Building your insurance business isn’t that complicated: Tips from a top young producer
By Paul Wilson
“If you can’t be excited about it, you should find another business.”
Jason Dudum is a perennial MDRT Top of the Table qualifier, specializing in advanced estate planning and asset management. He earned Pacific Life's Preston Hotchkis Distinguished Achievement Award in 2008.
In 1998, Jason and his brother, Keith, opened Dudum Financial and Insurance Services just outside of San Francisco. The company now has satellite offices in Seattle and Palm Springs, and helps clients in more than 20 states and several countries.
I recently sat down with Jason at MDRT’s annual meeting, where he discussed the current state of the insurance industry and shared some of his secrets to success.
ProducersWEB: How did you and your brother come to start your own business?
Jason Dudum: I started out as intern with Guardian and was working there building my business as an intern and then as a full-time field rep. My brother, Keith, was a broker at Morgan Stanley. We were both young at the time and felt it would be a good time to join together. He also saw that the insurance business was very profitable so we decided to form our own firm. That was back in ’98, and it was probably one of the worst times [economically] to start.
PW: You were pretty young when you got started in the insurance industry. What was it about the industry that initially caught your interest?
JD: I always wanted to help people. I’m very involved in my church and I saw the insurance business as a way of having freedom, allowing me to build a business, do things on my own, not really have to work for anybody except myself, but also be able to help people.
Early on in my business, I had a death claim. It was a very sad deal. A woman had passed away pretty close to when she took the policy out and so the whole process of delivering the money really inspired me about what we do and how great a service we provide for our clients.
PW: You got to see the personal aspect as opposed to the paperwork.
JD: Yeah, and that really motivated me to build my business because I saw it actually work. And I think for a lot of producers, until they have that event, it’s hard to understand and get it going.
PW: As you know, there is a severe shortage of young people entering the insurance industry. Why is that?
JD: Because life insurance is just not glamorous. It’s not something, I think, where people graduate from college and want to be a life insurance salesman. The investment arena is really where all the young talent is going. That’s what’s taking away that pool that might have, in the past, gone into selling insurance. They’re now working for wirehouses or going into the independent channel and doing investments.
That demographic sees insurance people as not that important or not that exciting. I look at that and I laugh because, being in the insurance business: What a better opportunity! There are so many people right now who need our help and there's just not enough people to do it. What a great time to be in the business. If you can’t be excited about it, you should find another business. That’s one thing that I love: there’s just not a lot of competition. PW: And right now, people are looking for security and guarantees and other things you can provide.
JD: And we can give it. We obviously need to educate our clients about what we do. But when I present something or propose something, I never find competition. It’s pretty easy.
PW: What can the industry do to help remedy the problem of aging agents?
JD: The industry has changed. Back when I started in the late ‘90s, it was more of the agency system. People were recruited and brought through agencies and that’s not really the case anymore. Now there’s the whole broker general agents (BGA) system. The insurance companies need to invest in that channel and help these people recruit. I don’t know how that would be done but that’s really the lifeblood of what the business is going through.
I’m also a member of the National Association of Life Brokerage Agencies (NAILBA) and go to those meetings, and that’s where the growth of this industry is: The BGAs finding agents to sell under them. But on the flip side, there’s just not the training that there was 10, 20 years ago.
PW: That leads into my next question: What is the current state of producer education? Do you believe insurers provide agents with adequate training?
JD: They don’t, but again, the problem is that BGA network. The insurance companies are paying the BGAs so much money that they’re not going to have additional money to pay for training.
So really, the onus is on the BGAs. That’s why Million Dollar Round Table (MDRT) is working with NAILBA and trying to use that as a way to grow membership, because that NAILBA/BGA marketplace is really where the growth of our industry is.
PW: I’ve heard it said that young agents lack sufficient access to the knowledge and experience of industry veterans. Do you agree?
JD: I actually don’t agree with that because I think the onus is on the young agents. When I first started going to meetings, I was a sponge. I would go to the Tony Gordons or the Marvin Feldmans, the legends of our industry, and ask them what they do and how they do it. The unique thing about our industry is people want to help. They want to help young people; they want to give advice.
If we’re all at a restaurant or convention, we’re not sharing our recipes or secrets. But here at MDRT, everyone wants to share. So they have the access; the problem is, they don’t want to take advantage of it, or they’re afraid. I think if we all step up as young producers and go to those people, we’ll get the access.
People come up to me, being Top of the Table, and ask me, “How do you do it?”
I’ll sit there and talk to someone for 30 minutes and tell them what I’m doing. So it’s just a matter of asking. But I’m not going to go find someone to talk to; it’s up to them to initiate.
The access it there, but unfortunately, I don’t see the young producers taking advantage of it.
PW: Why is life insurance ownership at an all-time low in the U.S.?
It goes back to what I was talking about before. Unfortunately, there’s just not a lot of people selling it and out educating people about what they need. Life insurance has negative connotations — you’re talking about death. Some people are just going to want to buy it, but a lot of the sales are salespeople explaining why someone needs it. And that’s just not happening — there’s not enough of those people out there right now. It’s also not only at an all-time low, but people who do have insurance don’t have as much as they should have, and that’s a salesperson issue, too. If someone’s just buying $1 million worth of term on SelectQuote or Matrix Direct when they own a home worth $1 million dollars and make a million dollars, that’s also a big problem.
PW: Do you see this lack of insurance as a problem for the industry or an opportunity?
It’s a problem for America, because insurance is meant to help families. But I see it as a heck of an opportunity for the industry, because we should be talking about insurance with everyone we meet. Young people, old people, everybody.
A lot of people in the business are afraid of writing that young person because it’s not a real big commission or a big premium. But when you’re starting out in the business, you should be writing everybody and getting as many clients as possible. Then you’ll get the big ones.
I always want to work with young people because I also want to work with their parents and their business partners. A lot of young people that are successful work with someone who is older.
PW: Do you feel that there are any particular niches that are underserved right now? The middle class? Maybe those younger people you just mentioned?
JD: I say all. Yes, younger people, but there are a lot of younger people who don’t have insurance. A lot of the middle class is underinsured. Then there’s a lot of elderly people — and especially right now with the tax laws and the opportunities in the coming year — who need help. I have clients worth millions of dollars who have no life insurance, because they don’t feel they need it. It’s up to me to explain why they need it.
PW: You have made MDRT’s Top of the Table and received many other industry accolades. To what do your attribute your early success and quick rise within the profession?
JD: It’s so simple. It’s just being in front of people; it’s talking to people; it’s telling people what you do. Trying to help them, trying to get appointments with them; just networking to death. If you network like crazy and you’re in front of people, the sales will take care of themselves.
We don’t ask for referrals, we just take care of people and the referrals come by themselves. Now, they take longer to get, but when you get them, they’re so much better than when you sit in front of someone with a pad of paper and ask for a list of 10 people. I just can’t do that.
PW: When someone asks you what you do, what do you tell them?
JD: I cut to the chase. I tell them I sell insurance and investments.
If it doesn’t excite them, it’s fine. I’m not worried about it. A lot of people answer this creatively but I don’t want to sugarcoat it, because I don’t want to try to sell them.
After I answer their question, I ask them what they do. Because the key in this exchange is not what I do, it’s what they do, because they want to talk about themselves. I want to develop the relationship with them by asking questions about them and their family. PW: Do you have any advice for young advisors who are struggling or have yet to achieve success?
JD: I was talking to a young advisor today and one of the things I told him was just to go to a local Starbucks or a local Dunkin’ Donuts and just sit there every morning from 7 to 9 in the morning. Read the paper; just be out. Force yourself to be out. Don’t expect them to come to you; you’ve got to be out. We’ve gotten a lot of sales just by sitting in a restaurant or a coffee shop and just meeting people. People who we know, but would never just call.
PW: What challenges do advisors currently face that weren’t an issue when you began your career?
It’s really hard to get started. The training thing is a big issue. When I got started 14 years ago, I got a great training program, I learned about all the products. That just isn’t there nowadays.
So, what I would encourage any young advisor to do is just really focus on connecting. Find someone like myself who is a little more seasoned — a veteran — and work with them. But when you’re working with them, don’t focus on being an expert on the products; just focus on connecting with people, being in front of people and then when things get complex, bring the veteran in.
Don’t worry about what’s the best indexed policy, the best universal policy, the best variable policy. Just focus on finding out more about people’s wants and needs and then help them, using a senior person to help you.
Never be afraid of sharing commissions. When I started in the business, I shared a lot of commissions with other advisors to get them to help me. What I learned from them was stuff I was able to use later. My whole attitude is, half of something is better than nothing at all.
PW: How do you keep current on industry trends, strategies, etc.?
JD: I read a ton. Whenever I travel, I’ve got all my magazines — I’ve got my Life Insurance Selling, National Underwriter, I’m on ProducersWEB. There are so many ways to get knowledge. I read the Wall Street Journal every day. You’ve got to stay informed.
The second thing, and there’s no substitute for this: You’ve got to attend meetings. The MDRT is probably the best meeting you can attend, because number one, you get the knowledge, but you also get the whole person. That’s the unique thing about this meeting. When I go to other meetings, it’s all about knowledge. Knowledge is great, but there’s more to life than knowledge. I mean, the knowledge will help you grow in your career but the whole person will help you grow as a person.
When you’re at these meetings, talk to people. “What do you do? How do you do it? What’s your elevator talk?"
Someone might talk about a product. “Well, what’s your elevator talk? How do you use that product?”
Get nuggets, because if you don’t get anything from the meeting, then it was just a waste of time. Why are you here? The best knowledge I get from these meetings is not from main platform sessions or the focus sessions. It’s at lunch or at the pool sharing ideas. That’s how you grow.
PW: Anything else you’d like to add?
JD: I just encourage people to network and get in front of people. Ask questions. That’s really how you build your business. It’s not a secret.
People make this business so complex. People bring their laptop to a meeting. I bring a yellow pad and a pen and I take notes and ask questions.