This fact will not surprise anybody: None of us are getting any younger. In fact, today’s insurance professional, according to LIMRA, is aging at a somewhat alarming rate: More than half of established career agents and nearly seven in 10 independent agents are 50 years old or older.
But what may surprise you are the ways that some insurance carriers are identifying, recruiting and training the next generation of successful sales professionals. These strategies not only showcase our ability to connect with some of the country’s best talent, but also fuel market growth and help us drive key customer demographics.
Identify top sales opportunities
At Colonial Life, for instance, we use an affinity program that targets future sales professionals among three key demographics: college-aged entrepreneurs, military veterans, and Spanish-speaking, bilingual professionals. We find each of these groups share key characteristics that are also shared by successful salespeople who have long careers and help grow our business.
For college-aged entrepreneurs, who tend to be motivated individuals who are open to taking risks, internships can be a key way to introduce the prospect of a successful sales future within our organization. By connecting with colleges near our sales offices, we find many students who are studying insurance or are part of an entrepreneurial fraternity.
Many of these students may have never considered a career in the insurance industry. Through internships and job shadowing, we can show them the possibility of an enriching, long-lasting career as their own boss, helping America’s workers protect what they’ve worked so hard to build. This can be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for them to build their client base at a young age and grow it throughout their careers.
Another great talent pool for future sales professionals is military veterans, who generally are disciplined, adaptable and responsible. Being an independent businessperson requires someone who is goal-oriented, responsible and organized, all of which are also critical skills developed in the military.
Veterans are used to working long hours and have the discipline they need to follow through on tasks. They often have leadership experience and can effectively work independently or on a team. Finally, military life is all about service to others — a valuable trait for someone in our industry.
A third area that can provide a rich talent pool is Spanish-speaking, bilingual professionals who can help grow the insurance industry by serving the booming Hispanic population. Hispanics are currently the largest ethnic group in the U.S., with 52 million representing 16 percent of the total population.
By 2030, Hispanics will number 79 million and be almost a fourth of the U.S. population, according to LIMRA figures. While a third of all Hispanics are third-generation U.S. born and speak English fluently, they are also bilingual, and many remain in touch with their ethnic roots. At the same time, the number of Hispanic-owned businesses is growing more than twice as fast as the national average.
The growth rate for all U.S. firms between 2007 and 2014 is estimated at 20.2 percent, and the total number in 2014 was projected to be 3.22 million, according to business consulting firm Geoscape. Language and cultural differences can be difficult to overcome when discussing a topic as personal as insurance, so finding professionals who are bilingual and better understand cultural nuances can pay big dividends for both the carrier and the salesperson.
Recruiting, training vital to success
Even after a carrier has identified areas of focus for the recruiting process, the work is far from over. Possible sales team members need to understand exactly why your company could be the best place for them.
Showcasing your company’s technological ability — through online training that improves the learning curve, enrollment partnerships that ease the burden on employer and employee, and web-based applications for smartphones that improve productivity — can promote your company as innovative and help you recruit the best and brightest talent available.
Technology is also an important part of finding the best recruits. Using targeted searches through free social networks (such as LinkedIn) or pay partners (such as Monster) will help your business connect to pools of future talent and sales.
Keeping young professionals on the job in the critical first few months and years can be difficult. Retaining the best talent possible should be a key focus of training efforts. The best carriers will have a variety of training platforms, which can include the classroom, self-paced online training modules and live training either online or over the telephone.
Remain innovative in a mature industry
Helping new recruits create and grow their young businesses to a point of success for them — and for your company — takes time. But showing the insurance industry as a growing market and opportunity, especially in times of health care reform and changing economies, can help recruit and train the best people to fill the shoes of the men and women who will soon be retiring from the sales organization.
The insurance industry, in many ways, is an old business. The idea of financial protection products to help people in tough times has been around for generations. But even though many carriers have been around a long time — Colonial Life just celebrated its 75th anniversary — that doesn’t mean carriers can’t, and shouldn’t, be creative and innovative when it comes to identifying, recruiting and training the next generation of outstanding sales professionals.
Mike Richardson is assistant vice president, national recruiting, at Colonial Life & Accident Insurance Company.