Life insurance and assurance policies versus government policy and how the life insurance companies sat back and allowed themselves to be killed off.

Thirty years ago, when I started in the life insurance industry, especially in the self-employed, commission only sector, we were not held in very high esteem. Mention what you did for a living and people would hold their fingers up in a form of a cross as if to ward of vampires. Many life insurance sales people created names for themselves - financial advisors, financial consultants, investment advisors or tax consultants. It wasn't until you had a death claim that you promoted yourself to life assurance salesman.

Start of article about the demise of life insurance.

Nobody set out to be a life insurance salesman back then. I always likened the industry to Brighton Beach at low tide. We all got washed up there one way or another because of personal circumstances and the need to earn good money or any money at all. The life insurance business was like a huge mincing machine; men and women would turn up on a Monday morning to attend a sales training course and many would have left before the course finished. Others would last a few days, some a couple of weeks and a few would discover it was the best thing they had ever done and become extremely successful.

I was sitting outside a coffee bar the other day in France where I now live, enjoying the Spring sunshine and waiting for my wife when a man in his early fifties, called out my name, strolled meaningful towards me, hand outstretched and big smile on his face. It was one of those surreal moment when someone obviously knows you very well and you are desperately trying to place them.

"You don't recognise me." He said, to which I had to agree. He turned out to be a salesman I had recruited twenty five years before, who whilst still in the industry and very successful still looked back at the old days with affection.

We spent a couple of hours talking and laughing about the pranks we had pulled and how life back then had been more simple and full of laughter. Maybe just two old men reminiscing and only remembering the sunshine but I also remember how tough it was and how friends and colleagues always leant a hand to get you over or through the hard times.


Before I moved into management, I and many of the other sales people would watch the new blood troop in and rank their chances of success. New salesman came from all walks of life, from airline pilots who had been dismissed for being drunk in charge of a plane to defrocked Roman Catholic priests. Ex-army personnel and sports professionals were always a favourite, car and double glazing salesmen, teachers and failed or bankrupt businessmen were all recruited into the ranks of life insurance salesmen.

We got pretty good at spotting those that would succeed and those who were going to fail. In fact we became better at it that the managers who just seemed intent on recruiting anyone prepared to try the job out. Some of us became so good at it, we were able to pinpoint how long a new sales recruit would last to within a few days or weeks.

Although it wasn't our responsibility, many of us sales people were asked to take new recruits out door knocking or show them how to make cold calls over the telephone. Most of us did this willingly because we knew how tough the job was and because we knew the managers wouldn't or couldn't train these raw recruits to an adequate standard. Most sales managers were failed sales people who couldn't cut the mustard. It was the poor standard of management, lack of care over recruitment, inadequate training and the fact that I was doing the job unpaid that finally made me move into management in an attempt to make a difference.


I suppose we looked like a motley crew to many outsiders but those of us who survived the ravages of cold calling would band together for mental protection. We likened going out for an evening's door knocking to going over the top of the trenches in the Great War; simply because when we took new salesmen out for their first cold calling session, very few came back the next morning.

Those of us who were successful quite enjoyed the challenge of knocking on doors; the same way as a bovver relishes the fight. To others, it was the most distasteful thing you could ask them to do and I saw many new recruits unable to get out of their car, or walk up a garden path and some physically vomiting at the thought of having to face rejection.

They were just the wrong people for the job and I can recall many who should never have been recruited and a few that I believe should have been a success but weren't. The problem was that the sales managers were under pressure to recruit life insurance sales people at any cost and as high calibre sales people weren't queuing up at the door to get in, anyone who expressed an interest in joining got the job of selling life assurance.

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