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Your Story Is Your Sword

I don’t know what I think about something until I write about it.

That’s when I do the thing that distinguishes us from our fellow apes: I organize my thoughts into a story. (Actually, I don’t know that apes aren’t telling stories to each other. They could be gossiping about prettier apes. It’s all about understanding their language. But let’s stick to the story at hand.)

The clarity presented by writing is why journaling has become popular. It’s also why we do some nutty things in our lives, because then there is a story to tell at the end — after we get out of the hospital.

Don’t we love to be in the company of a great storyteller? I remember many a time when a listing of a person’s loathsome character traits was pretty much erased by the conclusion “But, man, does he tell a great story!”

The story is the focus in many of the interviews of experts that Publisher Paul Feldman conducts each month. In this edition, Nick Nanton discusses how to deliver your message most effectively. He has won three Emmys for his documentaries, so he knows how to tell a story.

But haven’t you been drawn in by effective marketing only to be disappointed by the story? As in, hmm, this looks interesting: “How Did Napoleon Conquer the World? The Answer Might Surprise You!” And you click on a link to find that he ate an African root as the One Weird Trick that overcame his vertical inadequacies.

So the powerful story comes first. And who has a more important message than you in your community? You help people navigate their deepest fears to arrive at a solution that’s right for them.

Dying too soon or living “too long”? You can help with that. Worried that health costs will consume a financial legacy? You can offer a few paths to long-term-care security.

This wouldn’t be the first time you heard that the worst answer to the question “So, what do you do?” is “I sell …”

The best answer is the clearest story: “I help successful business executives retire without worry.” If that is your target, then that’s the answer. If you help teachers with their retirement, it’s, “I help teachers make their smartest 403(b) choices.” If I’m a teacher, you’re talking right where I live. If I’m not, I might mention you to my brother, who’s an educator approaching retirement.

The essential question here is “How do you serve others?” Most likely, your answer is that you provide some kind of security to an individual, family or business. The better you are at providing that service, the more successful you are. It’s the One Weird Trick in this business: The winners are the people who have the most passion and then the discipline to deliver what they say they will deliver.

If your answer is that you make a lot of money selling them a particular product regardless of the customer’s situation because that product pays the best commission, that’s a whole other story.

And, frankly, you might be making life a lot more difficult for the people who sell in order to serve. That’s because regulators and legislators are using the examples of aggressive salespeople as the villains that fiduciary standard reform is supposed to vanquish.

The latest federal foray into the issue is the Department of Labor’s proposed fiduciary standard rule. The rule was introduced with the effective messaging of “putting the client’s interest first” and ending “conflicted” advice.

The conflict in question is commission sales. Apparently, the assumption is that someone who sells on commission is going to push the highest-commission product and the hell with the client. If this reasoning offends you — good! You are the person I want to talk to.


You have probably noticed a greater drift toward pulling advisors of all stripes under the fiduciary standard umbrella. Part of that push ignores that the suitability standard has served Americans very well for at least 70 years. Are there agents who violate that standard? Yes. Are there also advisors who violate the fiduciary standard? Oh boy, yes. In fact, the studies that the Labor Department uses to justify its new rule show more transgressions of the fiduciary standard than the suitability standard. Here is a main difference that is not mentioned in that report: Victims of a suitability standard violation in the insurance industry usually get their money back; those who are taken by crooks under the fiduciary standard are usually out of luck.

That is just one of the ways this fiduciary campaign gets your business wrong. And there is the problem: Federal legislators and regulators don’t know your story.

If you are a typical Main Street insurance agent and advisor, you are an essential thread in the fabric of your community. You probably even know your congressman personally. You are the last, best hope to get Washington to look out for you and your clients.

Tell your story. You can even get your best clients to help tell your story. Contact your congressman and senator. When you bang on their doors, they will listen.

Your fellow agents and advisors are taking the story directly to their representatives in association fly-ins to Washington. In fact, our own Paul Feldman planned to be part of the effort in the National Association for Fixed Annuities’ Annuity Leadership Forum in the capital in June.

We have covered this rule in a few places in this magazine, particularly in the InFront feature. And we are setting up a web page at for background, including how to comment on the rule before the July 15 deadline.

But the important thing to remember is that you do not need to be an expert on all the nuances of the Labor Department proposal or the other efforts at expanding the fiduciary standard. You need to know that even the most well-meaning representatives and regulators are changing the rules based on an inaccurate picture of what you do.

It is all the more important at this moment for you to have a good answer to “What do you do?”

That story might save your livelihood

Steven A. Morelli is editor-in-chief for InsuranceNewsNet. He has more than 25 years of experience as a reporter and editor for newspapers, magazines and insurance periodicals. Steve may be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @INNSteveM. [email protected].

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