Back in 1963, selling life insurance was about reading the newspaper to find out who had recently married or had a baby and cold-calling the couple to make a pitch.
That model has changed drastically, as more complex financial tools and even the Do Not Call list have reshaped the industry, according to
Bray and receptionist
O’Dell started off as
“I don’t know where the years have gone,” she said.
When they started, life insurance was one of relatively few ways that people saved up money, with the idea they could then draw down the policy in their later years, Bray said. That changed in the 1980s as computers allowed more complex savings options, and life insurance became just one piece of the puzzle, he said.
“Forty years ago, whole life insurance was a product that people would use to build money for retirement,” he said. “Now it’s all melded together.”
Then, premiums were set using a thick book of rates based on age and rough measures of health, including whether a person smoked, Bray said. Now, computers calculate what rate bracket a person belongs in, and there are far more classifications than simply whether a person smokes or has a pre-existing condition, he said.
Technology also made it easier to focus on serving customers because they didn’t have to spend as much time on routine communication, Bray said. For example, with the advent of word processing, they could simply print off a notice to all customers and mail it, he said.
“As we realized what we could do with the computerization, we started doing it,” he said.
Bray said his father set high expectations, but that has helped him to stay in business when the work was challenging throughout the years.
“It took me three months before I made my first sale. I’ll never forget it because the person didn’t say no,” he said. “He looked at me and said, ‘Well, get the heck out of here and get another one.’ I could have killed him, but it was probably the best thing he ever did.”
Selling insurance always has required a thick skin, according to Bray. On a good day early in his career, he would call 25 people and sell five policies, he said. Now, he focuses more on working with existing clients than on generating new ones, but life insurance and saving for retirement still aren’t very alluring to most people.
“It’s more fun to go see a movie or to eat a good meal than it is to look at a life insurance policy and buy it,” he said.
“I always had this kind of in my mind,” he said. “Everyone thinks there’s some magic one thing you need to do (in investing), but it’s (about) what’s right for that person.”