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The Loss of Tribal Knowledge in the Insurance Industry

In a modern society, we like to think that knowledge is predominantly spread through higher learning: books, lectures, organized courses and other media. But the fact is that we still learn much of what we need to know by who we know and what we do. Remember how important it was to put something under ‘Experience’ on your job application? That had nothing to do with any of the courses that you took. And who taught you to drive, how to cook, how to run the lawnmower or how to start the computer? None of this came from a book – it came from something called ‘Tribal Knowledge’ – information that you picked up through family or friends, or from the ‘School of Hard knocks’!

And in the insurance industry, we have always heavily depended on the transfer of that knowledge through the ‘tribe’ ie. other sales people with whom you work. In the past we had various, well defined ‘tribes’ called Insurance Agencies – each with its own group of agents bound to it through product and contract. Inside each of these agencies were agents with a wide range of sales experience and knowledge. New agents quickly found out that the smartest way to figure out how to do the job successfully was to grab a cup of coffee with one of the top agents in their office and just listen to his ‘war stories’ about the sales calls that he had made. Better yet was to listen in on two old ‘grizzlies’ swapping experiences they had in the field. It was here that the new agent learned how to get the attention of the business owner despite a protective secretary or how to bring an accountant on side with an argument of what was better for their company – or just simply how to find the reason to pick up that phone one more time.

But the insurance industry has changed: agencies are basically a thing of the past. Agents are now independent ‘brokers’ who can represent any company to a client – a good thing as that way the client is most likely to obtain the best type of plan, with no restriction to the companies that are quoted. But the broker, usually running his business out of his own home or his own little office, is now alone. There are no swapping stories at the water cooler or sharing war stories with his cohorts – and the industry is suffering because of it. New agents are missing the basic sales concepts eg. “How do I get past the receptionist?”. And the clients out there are suffering as a result too: we do have some fantastic ideas for business owners and if he doesn’t hear from us, he may miss out on some creative financial opportunities – due to a decision not made by him, but rather by his protective secretary and an agent that missed out on that piece of tribal knowledge.

The industry is going to great lengths to make sure that the brokers out there are well trained and tested in their industry book knowledge. And they are succeeding at that. Many brokers have earned their esteemed educational degrees of CFP, CLU and RHU after many years of study. But the one thing they will find that they will never be able to replace is the ‘loss of the tribal knowledge’ in our industry.

And we are all the poorer for it.

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