The Producer’s EyeMr. Hansen is Regional Director of the Great Lakes Region Penn Mutual Life Insurance Company. In 2012 Penn Mutual recognized his leadership and performance with the National Chairman’s Award for the third consecutive time. We spoke with him about the producer’s perspective he brings to his role as wholesaler and how he supports the marketing and sales efforts of new and established agents.
L&HA: Tell us about your career path from a producer to regional director.
DH: Like many, I entered college not knowing what I wanted to do when I graduated. One summer, my parents’ insurance man came over and made a good impression on me. I noted he was always driving a new car. I took a risk management class in college, got my feet wet and started thinking about insurance. Upon graduation it wasn’t hard to find job as a career agent. All the carriers were recruiting on campus. Met Life had its Great Lakes Region training center and an agency near my house. The manager of that office was a great person, a good leader and mentor who successfully trained many people in the business. I joined MetLife in 1989, got my licenses, and started as a multi-line agent, a generalist. It was tough at the beginning, but it laid the groundwork for meeting people and getting launched. Today I run the Great Lakes Region (WI, IL, MI) and have full office staff to market Penn Mutual products to the people who sell them. We have three internal marketing representatives, five external wholesalers, four new business/contracts and licensing folks, and one case design person.
L&HA: When you’re working with younger or older agents, do you find there’s a difference?
DH: Younger agents today are highly trained, very smart, and have all the licenses they need, but they don’t have enough people to see. The conversations lean toward, “Hey, how can you help me see more people?” so I lead with the marketing programs Penn Mutual offers before talking product or strategy. Just the opposite might hold for that older, more mature person in the business. They have people to see, but they don’t know what opportunities to look for, what strategies might fit. I might lead with, “How many people do you know who are in a situation such as this? Here is a strategy Penn Mutual supports that could help those people.”
L&HA: Would you say these are classic problems?
DH: They are classic issues but more complex than ever. The tax law and the complexity of it is an example. It’s hard for people to keep up with all the changes, in the course of running their everyday business. They need a financial professional to do that for them.
L&HA: Do you find agents are for the most part working in teams or solo?
DH: That’s a great question. To find a very successful producer doing it on his or her own today is rare. The most successful producers in our region have teams. They may be the lead person, but if it’s regarding health benefits, they will bring in their in-house specialist. If it’s regarding qualified plans they may hire somebody to be their qualified plan specialist. This is the way to go, if you want to grow and have a reputation of being the resource for many clients.
L&HA: Do you see succession actually happening?
DH: We have been successful with one person doing a succession plan very locally. Succession is being talked about more than ever as the average maturity is reaching 58-60 age range. I’m grateful that Penn Mutual has developed a succession program in webinar format to help people think about what they need to do to get ready. For example, they need to be fully electronic with their data base. If it can be easily searched and filtered so they can identify what types of clients they have, that will be attractive to the newer, younger agent. If they are just annuity clients, they might think of him as their investment guy and it could be difficult for a younger agent to cross-sell, or it could be an opportunity for the right person.
L&HA: You have been honored three times with the National Chairman’s Award. What impact has that had?
DH: Honestly, it’s made no impact. I had visions of grandeur when I first won the award. I thought, “Great, I’m going to be able to call the home office and get things done fast. They’ll say, ‘Hey, it’s Hansen calling, we’ve got to get this done for him right away.’” No, it hasn’t happened like that. I have to fight just as hard as I did before the award.
L&HA: From your vantage point, how is the financial landscape changing, short and long term?
DH: At times I feel the regulation of our industry is impeding good producers from giving good advice. That’s first. Then second, the increasing complexity of products. Going back 20 – 30 years, there were one or two products being sold. Today there are so many on the market and each carrier has its own tweak to how they do it, so it’s getting very difficult for a well-seasoned producer to keep track of all the products they sell. If you sold a product 15 years ago and the client calls with a question, you have to re-ramp yourself up and gather all that product information. Third, underwriting is more complex. We’re using these high quality insurance products in different ways. Thirty and more years ago, they were used for death benefits. Today they are used for much more, and not only cash accumulation and long term care. This has forced underwriting to look at a lot more things.
L&HA: What are the five top things producers should do?
DH: I have three. 1) See enough people. 2) See the right people. 3) Say the right things.
L&HA: How do agents gage success today?
DH: Success comes in different ways for different people — by number of sales, income, or work/life balance. I like this old joke: in this business at the early stages you work really hard for not enough pay and at later stages you work a lot less for too much pay. The opportunity is better than ever. The agent force is smaller, and there are more people exiting the business due to age. We need people to take over and succeed. Sometimes clients don’t need advice today, but they will in 10 or 15 years.
L&HA: How do you see younger agents coming into the business?
DH: The career agency system still provides great initial training. Agents even have their children get trained in the agency system and then come on board. Some come out of the wire houses, having decided rather than a stockbroker they want to be a well-rounded planner. Some learn by shadow training from mom or dad and taking local courses.
L&HA: What has contributed most to the success of your office?
DH: I leapfrogged the success of the regional office in the last five or six years by investing in the right people. Our people have made the success of the Great Lakes Regional office, and I am very proud of them. I have also invested in myself, by seeking out Strategic Coach as a training tool and taking advantage of some excellent leadership training Penn Mutual has provided. Fifteen years ago I didn’t know I was leading. Today I am very clear it takes great leadership skills to lead people and they will do great things.