By MARK BRISCOE
Life insurance has a long history in the U.S., and has earned a reputation that is built on security, stability and trust. Yet, despite the conservative, dependable nature of the industry, it is far from static. Much has changed since the mid-1800s, when some of the big names that persist to this day — including Guardian Life, MassMutual, MetLife and New York Life — put down roots and dispersed agents to sell policies designed to ensure the financial well-being of “widows and orphans.”
Today, change and modernization in the industry are of the essence. Spurred by new product lines and innovative uses for those products, as well as by the whirlwind of advancing technology, the industry is like a mythical shapeshifter, constantly adjusting to market forces and consumer needs.
Add important ethical concerns, demographic changes and frequent legislative and regulatory shakeups to this picture, and the need for engaged, educated insurance professionals to guide consumers along their paths to financial security is apparent. Keeping up with this ever-present change is a key point in the job description of every advisor.
Continuing Education Requirements
Every state insurance commission recognizes the need for highly trained and educated insurance professionals and has set continuing education requirements as part of the agent-licensing process. Typically, states require 24 hours of CE credits every two years, with three of the credits dealing with ethics. However, every state sets its own standards; so agents should confirm their CE requirements with the insurance departments in every state in which they do business
Agents have many options when it comes to obtaining CE credits. Most states accept online classes (again, check with your state insurance departments), and numerous professional education companies specialize in providing coursework acceptable to each state and curriculum specifically designed to meet insurance licensing requirements. Many insurance companies or agencies offer CE programs, though some states limit the number of credits from these classes that agents may use.
Aside from traditional classes, producers can sometimes satisfy part of their CE requirements in other ways. For example, some states reduce the number of necessary credit hours for agents who engage in insurance-related teaching, journalism or legislative activities.
The Role Of Association Membership
Often overlooked are professional membership associations, which may also provide the means for producers to accumulate CE credits. Some associations offer their members, and in some cases non-members, online and classroom programs that qualify.
“NAIFA Live is an innovative and popular program that allows participants in some states to attend state chapter meetings virtually over their internet connection and potentially obtain CE credit,” said NAIFA CEO Kevin Mayeux. “Because states set continuing education requirements and administer the licensing of agents, most of NAIFA’s CE offerings are run though our state chapters, but NAIFA Live is a multistate venture with our national office collaborating and providing production support.”
Apart from professional-development programming, association membership itself can qualify advisors for CE credits. Legislators and regulators in Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, Nebraska, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah and West Virginia, have passed measures allowing agents to count their association memberships, or self-study of materials offered by their professional associations, toward CE requirements. In New York, both houses of the state legislature have passed such a measure but, at publication deadline, the legislation still awaits the governor’s signature.
The “Continuing Education Credit for Membership in a Professional Insurance Association Model Act” is legislative language that NAIFA developed and uses in its political advocacy efforts with state legislators. The Model Act provides for up to four hours of CE credit per reporting period, which is typically two years, and requires agents to demonstrate “active participation” in their associations.
Active participation can take many forms. Associations afford members access to quality training and professional development programming, facilitate networking with other accomplished professionals, and promote ethical conduct among members. Associations may also keep members abreast of industry news and innovations through magazines, newsletters, blogs, webinars, podcasts, state or regional meetings and national conferences. The states listed previously and others that are considering similar laws and regulations recognize that association membership demonstrates an agent’s commitment and dedication to professionalism and provides many of the same benefits as traditional CE courses.
The combination of continuing education and professional association membership ensures that advisors stay on top of an ever-changing industry. Knowledgeable, professional agents are more likely to enjoy successful careers, serve the best interests of their clients and bolster the reputation of the life insurance industry.