Throughout the years, I've worked with scores of property/casualty insurance agents who wanted to expand their practices into financial services. It's an attractive idea. They have a built-in client base and a pre-existing relationship. A great deal of the necessary fact-finding has already been done. But these efforts have almost invariably failed.
It's tempting to chalk these failures up to a lack of focus and effort on the part of the producers, particularly because, strictly speaking, it's a completely accurate conclusion. However, by taking a step back and examining why the lack of focus and effort have been such a consistent problem among agents who were industrious and productive in their P&C businesses, all of us who seek success can learn some valuable lessons.
Tyranny is generally defined as an overwhelmingly oppressive force that prevents one from doing what he'd like to do. But that doesn't mean that this force is a bad thing per se. Let me suggest that there are at least three surprising tyrannies -- overwhelmingly oppressive forces -- that I routinely see among P&C producers (and among financial services producers too) which impede these producers in their efforts to reach their goals. None of these tyrannies are bad things. Indeed, they are often good and even necessary things, but if unchecked, they can derail us just as surely and just as decisively as tyrannies that are clearly bad, such as greed.
No 1. -- The tyranny of the urgent. If we don't plan well and stay focused on what we should really be doing, it's easy to get caught up in any number of very real or imagined emergencies that prevent us from being as productive and effective as we should be. The P&C business is fraught with urgent matters that demand immediate attention. "My daughter got her license today; add her to the auto policy now." P&C producers often get way-laid by these immediate demands, to the exclusion of work toward their broader goals. This problem is compounded because the "urgent" brings in immediate revenue, while the financial services business requires longer lead times and less definitively urgent needs. Yet, careful planning and preparation can usually preclude most of these allegedly "urgent" problems from coming up. It's also helpful to remember that someone else's emergency isn't necessarily your emergency. Finally, while true emergencies occasionally come up and must be dealt with, a closer examination of many apparent emergencies shows that they often aren't emergencies after all. Frankly, if you're spending a significant amount of your time on "urgent matters," you probably aren't very well organized. And, sometimes, we like to think of ourselves as dealing with dire problems and circumstances just to feel important. Resist the tyranny of the urgent.
No. 2 -- The tyranny of the new. If we are constantly focused on the next new thing, we can lose sight of our goals, values, priorities and what we're really all about. P&C producers often get so bogged down trying to learn everything about our business before moving forward that they never can move forward. There are always going to be new products, new approaches and new techniques available to us. Many of them are excellent tools, but they mustn't become excuses for failing to act. Moreover, before you use any of them, make sure the hot new technique, approach or tool actually works and truly fits your goals, strengths and business model. Take advantage of the new, but resist being bound to and by it. Progress isn't always forward.
No. 3 -- The tyranny of the good. It is tempting to see a task or a goal that is good and simply set out to accomplish or meet it. It's good after all. It's a good thing for P&C producers to serve their clients, but we should be careful to make sure that every endeavor we undertake is the best use of our time, our skills and our resources. A P&C agent who doesn't allocate her time, talent and resources properly in order to build a new branch of her business will lose out on an outstanding expansion opportunity. To bring it a little closer to home, solving administrative problems relating to 1035 exchanges is an unfortunate fact of life in our business, but if a producer is spending an inordinate amount of his time on these problems, more productive and profitable uses of time and skills (e.g., seeing clients or prospects) are often ignored. Producers would be far better off hiring someone to do the work for which specific professional expertise is not required so that they can focus on what is the best use of their expertise. And to be honest, we often use these "goods" as an excuse to avoid doing (and to avoid feeling guilty about not doing) what we know we should be doing.
Shaking off the yoke of tyranny isn't easy, especially when the tyranny we face isn't really a bad thing in itself. But doing so is necessary if we are going to be as efficient and as effective as we can be -- for the good of our clients, our businesses, our families and ourselves.
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