Most industries change over time, but the insurance and financial services industries change every day. While it is imperative that brokers and advisers perform their due diligence prior to entering these sectors, it is even more important that they keep up with the ever-changing trends, rules, regulations and laws. Understanding and adapting to these changes is important not only for our clients, but also for protecting ourselves. This is an industry where making a small mistake or oversight, or not fully understanding something, can cost our clients thousands of dollars.
Continuing education is even more important if you are a sole proprietor. Working in a large firm usually provides brokers and advisers with regular access to changing trends and regulations. However, if you are on your own, it is entirely up to you to figure things out. This is especially true when you are just starting out. Let me give you a perfect example. When I first started out in the insurance industry - literally two weeks into my licensed selling - I met with an amazing couple in their log cabin on the top of a breath-taking, snow-covered mountain. We sat in front of a fireplace and sipped hot chocolate while classical music played in the background. I sold them a perfectly suited health insurance policy and advised them to cancel their old one before the end of the month. After all, if they didn't cancel soon, they might have to pay for another month of their expensive insurance. That would be silly. We laughed and shared stories. These people seemed more like a favorite aunt and uncle than my first clients. Things couldn't have gone better.
Two weeks later I received a call from the health insurance company they had applied to. Apparently my new aunt and uncle had a few more health conditions than they had previously disclosed to me. They were being declined! Well, no big deal. It would cost me a commission, but they could just reinstate their old health insurance, right? Unfortunately that wasn't the case. Due to my advice, they had canceled their full coverage plan and now were faced with an inability to obtain other insurance. I was terrified of being sued.
Even worse than that fear, however, was the fact that my favorite people in the world most likely now despised me. They probably thought I was some unscrupulous insurance agent who had preyed on them and taken advantage of their hospitality and kindness! Little did they know I was just a 22-year-old kid making my first sale entirely on my own. I had never had a mentor, nor a single friend in the industry.
Luckily, this story turned out well. They were able to get set up on guaranteed issue insurance that was almost as comprehensive as their old plan, and significantly less expensive. I was not sued. Things worked out for the best, but I knew they wouldn't be inviting me up for hot chocolate anytime soon. I realized that day how disastrous even a tiny mistake can be in this industry, and I made a vow to do everything in my power to learn the rules and regulations of my trade. It was further down the road that I also began to appreciate the role of continuing education in keeping up with industry trends.
It would be detrimental to yourself and to your clients to view the 24 credit hours you are forced to take every two years to renew your license as the only continuing education you need. In an industry that changes every day, 24 hours every two years is highly insufficient.
A client who has lost thousands of dollars based on a mistake you have made typically won't just sit back and say, "Don't let it happen again." They usually take action. Protect yourself and your clients by staying committed to continuing education.
Carst is a self-employed broker and consultant. She is the co-founder of Women Insurance Professionals, a nonprofit organization that helps women with the licensing process and career support. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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