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NYLIC U: A Sense of Purpose

Reprinted with the permission of Probe (1-800-47-PROBE; $95 Annual Subscription). Probe, Vol. 45, No. 3 (March 13, 1998)

For a long time now, I have been in the habit of saying that there is only one company in this business that actually knows where it is going, and that is Primerica. The problem, of course, is that Primerica wants to go in the wrong direction.

Now, however, there are two companies that seem to know where they are going. The other one is New York Life, and, for my money, they're going in the right direction.

Let me repeat a few comments I picked up during a recent visit to the New York Life home office:

Expanding the field force? Selling death benefit? Who do they think they are? An insurance company?

NYLIC University — a catchall phrase for an entire training and marketing program — has been up and running for more than a year now. It provides, for the first time, a standardized, company-wide curriculum and point of view for training new agents. There is one trainer in each agency throughout the country. Training is divided into three sections: pre-contract, the first six months, and continuing development. After the first six months (more or less — depending on progress) new hires attend a week-long Career Development Conference in Dallas where they are exposed to more advanced ideas from experienced agents and professional trainers. The Conference, in turn, leads to more specialized training that can continue for a long time and encompass such non-company areas as CLU. The object is to provide a continuing growth environment and avoid that hey-where-did-everybody-go? feeling that discourages so many young agents once their initial instruction is over.

The program emphasizes "counselor selling" by a real, live agent, sitting down with people and talking to them about the dangers of dying soon or living a long life without sufficient insurance coverage. It is unabashedly in favor of permanent products.

NYLIC-U apparently has a few cards up its sleeve for established agents too, and for managers — but the company isn't talking about that yet.

What they are talking about is the face amount sold, ratio of life insurance to other products, and proportion of permanent to term insurance — and there are happy smiles on their faces when they talk about it.

If you want to get right down to it, there isn't anything very new or original about NYLIC-U. Other companies teach their agents how to sell, and some do it very well. But there are not many companies these days that manage to convince their agents they are valued — that agents are not just the fall guys for when the company gets sued — and that the field force is not simply an annoying nuisance to be put up with only until Internet sales take off.

That, I suspect, is the secret ingredient in NYLIC-U. It appears to recognize that an agency-building company must not only get agents into the business, but also get the business into agents. There must be sense of mission as well as technique.

There was a time when it was common for life insurance companies to have a sense of mission. We were pro-active: here is the market we want to reach; here is the product we want to sell; and here is why it is right. Then we got conglomer-itis. The market became everyone; the product was anything even vaguely connected to money; and right was what everybody else was selling this week. There is nothing really wrong with that, but it is difficult to get really fired up about selling a "commodity".

The basic message that NYLIC-U seems to be attempting to instill is: We're a life insurance company; we sell death protection; that is our business. We also make available to our clients a number of products, but fundamentally, we look for a need for permanent life insurance, and then we sell to that need. Simple and obvious as that may be, I doubt there are very many companies in our business today who could frame their purpose so succinctly.

It remains to be seen whether a company as large and diversified as New York Life can recapture the sense of mission that motivated the great life insurance companies during their building period. But so far, I'm impressed. Keep your eye on New York Life. I think they are turning things around.

Reprinted with the permission of Probe (1-800-47-PROBE; $95 Annual Subscription). Probe, Vol. 45, No. 3 (March 13, 1998)

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