Real friends can pass the test of time, withstand different beliefs, and make it through many fights, but the true test of friendship is when one becomes an insurance agent. Suddenly, your casual lunch meetings become sales pitches and eventually any other arrangement to meet in the future doesn’t happen. You start to believe you are no longer a friend but just another business opportunity.
It doesn’t matter friend or stranger though, we avoid insurance agents at all cost. My prepubescent looks gives me a free pass, but I have seen the way people shun agents at road shows. Of course, rejection isn’t the worst thing you deal with as an agent.
I was brought up with the salary earned from a full-time insurance agent. I have aunts, cousins, and friends in this line of work too. I’ve witnessed the effort and emotions that go behind every sales pitch, road show, clinched deal, or failed negotiation. I know every job comes with their own struggles, but for what they go through, insurance agents get a lot more flak than they deserve.
Many of my relatives choose not to disclose their job unless absolutely necessary because people treat them differently the moment they know. It’s extremely hard to form or keep social circles because everyone thinks meeting up could possibly mean being ‘preached’ to. Perhaps the worst is when kind intentions are met with skepticism – Are you nice to me because you want me to buy something from you?
In other words, insurance agents became a group we discriminate based on a few bad sheep and our preconceived perceptions.
Some time back one of my friend’s client landed himself in the hospital. It was only then, that he realised the hospitalisation plan he bought was void because he forgot to pay the monthly premium. While there was a very low chance of success, his agent, my friend, made calls and sent in paper work to appeal his case. Although the appeal was approved within a month, the client’s family still holds my friend responsible for the mess up – if anything goes wrong, only the agent is to blame.
Sales is a tough job regardless of what you’re selling, but convincing someone to commit a monthly payment or throw in a huge sum for an intangible item is really a lot harder. Yet, while we have no qualms with beauticians, jewelry store staff, or real estate agents getting a cut of what we pay, we seem to be really stingy with insurance agents. And we still feel entitled to getting free drinks whenever we meet them.
We cite their flexible schedule as a point of envy, but it’s precisely because this job isn’t governed by standard office hours or a fixed location that makes it impossible to separate work from personal time. Most of us would be enjoying our date nights or catching up on Netflix by 9pm but for my friends and relatives in the line, it’s when they finally end their day and go for their late and lonely dinner.
Just like any sales job, work constantly seeps into personal life – it’s difficult for agents to stop working. Whenever they are informed of someone’s hospital admission, the insurance agents I know will sacrifice family time to tend to these clients. Even if it was in the middle of a birthday celebration, they’d walk their client through the steps they should follow to ease the claims approval process.
It’s not always about monetary loss or gain either. Sometimes, the difference between a successful case closed and failed pitch is life and death, and the impact you make in someone else’s life will stay with you forever.
A close one recounted how she pulled out of a trip to Sri Lanka at the last minute but was asked to help her friends with their travel insurance. She recommended one of her friends, Amy, to buy an additional life plan which was a basic cover that she didn’t have, but Amy opted for a hospitalisation plan instead. Her whole group of friends died in the tsunami during that trip, including Amy. Amy was a single mother, and her 2 children were left orphaned without financial support – something that the agent blames herself for till this day.
Ultimately, selling insurance is just part of an insurance agent’s job. Since we’re all about acceptance and love these days, let’s extend this circle to everyone we meet – give them a chance to talk if you have time to listen. Most agents actually do believe in the benefits and returns that these plans entail. And if that annoying friend won’t stop bothering you, there’s always a kinder way to say no than to cut out a friend entirely.