It’s the school holidays, and everywhere I go, it seems I’ll run into some insurance agents. I couldn’t even go get a new laptop at the IT fair happening at Suntec (‘cos my old laptop died) without getting approached 3 times. I believe theirs is a REALLY tough job because how does one approach a stranger in public and convince them to listen to a spiel about insurance without (1) pretending to do a survey, (2) giving out some freebies in exchange for that completed “survey” form and (3) telling some half-truths or outright lies (such as how that survey will take “only 1 minute”)?
After all, “Hi! Would you like to get an insurance policy?” is not going to cut it with most, if not all, Singaporeans.
When I’m not in a hurry to head elsewhere, I’ll usually sit and chat with them. Can’t help if they want to give me freebies like portable chargers and shopping vouchers. Trust me, I’ll put those to good use.
I do think some (rookie) agents say the funniest things. One agent I met was going all out to impress me. First, he said his company has “tied up with POSB” to offer POSB account holders (ONLY!) the chance to ‘upgrade’ their accounts so they can get 3% interest rate, instead of the 0.05% they are getting now. Oh cool. I wonder why no POSB staff told me that the last time I was in their bank, which was just last week. 😉
Then he said his company is “backed by the Government and MAS in offering this (savings) plan” so I need not worry. Everything is safe… and “guaranteed” (against what, I wonder?) And whom exactly is he referring to when he says “the Government” is backing this. A particular Minister, maybe? I’d hazard a guess that it’s the Finance Minister. 😛
It’s good that he made all these wild claims because it was a clear signal to me that I shouldn’t believe a word he’s saying. Insurance companies NEED to send their agents for more (and better quality) training that’s, hopefully, backed by the Government. ‘Cos if the G’s name is going to be used, then the G had better have some say regarding how it’s being used.
Obviously, there will be rookie agents saying the most fantastic things, and there are honest and capable agents out there. So HOW does one spot the difference? And is it easy to spot the difference, IF the rookie agents have been told by their managers to memorize some script beforehand?
This list isn’t exhaustive, but is just a rough guide:
(1) Questions that are extremely intrusive – At two separate roadshows, I got asked what the exact sums in my OA, SA, MA accounts were (referring to my CPF monies, in case you were wondering), how much I earn every month, how much I spend every month, how much I have as savings in my bank account, how many bank accounts I have, etc. It’s kind of like asking a girl (on the first date) her bra size and whether she’s had multiple sex partners. It’s highly inappropriate. The more tactful and experienced agents will probably ask about housing type (without asking for too many details, e.g. price) and the holidays I’ve been on recently (which would indicate, roughly, the amount of disposable income).
(2) Forcing you to sign the documents immediately – You’ll get really fantastic lies: “The freebies will be gone by the time you return the next time”, “I just need your IC now to generate the documents so I can tell the company to reserve one of each freebie for you; you can decide later on which plan you want”, “You can sign up as policyholder first, and it’s easy to switch the policy to your sister later”, etc. When you meet someone like that, be willing to get up and leave. If you don’t want to cause a scene, then explain you’re really uncomfortable with making a snap decision like that so you have to think about it first. Remind the agent that his/her company will allow for a free-look period anyway, so the paperwork would be done in vain if you simply change your mind tomorrow. 😉
(3) Needing reinforcements – This one is rather obvious: the agent will be accompanied by another agent or his/her manager. It’s one of the worst pressure tactics. 2 versus 1. If one person makes a snide remark regarding your inability to pay for something, for instance, and the other simply watches to see how you’ll respond, you might be tempted to say “Of course I can afford this. Here you go, take my money.” If your agent needs reinforcements, then you really have to wonder who will be your servicing agent should you need to make a claim, for instance. The manager will obviously not see you as his/her client. And the rookie, well, might be too inexperienced to help you out. So, basically, you’re on your own.
What should WE, as consumers, do to help the insurance industry weed out the story-spinners and less-than-honest agents?
Firstly, we need to refer our family members and friends to the agents we trust and value. If we don’t do this, our loved ones might end up falling prey to unscrupulous salespeople. And the worst thing that can happen to us is if our decent agent leaves the industry because it’s getting harder and harder to get new clients (who have been scared off by the nasty ones) and a new agent takes over all our servicing issues. Oh dear.
Secondly, we need to educate ourselves and learn to ask the tough questions. Don’t buy a plan just to “support” someone, especially if it’s way out of your budget. A good financial planner will help you work through the sums and only recommend what is feasible, necessary and most suitable (after comparing similar plans across the various insurance companies).
Thirdly, we need to keep our own GREED in check. It’s especially tough when we’re told something is 100% safe, and guaranteed, AND we get Apple Store gift cards or shopping vouchers worth $250 or more, simply by agreeing that our money needs to earn us 3% interest instead of 0.05%. Free gifts are never “free”. You’re paying for them the minute you sign on the dotted line. 😉
But what if you don’t know of any decent insurance agents even though you believe in the importance of being insured?
(1) Ask a trusted friend. I feel flattered when friends turn to me for recommendations. I’m pretty straightforward in that if there’s no one I feel comfortable risking my reputation for, I’ll not make any referrals. The people I refer (whether they be insurance agents, speakers/trainers, facial therapists, etc) are really good. And even though I don’t earn a cent from the referral, I don’t lose any sleep or worry that my friends will get any less than what I got.
(2) Speak to many agents before committing to one. There are insurance roadshows happening at just about every busy MRT station and shopping mall. The more people you talk to, the better you’ll get at identifying the sort of salespeople who resonate with you. Take as long as you need to think things through before committing to one. Don’t let their claims of freebies running out force you into making a decision on the spot. Always remember: once you decide to sign, you can still say ‘no’ if they don’t hand over the freebie first. To close the deal, you’ll definitely get your freebie, on your own terms. So don’t fall prey to pressure tactics.
(3) Get yearly reviews and don’t buy too much at once. An agent sold my parents a plan (that’s for me) when I was a wee lil kid, and while I received birthday cards every year from her company (it’s all auto-generated), I never saw her again. Not even once. So, buy one plan first (remember: it must be well within your budget), then ask the agent to meet you for a review the following year. If he/she hems and haws, or ignores you totally, then pat yourself on the back for not placing all your eggs in one basket, so to speak. But if you sense that the person is sincere, go ahead and ask what else needs to be done to secure the future for yourself as well as that of your loved ones.
I believe every industry has good people, some bad eggs, some rookies worth retaining, and some rookies who should look for jobs elsewhere. So don’t feel bad about not supporting a rookie who’s not a good fit for the industry. Perhaps his/her manager has put in more effort in recruitment than in training newbies.
So the next time someone approaches you to ask “Excuse me, are you currently studying or working?”, you can ask “Are you an insurance agent? How long have you worked in this company?” 😉 I suspect it’ll totally catch them by surprise.