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Getting Young People Excited About Joining Our Ranks

I have to admit, insurance was the last career on my mind when I entered college in 1988. Although my father worked in the...
December 1, 2005

Give Young Agents the Spotlight Now - Don't Wait!

Donna ChiapperinoBy Donna Chiapperino

I have to admit, insurance was the last career on my mind when I entered college in 1988. Although my father worked in the industry and I would "help out" during vacations and summers, I still wanted to avoid insurance like the plague. I was influenced by the negative, albeit false stereotype of Willie Loeman, in a brown suit going door-to-door selling insurance and vacuums. (It was the same guy who sold both, right?)

Anyway, I was not about to become Willie Loeman. I tried numerous positions in sales and marketing, and then took a position with my father selling credit insurance (while I looked for a job). And, that is when the bug bit me. Now, almost 15 years later, I am still in insurance - and loving it.

The reason I give my story is because most people do not enter college with the grandiose hopes of one day becoming an underwriter or insurance agent. And, when asked about insurance, most college students know only about car insurance, possibly health and life. As a leading trade organization for the insurance field, it is our responsibility to change these misconceptions, stereotypes and educate potential candidates who may enter our field.

We have a responsibility to get out there into colleges and high schools in our areas and talk about insurance. We are successful in our careers because of our involvement in our communities. We volunteer for various causes to better our society, yet how often do any of us participate as a guest speaker in a college marketing class? I am going to guess that it hardly ever happens.  It is our responsibility to find and nurture the stars who enter our industry, and recognize their achievements before they've been in the field for more than 15 years.  It is our responsibility to perpetuate a positive image about our field to individuals and organizations outside of our own industry.  We can't just tell each other and we can't assume that our own hard work and success will be sufficient to combat a negative image. We must be proactive and deliberate.

It's important to let young people know about the benefits of working in our industry. We need to emphasize that no matter what one's interest, a good career can be made in insurance. We all know individuals in our field who have put unique talents to work, from those who are proficient at math to marketing. We need to hold up these examples and share the secret that a lucrative living can be earned and enjoyed in the industry.

We are one of the only industries where you can have almost any interest under the sun, and there will be a spot for you.

A Great Career Choice

And that brings me back to my first point. Although insurance is all around us and everyone needs it, the image of the insurance professional needs some work as well. Not only do people stereotype our entire industry as dull, staid drones in starched white shirts and blue or brown suits, they also think of us as crooks (thanks, in part, to recent acts and subsequent scandals in a small sector of our industry).

I have two close friends who blame everything from doctor bills to the price of a home on insurance. And, what I tell both of them is, they are right, the cost of insurance does get passed on to the consumer.  BUT - when something goes wrong, who shows up at your door with a check? Is it your accountant? No. Is it your attorney? No. It is your Professional Insurance Agent. We are the ones who, when the times are rough and unforeseen disasters occur, actually show up to make an injured party whole. We help when you really need it.

So why are we portrayed as money hungry?  Because we have yet to successfully counter the stereotype. We give each other awards and recognitions and pat one another on the back for community service and excellence in our industry, but we need to do a better job of educating the public of the good our industry does.  We should be speaking at our colleges and in front of the business clubs and to fraternities about how well we are doing in our careers, and encouraging students to consider careers as insurance professionals. We should be pursuing these students and giving them internships and opportunities to get to know our industry.  Let them be the ones to sell the idea to their classmates that insurance is a great career choice!

Some PIA states take one idea, and others take another idea. There are PIA affiliates who offer scholarships to students considering a career in insurance, and there are other states that have internship programs. Then there are those states that have an organized Young Insurance Professionals affiliate. I would like to make this challenge: Find the successful young people in the industry and encourage them to join your state PIA affiliate today.

Look around your office, or even the company with which you write. Talk to these young people and get them more involved. Talk to them about the industry.  Tell them about the opportunities in PIA. Get them involved when they are young so that they grow into the leaders that we need for tomorrow. Don't wait until they are 40 to have them come to a local meeting. Get them involved today! Get them excited today! Get them hooked on everything we have to offer today!

Give Young Leaders Their Chance

Encourage our rising stars to tell their friends about the industry. Let them tell their friends still in school about career opportunities. Let them tell their younger brothers and sisters about it. Let them be our voices. Give them the opportunity to shine. But do it now. If we wait until they are older, we will be hurting ourselves. Let the future leaders of our industry know that we trust them and want to help them. Let them know that we need their input to be successful. Give them the spotlight now, so that in 15 years when they are our industry's leaders, they will shine the spotlight on the young insurance professionals of their generation, guaranteeing that good leadership will continue long after our premiums have all been paid up.

I have since left my position with my father, but I still am in the industry.  Now, I am making a path of my own - but at the same time following the footsteps that he and other leaders laid before me.

If we acknowledge that we need young blood in our ranks, we will find a way to get it there. All some of us have to do is look around our offices - the young leaders are already there waiting to be noticed and given the chance. So give it.

Donna Chiapperino is the director of marketing for Jimcor Agencies, Montvale, N.J. She has been in the insurance industry since graduating from the University of Scranton in 1992 with a BS in Business Administration and Marketing. She has been involved actively with PIANY for more than 10 years.

Chiapperino is past president of NY-Young Insurance Professionals and was honored as NY-YIP of the year in 1997.  Presently, she serves on the PIANY board of directors and is involved in the association's various committees, a number of which she has chaired.

Additionally, she is a Council of Insurance Brokers of Greater New York board member and a member of the Western New York Insurance Association and New Jersey Young Insurance Professionals. Chiapperino has authored articles for the PIA NY magazine, National Underwriter, Hudson Valley Business Journal and various other business publications.

PIA Connection

This article originally appeared in the November/December 2005 PIA Connection.

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