Insurance agents have long had a bad reputation for a multitude of reasons that range from excessively aggressive sales tactics to distasteful wealth flexing.
The number of insurance agents (comprising life, general, and composite), rose in the first half of the last decade but has remained stable at around 19,000 since 2015. The majority of agents are below 40 years old. The gender balance is very even. Singapore Citizens make up about 90% of the agency force, with Permanent Residents making up most of the rest; the number of foreigners remains small at about 350.
Based on these numbers, there’s not much growth in terms of insurance agents so there’s still a big market for fresh new agents to make it.
However, with the existing insurance agents and the nature of their work, some negative stereotypes are bound to be associated with them that may deter people from entering the industry.
Although it’s impossible to generalize an entire profession based on a few stereotypes, it would be helpful for everyone to start an open and honest conversation on the topic. This could be especially helpful for insurance agents who are just trying to make an honest living and are tired of constantly being met with uncomfortable reactions at the very mention of their job.
First, let’s go through the reasons why so many of us tend to have negative reactions to insurance agents in general. Of course, not all insurance agents will do these things, but these are based on what most of us have experienced quite regularly from them.
Constant pushing even after being told that we already have plans in place
The number 1 reason why Singaporeans are avoidant of insurance agents is probably because of the insistent pushing of their own plans even after being told that we are already set. For most people, an insurance plan is not something that you would want to constantly switch up or change, it’s usually a one-and-done type of thing. But more often than not, people have experienced promoters aggressively following them trying to get them to tell them the company they bought from, what type of plan it was, and the full name of their agent. To make things worse, most of the time they won’t take a simple “no” as an answer and proceed to try and convince you to drop your current plan and switch to whatever they’re selling. If you’re a person that has problems with saying no, this is obviously an uncomfortable and usually stressful situation that can be tricky to get out off.
Different treatments based on the amount of money we spend
We understand that commissions are important but no one wants to be made to feel like an inconvenience or disappointment when you opt to go for a smaller plan or decline a proposal for top-ups. As the nature of the product/service being sold is quite intimate in terms of privacy, you don’t want just anyone dealing with and being aware of your finances, the relationship you have with your insurance agent should be tremendously personal. There needs to be a lot of trust in the relationship so that, as a client, you are confident that your insurance agent has your best interest in mind when advising on the best route to take with your available funds and that they will be there to help when you really need it.
Reaching out and pretending to be friends out of the blue to make a sale
It’s pretty safe to assume that most Singaporeans have experienced this exact same situation.
You’re an adult now and one day you get a text, call, or message on social media from an old acquaintance asking to meet to “catch up”. It usually starts off with a little small talk here and there, “How you’ve been doing? Haven’t talked in a while! ” but after a few exchanges that they deem to be socially adequate, they proceed to let you know that they are now working for *insurance company* and would love to meet up to share how they can help you find a suitable plan. We’ve all probably experienced these disappointing encounters or know someone that has, enough for it to not be a surprise anymore.
Confusing distasteful flexing as inspirational posts on social media
Besides the universal direct interactions with insurance agents, there are also universal indirect interactions.
It’s a stereotype that insurance agents enjoy flaunting their achievements and earnings on their social media. This definitely doesn’t apply to every single agent but you’re more likely to have seen proof of this stereotype rather than against it. As a matter of fact, it is so common that there are even meme pages that have been created solely to poke fun at this phenomenon.
This flaunting usually comes in the form of posts showing off the new car they just bought, their expensive homes, gatherings with “elite” peers, and so on. There is definitely nothing wrong with being proud of your achievements, but when your success comes from aggressively pushing people to buy crucial insurance plans, it can read as shallow and greedy.
How to NOT be an insurance agent stereotype
If you’re an insurance agent reading this and you feel wrongly accused or you just entered the industry and are now feeling unsure if you made the right choice, don’t panic, we know that the majority of you guys are just trying to make an honest living. It’s unfortunate that a minority of bad representations have created a generally negative image for the majority of the industry.
Most seasoned veterans in the industry acknowledge that this line of work carries its own challenges, and is generally a job that doesn’t come with many thanks. Only when the time comes when you are able to settle claims and payouts for your clients, then that’s when you can feel good and accomplished for your work. In reality, insurance agents put in a lot of work behind the scenes, and it’s sad that mostly only the negative incidents get all the attention.
A career as an insurance agent is a unique one. Not a lot of service providers in the market would ask for referrals and the nature of the product being sold often bring ups uncomfortable topics such as hospitalization and death. That being said, even with all the negative stereotypes attached to insurance agents, this shouldn’t stop Singaporeans from getting properly insured. A practice that you could use to filter out bad insurance agents is to actively ask direct questions to potential insurance agents, a genuine and passionate insurance agent should be able to calmly and properly answer your questions to that you won’t feel confused or unsure.
As for the insurance agents out there, it’s best to learn through some positive examples.
Meet John and Anna:
John had a bright career as a regular in the Republic of Singapore Air Force, but after suffering an injury that left him unable to pursue his goals any longer in the industry. Since both his parents are in the finance industry, he turned to a career in finance as an insurance agent.
This dramatic career change would be enough to show that John is not just in it for the money, but he makes it clear that he knows the purpose of why he does his job; He wants to make tangible and meaningful impacts on the lives of people, more than he could have in his previous job. Although the transition was not easy for John, switching from a stable income to something that was quite unstable, he won people over through his personal conviction to help others achieve their financial goals. Now, warm leads make up 90 to 95 percent of his current client base.
Anna is a 35-year-old Filipino lady based in Singapore. She leveraged her network of fellow Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) and has had great success in the past 6 years as a financial consultant.
Similar to John, she also went through a dramatic career change. Anna initially graduated from the Philippines with a nursing degree, she then came to Singapore in 2012 to work as a licensed nurse in a caregivers company. But even while working in the healthcare industry,
Anna had ambitions to work in the finance industry.
As she grew up in a less fortunate household, Anna is completely aware of the value of money and the importance of well-planned finances. She taught herself to be financially literate through books and online resources while she was studying to be a nurse. Anna believes that her own personal run-in with a hospitalization incident which resulted in a $30,000 bill for an ovarian cyst surgery is a big reason why Filipino workers in Singapore are her target market.
If she had not had Medisave to fall back on, she would have been buried in debt. It is because of this incident that she feels compassion for people that were in a similar situation as her and is a big contributor to why she sells her products. Currently, 90 to 95 percent of her clientele are Filipinos in Singapore. She connected with these people through friends, various social clubs, and personal referrals.
Both John and Anna have the same thing in common; they both take their responsibility as financial educators very seriously and are transparent to their loved ones about their intentions.
As a Filipino worker in Singapore, Anna can empathize with the same struggles that her clients are going through and this is what drives her to do good for them.
As for John, he has personally witnessed through his parents how proper financial planning can help drastically improve people’s lives. With his family having such a long history in the industry, John also genuinely believes that it is his responsibility to help his clients achieve their financial goals and educate them on important areas that they might not be aware of.
Overall, John just wants to make his parents and wife proud and be a good role model for his children.
However, even though both of them are successful, both having achieved the Million Dollar Round Table award multiple times, they are still not saved from being viewed under the negative stereotypes that plague insurance agents.
John expresses that being an insurance agent means dealing with rejection constantly so your self-esteem can definitely be affected and there are times when a lot of work can be put in but a client decides not to take it at the last minute.
Anna says dealing with frequent rejection does get to her at times, but she stays committed as she wants to be of service to people in need.
Both Anna and John want the public to know that there is pressure to perform for clients and it’s not as glamorous as some agents make it out to be.
John points out that the commission he makes from a single client makes up for a fraction of his income in any given year, but he believes that you can’t put a price on the life-long significant impacts of a poorly managed financial plan if any unforeseen event happens.
For this reason, John feels no shame in attempting to insure the people around him as he believes that there is great value in providing financial advice and creating holistic solutions from which everybody can benefit. Anna also shares the same views and she believes that the value and work that she puts into planning for a client to be financially safe is worth more than the commission she earns.
John and Anna have both come to terms with the friendships they’ve lost in the process of their jobs. They both realize that the people who stayed and supported them during their early years as financial consultants are the ones that matter the most. Being good friends with your clients only means that you will have even more reason to have their best interests in mind!
It’s important to never let the number of your sales affect how you treat your clients, both existing and potential. Your job is to genuinely provide insurance solutions to clients who have placed their trust in you, it’s not about getting rich quickly.
And if you are an insurance agent that is doing just that and not taking to heart the negative stereotypes that are undeservingly cast onto you, you’re doing great!