We'll help you plan
Insurance agents don't just hawk the same insurance plans to everyone they meet. They consider the financial status and life situation of their clients and assist them in selecting their optimal insurance policy. When selecting a policy, an agent helps tailor the value of the policy to the financial needs of the policyholder, whether that person needs to send a child to college or build up their nest egg for retirement. Increasingly, insurance agents and brokers offer comprehensive financial planning services to their clients, such as retirement planning counseling. Because of this, many insurance agents and brokers are licensed to sell mutual funds and other securities.
The work of an insurance professional includes such things as helping policyholders when they have a claim, generating reports and keeping records. Specialists in group policies may help employers provide their employees the opportunity to buy insurance through payroll deductions. Agents may work for one company or independently for several companies. Brokers do not sell for a particular company, but direct their clients to companies that offer the best rate and coverage.
The insurance industry is broadly split into two main categories: property and casualty, and health and life. Property and casualty insurance agents and brokers sell policies that protect individuals and businesses from financial loss as a result of automobile accidents, fire or theft, tornadoes and storms, and other events that can damage property. Health and life agents sell insurance that covers medical bills and provides compensation to a family in the event of a death.
People, people, people
An insurance agent's success is contingent upon his or her ability to seek out and retain clients and on the agent's reputation among colleagues. Difficulty in developing a client base drives many insurance agents from the field early. However, those who are able to withstand such adversity can look forward to high salaries and career autonomy.
Insurance agents and brokers must obtain a license in the states where they plan to sell insurance. By law, licenses are issued only to applicants who complete specified courses and then pass written examinations covering insurance fundamentals and insurance laws. Agents who plan to sell mutual funds and other securities must also obtain a separate securities license. New agents typically receive training at pre-licensing schools conducted by state insurance agents' associations or at the home offices of the insurance company. Most states also have mandatory education requirements focusing on insurance laws, consumer protection, and the technical details of various insurance policies.
An insurance agent who shows sales ability and leadership may become a sales manager in a local office. Those who continue to advance move to executive positions. Agents with a strong client base, however, usually prefer to remain in sales because of the high pay. Often, these agents will use these relationships to go into business for themselves.
This high pay comes in various forms. Working on commission is the most common type of compensation. Independent agents normally receive commission only, while insurance agencies or carriers may pay their agents a salary only, a salary plus commission or a salary plus bonuses. Commissions are usually dependent upon the type and amount of insurance sold and whether the policy was new or a renewal.
Insurance agents are, by and large, 'proud' to be in the 'business of helping people.' One agent lauds the 'exceptional pay' and perks such as scholarships for employees' children and on-site child development centers. Independent agents and brokers appreciate not having to deal with 'restrictions on autonomy' and sometimes 'inflexible' responses to change. Says one insurance agent, 'The biggest benefit is that you have some flexibility in your work schedule.' Agents cite the 'peaks and valleys' of working on commission as unsettling at times, but the 'earning potential is tremendous' for those who do so. Many appreciate the ability to determine their own income--'to control your own destiny.' One California agent describes it as 'freedom to make my own income level: the more I sell, the more I make. If I want or need a raise, I just have to sell more to earn more commission.'
Those who have the drive, determination and talent to make it past the first years of learning to work independently report loving their jobs. Employers want their agents to 'think outside of the box,' have 'time management skills,' 'discipline' and 'the ability to accept rejection.' Although some agents lament the formal dress code, most happily endure 'dark suits or silk blouses' in exchange for the chance to make 'sky-high commissions.' One agent sums up the agent experience by saying that 'the hours are long but this is the chance to run your own show and get paid handsomely for it.'
Independence; Strong advancement opportunities; High pay
Long hours; High level of dissatisfaction
Outgoing; Organized; Persistent; Independent; Confident
Sensitive; Creative; Timid
Average about 40 per week
Median salary: $43,870
For insurance agents selling financial products: certification from the National Association of Securities Dealers (NASD) or the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC)