New advisors need “soft skills” to succeed

By Daniela Cambone | April 20 2009 02:12PM

It has been a year since the implementation of the educational courses and examination for the life insurance industry, known as Life License Qualification Program (LLQP). Experts say the LLQP is a step in the right direction, but stress the need for “soft skills” and additional training for new advisors to succeed.

Developed by the Canadian Insurance Self Regulatory Organization (CISRO) last May, the goal of the LLQP is to increase skill levels among life insurance agents. However some say that it is only a stepping stone and passing it does not guarantee success in the field.

Gerald Bissett, part-owner of the Business Career College in Grand Prairie, Alberta, a provider of the LLQP course, agrees that the LLQP is a very good start for getting someone licensed and started in the business.

However, he adds, “if someone wants to evolve in the industry, then the LLQP is not enough.”

He says there should be an obligation to take a training program that deals with some of the soft skills associated with the industry, such as time management, dealing with stress and client communication.

“We did a quite a bit of work with Human Resources Development Canada and we found that in order to survive, an individual needs soft skills. And most of the reasons individuals don’t make it is not because of a lack of knowledge, but instead a lack of training in soft skills.”

More info needed

Experienced advisor Lawrence Geller of Geller Insurance Agencies, says that neither the LLQP or continuing education credits (CECs) offered are enough. “I helped design one of the LLQP courses and I know what we included, but I also know what the regulators told us to exclude, such as client communication and privacy. I believe it was wrong to not include it,” he says.

Mr. Geller states that if he were designing the LLQP from scratch, he would require two years of undergraduate community college or university work, such as they do in Quebec, “and then they should go off and for another two years they should go work somewhere before they can get the full ticket to go out free.”

He also recommends new advisors to start-off in an environment of respected and knowledgeable individuals. However, Mr. Geller does not think that broker training should be insurance-company sponsored.

“I don’t think insurance companies have shown over the past decade that they have the interest or the ability to go back to the days of a branch system when they were educating people. Today there is an education on product not on client needs.”

Evolving program

Joanne Abram, general manager of the Alberta Insurance Council and chair of the committee that developed the LLQP, says that the level of knowledge being tested is much higher than it was before. “As far as increasing the level of knowledge, the LLQP has done that. From what we are seeing the pass rate is up significantly prior to when a mandatory training program was introduced.”

She adds, “I think what people have to bear in mind is that it is an entry-level standard. It is not by any means the end of an agent’s education.”

Ms. Abram says that there is an integrity committee that is tasked with reviewing the curriculum to ensure the LLQP is current.

However, Ms. Abram stresses that there are always things that can be better. “It is an evolving work and it will be amended and adapted to meet changes in the market place and to ensure that it is both current and relevant.”

Training, then sales

David Benamron, director of living benefits for managing general agency Copoloff Insurance Agencies, explains that much more than the LLQP is needed. “No matter what industry you are in, without the training the exam is worthless, and that is where there is a lack.”

He adds, “These individuals pass their exam and yes, there is a three-month training that goes with it, but it is hardly enough to have them be qualified to make recommendations that are important.”

Mr. Benamron says that, especially with liability issues running rampant, new brokers are putting themselves at risk because they are not ready to go ahead and propose any insurance solutions.

“The exam is very basic; it doesn’t get in-depth enough and it doesn’t focus enough on case studies.” Mr. Benamron is referring to the multiple-choice aspect of the exam, which has long been debated. Though it makes it easy to correct and it avoids subjectivity, Mr. Benamron says that when you are in front of a client, there are no multiple-choice answers. “There should be a portion left for analysis; if you have a section where you have to explain, people have to show they can assimilate everything they learnt through the course.”

As for the multiple-choice questions, Mr. Bissett says that a very good multiple-choice exam is just as valid and maybe more valid than an essay type question. “You can give long-narrative answers and you’ll find different grades are allocated.”

Having an exam that is a little more difficult is Mr. Benamron’s solution. He would also like to see a separate exam in order to be licensed to sell universal life.