Finding and grooming suitable insurance consultants can be a challenge, but companies that implement effective recruitment strategies tend to invest in long-term, quality insurance professionals, even when market conditions are tough.
One such company is the insurance multinational New York Life Insurance Worldwide Ltd. The company's sales team currently consists of about 1,100 agents and plans are underway to further increase this number to 1,700 within three years.
"Our systems are sound, and we have an excellent reputation in the industry. We are therefore able to support our agency sales people in their quest for both business and career success," says Daniel Tang, vice-president and co-head of agency, New York Life.
With a 163-year heritage, New York Life, which is headquartered in the US, established its Hong Kong operation in 1988. The insurer sees its agency team multiply in the next five to seven years.
An experienced employer, New York Life has in place a practical approach to recruiting. In addition to quality people with a financial background and sales experience, the company also welcomes fresh graduates. Mr Tang emphasises, "We see our human resources as our most valuable asset."
New York Life advocates needs-based selling. Although product-based selling may initially bring higher sales volumes, Mr Tang points out that targeting people's specific insurance needs generates a steady stream of sales in the long run. Transactions are also less dependent on market fluctuations.
"No single product can dominate a specific market in the long term, but needs-based selling creates ongoing demand," he notes, adding that the current financial crisis has been a wake-up call to investors. "The ideal investment plan should take the customer's personal long-term needs into account."
The company believes that professionalism and strong values go hand in hand. "It is essential for insurance agents to possess in-depth market knowledge and to provide quality customer service," Mr Tang says.
New York Life's unique business philosophy has contributed to its success as the largest mutual life-insurance company in the US. The company also tops the list of US insurance companies with the most agents who have qualified for membership of the Million Dollar Round Table (MDRT), a premier association of financial professionals.
This is a good time for ambitious individuals to join the insurance sector, Mr Tang believes. "People tend to seek financial protection in times of crisis and uncertainty — and this is what insurance is all about," he expands. "Our company philosophy is to help customers to identify their needs and to achieve their long-term goals. In the long run, our dedicated sales people find it a satisfying and rewarding career."
New York Life's success did not happen overnight. The company has been utilising an internal computerised GOLD (general office leadership and development) system, an effective tool for insurance agents to keep track of their daily activities and work towards their career goals, for more than 50 years, Mr Tang points out.
The GOLD system is more than just a daily scheduler. "It is an agenda planner that suggests a particular volume of work to be done on a daily basis, for example, making phone calls or setting up customer interviews. Such an activity-driven approach discourages forceful hard-sell strategies," Mr Tang explains. The system also produces comprehensive needs-assessment analyses based on data collected during interviews.
New York Life sees talent management as an important contributor to company success. The company offers new recruits training workshops and continuous education opportunities, and encourages agents to study for professional designations and certificates.
"The insurance and financial planning sector is a great platform for talented individuals to move forward in their careers and achieve a fulfilling professional life," Mr Tang says.
Meeting of minds
As part of a talent management drive, New York Life Insurance Worldwide Ltd held a Grand Career Presentation Seminar last week, attracting a house of enthusiastic talent ready to start a new chapter in the life insurance business.
During the event, some of New York Life's top talent shared their success stories.
Monica Wong, senior agency director of New York Life, suggested that building relationships with clients is the key to success. A mother of two, Ms Wong was a business owner before she made her way into the life insurance field. She noted that working in insurance is not unlike running a business.
She acknowledged that she had a bumpy ride initially. "A positive mindset is necessary in this business," she said. With a genuine passion and a caring personality, she won the trust of her first clients, which helped bring her a wide network of clients. Her outstanding performance was subsequently rewarded with recognitions and awards like incentive trips around the world.
Poline Chan, a New York Life business manager, previously in the banking industry, joined the company and faced some resistance from her family because of the commission-based nature of the job. Ms Chan quickly proved to her family that she had made the right choice. With a flexible work schedule, Ms Chan found many opportunities to achieve a better quality of life for her family.
The life insurance industry, being one of the few industries to have double-digit growth annually during the past decade, remains stable with substantial growth potential, when compared with the volatile finance industry. The influx of associated services and clientele from tighter integration with insurance services across the border has also brought along valuable opportunities.
Daniel Tang, vice-president and co-head of agency, New York Life, noted that the insurance industry is open to talent from all backgrounds. The common quality that his employees share are a positive attitude to grow as a team and an aspiration to make the most of career life. "Just as millions of clients have put their trust in our services over the past 163 years, you only need to have faith in your capability," he concluded.