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Too few good men and women

After attending the recent FSB Insurance Regulatory Seminar, a friend remarked about the many attendees sporting various tints of grey in their hair or, as someone put it, “wisdom highlights”.

Undoubtedly the highlight of the movie, “A few good men”, was the outburst by Colonel Jessup (Jack Nicholson), after he was trapped into admitting that he in fact gave the order which led to the death of marine Santiago:

“You can’t handle the truth! Son, we live in a world that has walls, and those walls have to be guarded by men with guns. Who’s gonna do it? You? You, Lieutenant Weinberg? I have a greater responsibility than you can possibly fathom. You weep for Santiago and you curse the Marines. You have that luxury. You have the luxury of not knowing what I know, that Santiago’s death, while tragic, probably saved lives. And my existence, while grotesque and incomprehensible to you, saves lives! You don’t want the truth, because deep down in places you don’t talk about at parties, you want me on that wall. You need me on that wall. We use words like “honour”, “code”, “loyalty”. We use these words as the backbone of a life spent defending something. You use them as a punchline. I have neither the time, nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom that I provide, and then questions the manner in which I provide it!”

In a way, the words “…those walls have to be guarded by men with guns” reminds me of the remaining senior citizens in the industry who spent a lifetime looking after the welfare of their clients, and are now considering leaving in view of the rapidly changing world they knew.

It is not as if the industry is shrinking, judging by the numbers who register for the regulatory examinations. It is more a case that those whose experience and knowledge enable them to take good care of their clients are being replaced by people who still have to acquire these skills, and build the relationships of trust, which is so important between clients and advisers.

Treating customers fairly entails so much more than product knowledge, and this knowledge comes with experience. Unfortunately, good judgement comes from experience, and that experience comes from bad judgement, as the old saying goes.

The turnover rate in the industry is very high. Very few who enter the industry make it beyond the first two or three years. Many of those who did make it will attest to the fact that their survival was often the result of a role model whom they could emulate. Ironically, there will also be cases where they would have learnt from the vagabonds what not to do.

The industry will not grind to a halt because older advisers are leaving. There are many younger professionals who are bound to flourish through enhanced professional services.

Elsewhere in the world, there is a growing trend for clients to use technology to help themselves, while direct marketing will satisfy the needs of a section of the population.

In his book, Future Shock, futurist Alvin Toffler defines the title as a certain psychological state of individuals and entire societies. His shortest definition for the term is a personal perception of “too much change in too short a period of time”.

Perhaps, as we grow older, we find it more and more difficult to adapt to change, particularly when it seems that things that were not broken are being mended at a rate of knots.

Sadly, the overriding concern for many is not deciding to leave the industry, but not being able to care for those clients who have come to rely on them for so much more than the sale of a policy every now and then.

We use(d) words like “honour”, “code”, “loyalty”. We use these words as the backbone of a life spent defending something.

Let us pray, for the sake of consumers, that the same principles will guide the new generation.

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