From the October 10, 2011 issue of National Underwriter Life & Health Magazine •Subscribe!

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Letters to the Editor

Help Wanted

  I’d like to take the opportunity to respond to the August 22 Letter to the Editor submitted by Paul S. Bunkin. In his commentary, Mr. Bunkin offered some thoughts in response to your article, “Help Wanted: The Number of Active Producers Continues to Erode”. Like Mr. Bunkin, I received similar training and development when I joined Prudential in 1979, and he correctly described how a significant amount of time and resources was made into each new recruit so everyone had an opportunity to succeed.

To Mr. Bunkin’s point, we do live in a different world today; however, those differences do not mean that we still cannot have a thriving community of financial professionals. As someone who is thoroughly engrossed with the growth and development of the Prudential field force, I live every day with the challenge of recruitment and retention. This is not just a company challenge, it is an industry issue, so I offer the following thoughts in regards to how we can attract and retain the next generation of financial professionals.

While Mr. Bunkin’s comments begin by mentioning training, a company’s first step should be to make sure that only qualified candidates make it into the training program. High quantity with low quality leads to high turnover. We have a program in place that provides job sampling before a candidate (and the manager) makes a commitment. It has been so successful for us from both a recruiting and retention perspective, we made the decision to offer this as our only entry path in the near future.

In regards to training, to Mr. Bunkin’s point, financial professionals today are dealing with a complex environment with very sophisticated products. Add to that the need to prospect and grow a book of business, plus an increased regulatory environment and the career can seem daunting. Companies can combat this with passionate managers who are committed to developing and training their new financial professionals. In addition, a company should have a clearly defined strategy to help new financial professionals build their client base. And finally, the best way to learn is from someone who has been in your shoes, so joint-work opportunities with veteran financial professionals must become the norm. Mr. Bunkin experienced much of this when he started at Prudential and I am proud to say we still continue these traditions.

From an industry perspective, we must do a better job of promoting our professionalism, and education plays a key role in this endeavor. The more knowledgeable we are, the better prepared we are to assist our clients across a variety of needs. We have partnered with The American College to support the benefits of designations such as CLU and ChFC throughout our organization. The more our next generation is exposed to this type of resource as well as other industry programs such as MDRT and GAMA, the more they get to see leaders in action, and that is extremely motivating.

One of the big differences Mr. Bunkin notes between today and yesterday is the culture of instant communications and its impact on client contact. There is no doubt that ours is a relationship building profession. In fact, if done correctly, most financial professionals after a few years can build their business simply through referrals. There is also no denying that social media is everywhere, and will play a big role in the future of our industry. The challenge is going to be in balancing the use of social media to expand one’s reach—whether for recruiting or prospecting—while not losing focus on personal interaction. It’s not that the younger generation is unwilling to sit at a kitchen table or business and talk products, it is that we have not done a good job as an industry showing them how they can use the communications tools they are most comfortable with as part of their business. This continues to play out from a regulatory and supervisory perspective, but it is a road block for many who are considering a financial professional career.

Not within Mr. Bunkin’s letter, but another significant industry challenge I feel obligated to point out, is that there is tremendous opportunity for growth from a diversity perspective. This is a passion for me and my leadership team, and I know other leaders share the same sentiment. The face of our nation is changing, and today’s financial professionals need to better represent the communities they live and work in. We need to improve how we reach the wealth of talent that is out in the marketplace—in many instances, right outside our doors.

I wholeheartedly agree with Mr. Bunkin’s assessment that all of us in the financial services industry play an important role in providing security to individuals and families. In fact, it is that opportunity to make a difference in someone’s life that most appeals to the next generation. This need to help is not going away, in fact, it will increase as markets continue their volatility, products become more complicated and companies bow out of defined benefit plans. We just need to do a better job of sharing our story and showing our new producers how to make dreams into realities.

 

John W. Greene , CLU, ChFC , is President of Agency Distribution, The Prudential Insurance Company of America based in Newark, New Jersey.

 

Meanwhile, on Wall Street

 Having read your article in the 10/3 edition of the LifeHealthPro Daily, I am compelled to comment (with tongue firmly implanted upon cheek).

To begin, it is clear that your deeply held dedication to the art of reportage, the respect with which you view journalism and those dedicated practitioners who came before you, would simply not let you turn away from the opportunity that the current of events had thrust before you. So, much as the storied news gatherers who preceded you had braved the front lines at Okinawa, the deadly morass of the Vietnamese jungles, the front lines of Afghanistan, and the deadly outlying areas of Iraq, you too put personal safety aside and got ‘in’, in amongst the rabble and dangerous subversives who comprise the ‘Occupy Wall Street’ mass(ing?) protest. Edward R. Murrow salutes you, sir!

You showed them all, with an in depth analysis of the the ‘Occupy Wall Street’ mass protest (and barbeque). The only problem is you came, you saw, and you went away with nothing.

In the write up of your ‘investigation’ you report that most of the protesters have little or none of the type of knowledge that you, your peers, and your (assumed) reading audience would respect. You wrote: “They seemed almost universally under-educated in terms of the specifics of the financial services industry they wished to protest, and not one could explain, for example, how exactly AIG imploded or what the Dodd-Frank act sought to accomplish.” as a means of pointing out the protester’s collective intellectual shortcomings, and as a means of dismissing them entirely.

Despite your casual dismissal of the protestors, their lack of leadership, focus, or their inability to cite the Dodd-Frank act chapter and verse, your attempt to understand them failed miserably. Your disregard for their intellectual capacities caused you to miss the main point, which is, people are fed up. Their true feelings are metastasizing and the fed up is turning to anger. They are angry and while they may not be able to articulate it in words that you ‘intelligent people’ can respect, the average person, formerly of the ‘middle class’, now better known as the ‘working poor’ can perceive the inherent injustice in a system which has developed around them. So, let me try to inform you of the phenomena occurring before you, the message that you failed to get, despite your efforts to go inside and gain insight.

The protesters can’t say yet what they can sense. First, they sense that they had no say in the system that we live under today. Second, they sense that it is the wealthy who control the system and that it is rigged against them. They see reports of CEOs making not 10 or 20 times the wage of the average worker but 200 to 300 times the amount of the average wage earner and they sense the unfairness of it all. They see the Republican party telling the American people that the wealthy are job creators, a special class not to be taxed, but they don’t see the jobs being created. That makes them angry and even if they can’t speak of it to your standards you better believe that anger is real.

They do more than sense it, they directly feel it when they lose their homes, or when forced to make daily decisions of whether to buy food or medicine, or when so many people that they know are unemployed, having no real hope of finding a job. They also feel frustration when they see politicians on TV playing political games to benefit party affiliations rather than acting to ease the country’s economic woes, and so though the Republican’s are by far the worse of the two political parties they also sense that it doesn’t seem to matter which party it is, because both are playing political games while this country sinks, and even worse, both parties are so obviously bought and paid for.

So now there is this nascent movement that seems to you, an ‘intelligent person’, so easy to dismiss. ‘Intelligent people’ like you want to laugh at the stupid protestors and their misspelled signs. Laugh while the anger that’s been growing for the past two years begins to accelerate and take shape. For two years the main feeling in this country has been despair. That feeling is beginning to turn into anger. The transformation will happen in a flash and you will be surprised. Most likely you and your ‘intelligent’, moneyed friends will still be dismissing the protestor’s right up to the day that they reach your doorstep.

There is a palpable feeling that a movement is beginning to grow in this country. As I write this, the New York Times is featuring an article which reports that the Wall Street protests are already spreading to other cities here in the US. Your dismissal will give you little comfort when they come for you and yours. I mean no individual threat, please don’t misunderstand me. I’m simply warning you that a mighty wind has begun to blow. It starts as a small breeze but like the hurricane that hit the Northeast this summer it is just beginning to blow. At first, softly, but in a relatively short time the beginnings of gale storm winds. Soon it will be a measurable thing, like that hurricane, visibly formed and with an identifiable eye, signs of an imminent storm.

As Bob Dylan sang in another time of protest: “The answer my friend is blowin’ in the wind”. He knew then what you will soon learn my hearing and sight impaired friend, do not dismiss what you can’t understand for “The Times They Are A Changing”. The protesters won’t need to be eloquent, be able to deliver a policy speech, or understand Dodd-Frank. I promise that when times do change, the message will be clear and understandable to all.

Lewis Urivetzky

 

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