy term and invest the difference). We'll leave the particulars for another day, but the main problem these folks ran into was that, once they ran through their list of "soft targets" (usually family and friends), they were gone.

ALW was eventually supplanted by Primerica, which carried on the former's ignoble tradition. Both models depended upon one thing: new warm bodies, which must be licensed. The failure rate for these agents was enormous (in fairness, it's never been all that terrific for the industry as a whole: contrary to popular belief, being a successful agent is often quite difficult and requires years of persistence).

Now it appears that the folks at Primerica are facing an even greater challenge: getting those warm bodies licensed in the first place:

"About 80% of Primerica recruits don't actually become insurance agents, often because they flunk state licensing exams ... That's a problem for the company, which, more than any other insurer of its size, depends on agents to sell policies."

No kidding.

And their solution?

Oh, you're gonna love this:

"Make the tests easier. [Primerica] asserted to state regulators that the exams aren't only too hard in some places, but might also be racially biased, putting African-Americans and other minorities at a disadvantage."


Did they just play the race card ?!

I believe that they did.

So the insurer with the "country's largest life-insurance sales force" just said that black people are too stupid (and/or uneducated) to pass a licensing exam. That must come as a shock to the many talented, bright, hard-working and successful black (and women) agents I've met in my almost 30 years "in the biz." This is more commonly known as "the soft bigotry of low expectations," and it is no less offensive when applied to minorities in the insurance industry than in any other context.

The reality, though, is much uglier; this isn't about "fairness," but greed:

"Some regulators worry that simplifying the tests could open the door for unqualified people to sell complicated policies. They say the problem isn't necessarily the tests ... but Primerica's own recruiting program. While some companies require candidates to have college degrees ... Primerica is different. It lets almost anyone sign up, so long as they don't have a criminal record and can pay a $99 fee to cover training and licensing costs, among other minimum standards."

So a pulse and a c-note gets you in the Primerica door. And there's the real story: according to the company itself, Primerica has "processed" over 900,000 wannabes over the past five years. That comes to over $89,100,000, or roughly $17,820,000 a year in "fees" from folks who may - or may not - actually pass muster. That's a lot of incentive to make it even easier, no?

[Hat Tip: Doris F]
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