A Needed Job

James L. Cowles

© Copyright 2021 by James L. Cowles


Photo of a 1960 insurance office.Photo of a 1960 insurance office.                

      A few of my friends and family said, “Your time in the insurance industry will be short and very boring.” Almost everyone asked me if they had requested a list of prospects from me, you know, a list of friends, relatives and the like. They had, but I didn’t give anyone the satisfaction of an answer. This was a new job, and my new employer had arranged school to prepare me to get my license, even before I started work.  They crammed a lot into my brain during those few days, but I seemed to retain it pretty well.  Anyway, I passed the State exam with flying colors and I had my license before I even knew what I was doing.  I hadn’t even started my new job.

     When the day came, the first full day on the job was filled with me calling everyone on my list and asking for an appointment . It was of course, to see them about their life insurance.  My manager, Joe, gave me a script and a few hot buttons to help me with the conversation.  He said, “Now, set your appointments for next month.  You’ll know a lot more about this business by then.”  I was of course pretty uneasy calling on my friends and family and some on my list I just skipped completely. They were the ones who had suggested the list thing and I was pretty upset with them for being so negative.  I didn’t want to hear, “I told you so.”

     After all, when all is said and done, I knew nothing about the insurance business and there was no reason to act as if I did.  After about the third call, I just started saying, “I’d like an appointment to talk with you about your insurance.”  Anyway, I imagined my manager would go with me on my first call and help me, but I was wrong.  Instead, he handed me a rate book and said, “Jim, now listen carefully. This insurance rate book is easy to use; what’s difficult is convincing someone they need more life insurance and, just so you know, everyone needs more life insurance and I do mean, everyone.”  My response was timeless, at least that’s what Joe said.  Every new salesman asks the same question and so did I.  I said, “Joe, how do I know how much they need?”

     Joe’s response was a short one. He said, “Let’s keep it simple right now, This $10,000 policy is the best one on the market, of its kind, that is.  Sell it and only it.  If you want to get brave and sell more, just double the amount, triple the amount, or sell it in multiples of $10,000, all the way up to $100,000.  If someone wants more than that, call me.  Now, pull one of those apps out and let me show you how to fill it out.  By the way, just remember, any amount they buy is not a favor to you.  Instead, you are helping them with a very serious problem.  Remember what I said?  Everybody needs more life insurance.”

     “Now, look here, Jim, notice how the cash grows in this policy.  It looks pretty good, doesn’t it?  Not only that, it’s a forced way of saving money.  Some people need that, Jim, they really do.  Now, let me ask you a question. Why do you think people buy life insurance?”  “Well,” I responded, “it is a pretty good way to save money, isn’t it? You just said it was. “Yes,” he said, “but do you have any life insurance yourself?”  I said, “Yes, of course I do,” and he said, “Why?” I said, “Well, in case I die and my income is no longer there for my family.  Hey, I’ve got two kids and they will need…..”  “That’s it,” he said, cutting me off.  That’s the main reason people buy life insurance and that’s also your main reason to sell it.”

     It went on that way for most of the afternoon and when we finished, I knew just enough to be dangerous.  Over the next few weeks I read some sales manuals and concentrated on terminology.  As I said, Joe had me set my first appointments for after 30 days, and I was glad he did, but so far, I was bored out of my mind, just as several friends had said I would be.  “This is going to be a boring job,” I said out loud.  My neighbor, at the next desk, overheard me and shook his head, no, “Oh no.  You’ll see,” he said. I actually had an office in my prior job and now here I was out in the middle of the floor with several others, with desks butted up against each other. You couldn’t, or maybe, shouldn’t, think out loud.  I hoped he wouldn’t tell Joe what I had said.

     In the meantime, another of my fellow employees,“Alan,” had an appointment to see a young family about life insurance and Joe asked him if I could tag along.  Alan agreed, but told me to sit quietly and let him do the talking.  It was a good thing for me and I learned a really important lesson.  When you ask a question, you put your prospect in a setting.  That is, you introduce the problem.  “In your opinion, do you feel it would be a serious problem if you died and your income disappeared with you?”  Suppose the person says, “Probably so,” or, “It sure would.” Your next question should always be, “Obviously you have a reason for saying that; do you mind if I ask what it is?” I learned this was a way to let the person begin to sell themselves, but also to find out more about them. You want to draw them out, so you know what to do to close the sale.

      Alan sold a $10,000 policy that night, but I kept thinking he could have sold more.  Maybe twice, or three times that amount and they probably needed more, at least I thought so.  But, I did what he had asked of me - I kept my mouth shut. The most important thing I learned that evening wass to get a check for the first month’s premium, because that put’s the policy in force if someone dies before the underwriting is completed.  Every policy is underwritten, which means someone is probably going to contact your doctor to see if you are telling the truth about your health. I learned later that an actual physical exam is required when applying for large policy amounts. It was getting a little more complicated as the days went by.

     Anyway, so far, I was still bored to tears.  It was a challenge to learn all I had learned so quickly, but it all seemed so cut and dry.  I had no idea why I was seeking excitement in a job, other than those negative comments from well meaning friends. They had definitely planted an idea, but I wanted them to be wrong. So far, they weren’t.

     The third week, before my appointments with friends and family began, Joe walked over to my desk and said, “Jim, I just received a ‘call-in’ and I think you should handle it, what do you think?”  Well, I have to say, my brain was suddenly rattled with the fear that I was going to actually see a real live person and attempt to sell a life insurance policy.  But wait a minute.  This person called in, so that meant he already knew he needed insurance and he even wanted some of the stuff.  That meant I’d had to determine the amount he should have and I had no earthly idea how to do that, at least, not yet.  I would only be an order taker this time around,

     Well, I made the call and that night I met Charlie Lewis and his mother, Francis.  He was a sloppy looking guy, with a sweet old lady for a mother who sat quietly and listened as Charlie and I talked.  I said, “Charlie, I take it you live here with your mother, is that right?”  He answered, “Yes. Yes indeed I do.” When I asked him what he did for a living, he  turned kinda red, and was somewhat embarrassed, and quietly stuttered, “the, the, they call it, ‘car jockey,’ but I do uh, uh, a lot more than move cars around.”  I moved on quickly, not wanting to embarrass him further, but I was thinking I was a little embarrassed also, to be doing this job.  I had a sick feeling I had made a mistake.  I remembered the weekend before, we had been invited to a new neighbor’s party, and as he was introducing me to a whole host of people, someone asked what business I was in.  When I said, “I sell life insurance,” you should have seen them scatter.  There was no protocol for such a thing, I guess, but I swear, it looked like the crowd you see rushing to the betting windows, before they close for the next race at Churchill Downs.  They scattered away from me quickly and I was pretty much alone the rest of the evening.  People don’t seem to like life insurance salesmen.

     Back to Charlie.  It was clear he took care of his mother and she certainly deserved it.  I thought he was around 50 years old and when he said he was 40, I hope I didn’t look too startled.  He had no doubt had a rough life; he could have passed for 55 easily.  Based on his job, I was thinking he probably couldn’t afford more than $10,000 of “whole life” coverage, but when I showed him the rate and cash value, he asked me if he could have more.  I sold him a $30,000 policy that night, or maybe I should say, he bought a $30,000 policy.  He sold himself before I even got there.  Anyway, I collected the first month’s premium and I’m sure glad I did.  Charlie was worried about what might happen to his mother if he died before her.  He said he had an older brother whom they both feared and if he died before she did, he was afraid his brother would “come over to our house and take everything my mother has.”  

     The underwriter approved the policy pretty quickly, but that was far from the end of the story.  Before we even received the policy, Charlie died.  I wondered if he sensed something was wrong before he called Joe, but of course, I couldn’t ask him now.  The underwriter was surprised.  She said his health checked out and there were no red flags.  When I called his mom to tell her that she would be receiving $30,000 as soon as we filled out the papers, she was in tears and was very appreciative.  She was humbled and proud of what her son had done for her and she asked me if I could do her just one favor.  When I asked what it was, she said, “When you deliver the money, will you take me to the bank to deposit it?  You see, I’m afraid Charlie’s brother, Tommy, will come in here and beat me up, and take the check.” She said, “He’s a drunk, you know?  Them kind has just got to have another drink and they would steal from their own mother to get it.”

     I am happy to say, Francis and I made it to the bank safely and deposited the $30,000 and afterward, we sat in my car for a while and I said to her, “Francis, do not take large sums out of the bank and bring it home.” I said, “hide the checkbook in a safe place and when you are ready to visit the funeral home, call me and I’ll go with you."  She could write the check to cover her son’s funeral there, but otherwise, I said, “Do not carry that checkbook around. Hide it!  If Tommy asks you for money, give him $50, then call me.  I’ll call the police and have them put the fear of God in him.”  I have a friend on the force, and I knew he would do that for me in a heartbeat.

     Oh, yeah, I got a call from the undertaker, too, asking me how much life insurance Charlie had.  When I told him that was private information, he got pretty huffy.  Then I told him I would be accompanying Mrs. Lewis when she pays him a visit. That didn’t go over well, either.  I said, “Look, give the man a decent, but inexpensive burial.  His mother needs every penny she can save.  “She’s an old lady, man.  Come on, have a heart.  She just lost a son.”  I knew why he wanted to know the amount and I’m pretty sure you do too.

     So, the insurance business grew on me overnight.  I now had a little excitement and I got to see how some people treat the weak and vulnerable.  It made me want to protect them.  This was a decent job, a good job and now I knew it was one that was needed.  Yes, I had a needed job and I enjoyed it.  If nothing else, I could protect those who are vulnerable when a loved one dies.  

     Well, as you may have guessed, I forged a whole new, very long career in the insurance business.  I learned so much more about the business and all the problems life insurance can solve.  I worked hard and studied to earn a Chartered Life Underwriter (CLU) designation and I spent almost 30 years in an industry I came to love and respect.  If you want to know more about it, please don’t run away the next time you see me at a party.  I promise, I will not mention an appointment, unless you ask for one.

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