Insurance sales agents typically do the following:
Insurance sales agents commonly sell one or more types of insurance, such as property and casualty, life, health, and long-term care insurance.
Property and casualty insurance agents sell policies that protect people and businesses from financial loss resulting from automobile accidents, fire, theft, and other events that can damage property. For businesses, property and casualty insurance also covers workers’ compensation claims, product liability claims, or medical malpractice claims.
Life insurance agents specialize in selling policies that pay beneficiaries when a policyholder dies. Life insurance agents also sell annuities that promise a retirement income.
Health and long-term care insurance agents sell policies that cover the costs of medical care and assisted-living services for senior citizens. They also may sell dental insurance and short-term and long-term disability insurance.
Agents may specialize in selling any one of these products or function as generalists providing multiple products.
An increasing number of insurance sales agents offer their clients—especially those approaching retirement—comprehensive financial-planning services, including retirement planning and estate planning. In addition to offering insurance, these agents may become licensed to sell mutual funds, variable annuities, and other securities. This practice is most common with life insurance agents who already sell annuities, but many property and casualty agents also sell financial products.
Many agents spend a lot of time marketing their services and creating their own base of clients. They do this in a variety of ways, including making “cold” sales calls to people who are not current clients.
Potential clients often use comparison shopping tools online to learn about different policies and get information from insurance companies. Clients can either purchase a policy directly from the company’s website or contact the company to speak with a sales agent.
Insurance agents also find new clients through referrals by current clients. Keeping clients happy so that they recommend the agent to others is a key to success for insurance sales agents.
Insurance agents may work for a single insurance company or an insurance brokerage.
Captive agents are insurance sales agents who work exclusively for one insurance company. They can only sell policies provided by the company that employs them.
Independent insurance agents work for insurance brokerages, selling the policies of several companies. They match insurance policies for their clients with the company that offers the best rate and coverage.
A high school diploma is the typical requirement for insurance sales agents, although a bachelor’s degree can improve one’s job prospects. Public-speaking classes can be useful in improving sales techniques, and often agents will have taken courses in business, finance, or economics. Business knowledge is also helpful for sales agents hoping to advance to a managerial position.
Insurance sales agents must have a license in the states where they work. Separate licenses are required for agents to sell life and health insurance and property and casualty insurance. In most states, licenses are issued only to applicants who complete specified courses and who pass state exams covering insurance fundamentals and state insurance laws. Most state licensing authorities also require agents to take continuing education courses focusing on insurance laws, consumer protection, ethics, and the technical details of various insurance policies.
As the demand for financial-planning services increases, many agents also choose to get licensed and certified to sell securities and other financial products. Licensing and certification requires substantial study time to pass an additional exam—either the Series 6 or Series 7 licensing exam, both of which are administered by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA). The Series 6 exam is for agents who want to sell only mutual funds and variable annuities. The Series 7 exam is the main FINRA series license, which qualifies agents as general securities sales representatives.
A number of organizations offer certifications that show an agent’s expertise in insurance specialties. These certifications are not required for employment, but they can give job candidates an advantage over other applicants. Certifications also can be a source of continuing education credit. For details on specific designations, contact The Institutes and The American College of Financial Services.