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Why Should You Care About Insurance DNA?

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Four of us were standing in an elevator, chatting about an insurance trend discussed during a workshop. When the elevator reached the 10th floor, one member of the group exited. Right after, one of the others in the group asked me, “Do you know who that guy is?”

I said no. I was still pretty green around the insurance edges, so I was clueless on the who’s who thing.

It turned out that the fellow was a rainmaker in recruiting, for corporations seeking talent and for talent seeking new corporate digs.

The do-you-know story repeats itself in many ways, for many people in the industry, year in and year out. Do you know who that is? Do you know what that company stands for? Do you know how that company came into being? What’s the DNA on that competitor?

If you don’t know, woe is you. Well, not exactly woe, but you’ll be on the slow track until you get up to speed. That’s because experts in the insurance and financial services industry are looking for bench strength when mounting new campaigns, launching new products, cutting new deals — or even communicating with reporters.

So it is that the industry veterans, when talking with each other, often run through the laundry list of key acquisitions and spinoffs, leaders and losers, ups and downs. Along the way, they gain insight into how the industry works — insights that could pay dividends later on.

People who are new to the business often don’t get it. Some have told me this is no more than name-dropping. It is far from that.

The history in those tales often provides clues to influences at a company or in a leader. These influences can last years after key events have taken place and can sway current actions. The past swims around with the present, contributing a legacy not only in in-force business but in thinking. That can make a lot of things come clear, like why a company only sells annuities, why an agency refuses to offer certain products, why a consultant’s recommendations aren’t heeded, and on it goes.

One industry sector that is particularly keen on keeping tabs on the who-what-where lineage in insurance is distribution, particularly independent brokerage general agencies (BGAs) and insurance marketing organizations (IMOs).

The veterans in these businesses make it a priority to know not only who is working where, but also where they worked before, and before that. They devour product developments like food. They keep tabs on company mergers and acquisitions, and the triumphs and fallouts from each.

For them, such knowledge can be mission critical when placing cases. For instance, knowing which companies have medical directors with expertise in cancer, diabetes, heart disease or other medical conditions can make a big difference when seeking the best underwriting for individuals with those conditions. Likewise, when a case involves high life policy limits or jumbo annuities, knowing which carriers have proven expertise in these areas can make or break a deal.

This knowing is actually a form of keening or marked acuity. People can’t acquire it by reading a book or checking the Internet, because much of the essential knowledge is fluid, dependent on relationships, and experience-and-behavioral-based. One needs to stick around and also pay attention to — and remember — what is happening. It doesn’t arrive in a package with a bow on top.

That gent on the elevator did me a favor, to point out the era’s top dog in recruiting. As it turned out, there were a lot of things that I needed to learn before I could grasp industry trends and implications. Actually, this need has never stopped, because the industry keeps on changing. Sometimes, context is not just the background but the very heartbeat of what’s happening today.

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Linda Koco, MBA, is a contributing editor to InsuranceNewsNet, specializing in life insurance, annuities and income planning. Connect with Linda →

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