The narc dilemma: Should advisors say something?Article added by Stephen Forman on October 17, 2012
Stephen D. Forman (LTCA)

Stephen Forman

Bellevue, WA

Joined: February 07, 2011

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There’s something to be said for keeping to yourself, to keeping your nose down and just doing your job. On the other side of this coin, one could argue that industries have a very poor track record of policing themselves. So, if you see something, shouldn’t you say something?

Please allow me to present two diametrically opposed points-of-view, and then relate what they have to do with the present culture of the insurance industry. The very synonyms within this piece create the dividing line between the categories, so loaded are our words with connotation.

There is honor in whistleblowing, shame in snitching

How you feel about the act is portrayed by the word you use to describe it. In one corner are the whistleblowers, tipsters, informants, tattletales, snitches and narcs. In the opposite corner are those who say nothing.

When I came of age, there was a stigma associated with narcs. The word was a pejorative and snitching was one of the worst taboos you could break.

Then — and stop me if you've heard this one — after 9/11, everything changed. It was the New York Metropolitan Transit Authority who first coined the phrase in 2002 which went viral: "If you see something, say something." Co-opted by Homeland Security, this campaign to create 300 million informants is now a licensed partner of MLB, MLS, the NHL, NBA and NFL.

Similarly, the Houston Police Department released another viral sensation, their "Run, Hide, Fight" YouTube hit. Setting aside its popularity as a film, the content is noteworthy. Unlike decades past — “Leave no man behind!" — the warning to American citizenry of 2012 has shifted focus: "Put on your own oxygen mask first and save yourself!” The video explicitly warns you not to let others slow you down with indecision (“Evacuate whether others agree to or not.”) Applauded for its no-nonsense rationality, much of the Houston training video is, quite literally, anti-social.

And today, the era of informing, whistleblowing and leaking has reached its ultimate expression: Wikileaks. Where once the idea of whistleblowing was informed by the esteemed legacies of Karen Silkwood, Daniel Ellsberg and Frank Serpico, today its face is the pale and polarizing Julian Assange.

We live in a post-narc world

The above examples are not meant to be politically charged, for this is not a political article. It's about a sea of change in American culture. And one corner of the U.S. where it has manifested itself is the “thin pinstriped line” of the insurance agent.

Recently, our ProducersWEB community has witnessed a boom in stories about agent misdeeds, from the divisive, you-were-there trial of Glenn Neasham, to the innovatively “gray” tactics of Joseph Caramadre, to the N.J. agent swept up by a non-compliant DM postcard. In my home state, a producer just received the largest fine I’ve ever seen, $150,000, surpassing that of most carriers. (For these reasons and others, ProducersWEB created an entire microsite called The Trust Project designed to unmask the root causes of our industry's bad press and develop a unified strategy to right the ship.)
This reached a pitch when a zealous and passionate article appeared on site, courtesy of one of our esteemed colleagues. In it, the gentleman rails against a scourge within the annuity industry, a scam which exists as an “open secret.” Out of the woodwork came the pats on the back, the rally cries for daring to expose what few had the courage to call a spade.

Into this echo chamber poured the comments, and it's likely that’s where they remain.

Will the narc please step forward?

And herein lies the challenge for our industry. Since I plainly admit I know nothing of the facts, please accept that I’m citing the above case solely for hypothetical purposes. But for the sake of argument, let’s ask one another, if the annuity scam above is such an open secret, where are today’s narcs? Why isn’t anyone turning in their fellow agents?

Do you find this a dilemma, not easily answered?

There’s something to be said for keeping to yourself, keeping your nose down and just doing your job. Shouldn't we all just concentrate on performing ethically the tasks before us and ignoring the competition? The industry has enough of an image problem without airing its dirty laundry in public. It creates bad press that consumers needn’t read. Rather, it would be better for the industry to present a united front and settle its grievances behind closed doors.

On the other side of this coin, one could argue that industries have a very poor track record of policing themselves. Both Penn State and the Catholic Church infamously tried to protect their brands with disastrous consequences. So, if you see something, shouldn’t you say something?

In the long-term, aren't we protecting our industry by rooting out the bad apples?

I’m very interested to learn what you think is the right response when you notice agent misbehavior. Please share your stories. Also, take this SurveyMonkey regarding the two opposing points-of-view presented above, and I’ll share the results!
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