Virginia slumped back in her office chair, emotionally and physically drained. She had known when she got in the agency business there would be days it just seemed the roof was going to fall in and you could never catch up. Dad’s dinner table conversations over the years had made that clear. But she hadn’t planned that such days would become not the exception, but the rule.
Virginia heard a knock at her open door. There he stood, a bit grayer and with a few more battle scars, but still the man who raised her and created the agency she now stood to inherit—assuming she could keep it and herself afloat.
“Hey, Dad! What’s up?”
“Looking a bit run down on the road of life, there, aren’t we, baby girl?”
“Dad, please. Not in the office.”
“Oh, I know, don’t want to embarrass the agency manager in front of her compatriots, right?”
Virginia sighed. “Right.” Then she smiled ruefully. “Although at times like this it is nice to hear some things haven’t changed.”
“Always here for you, honey. What is it this time?”
“Oh, everything. Markets are turning tight—’hard,’ as you call it—quotes are going up, clients are grumpy, the economy just staggers along, and all this digital stuff is making my head swim. After taking forever to decide the agency should be on Facebook, now I’m told Pinterest is where it’s at. And blogging is so yesterday; we need an agency hashtag, app and videos on YouTube. Isn’t it enough to just sell insurance anymore?”
Dad laughed and dropped into a chair. “Just change some of that digital stuff to ‘account development,’ ‘transactional filing,’ 'paperless,’ ‘SEMCI’ and ‘“direct mail,’” and it all sounds like 20 years ago. Which is why I want you to read this.”
He handed her a few ragged and worn sheets of paper torn from a magazine.
“What is this?”
“Oh, I know you only read things that come on an iPad these days. But if you’ll go retro with me for a minute, I think it may help lighten the load a bit.”
She unfolded the pages and began to read.
My supervisor says there is no such thing as insurance anymore; it’s all just financial services and cash flow. I think he’s wrong. Will you please tell me if there is really such a thing as insurance?
Well, Virginia, you’ve asked an interesting question. Many people agree with your supervisor. It seems lately that all the talk is about captives, financial instruments, banks, alternative-market mechanisms, the Internet and cash-flow underwriting. It’s as if insurance has become a bad word or has just gone away.
We have become too cynical. We have done it to ourselves, and for that grievous error I am deeply sorry. We talk about the words and not the meanings. We discuss the forms and not the results. We focus on the individual jigsaw pieces and ignore the picture on the box. We forget that Ben Feldman, the legendary life insurance salesman, called insurance “the miracle of pen and ink.”
Oh, I know many in our world are suppressing a cynical grin. Just like your supervisor, they’ve become so caught up in the endless and often trivial details that they’ve lost sight of the miracle.
And it’s still there.
It’s there when we look at replacement cost coverage in a homeowner’s policy and realize we’re giving a hurricane-ravaged family not just a new building, but a new home.
It’s there when we look at a commercial liability claim and realize we’re not just dealing with attorneys; we’re protecting a business while helping an injured party to heal.
It’s there when we handle a workers’ compensation claim and realize we’re not just calculating lost wages; we’re putting food on an injured worker’s table.
It’s there when we settle an automobile liability claim and realize we’re not just paying a lot of money to a grievously injured mother; we’re making it possible for her kids to go to college if she can no longer earn the money herself.
It’s there when we pay a settlement to someone accidentally injured by an insured and realize we’re not only helping the injured person recover; we’re comforting our insured who is grieving over having caused the accident.
It’s there when nothing happens at all, but our insured sleeps better at night because we have given him or her that much less to worry about from the vagaries of nature and chance.
It’s there when we realize that a homeowner paying $1,000 a year for a homeowner’s policy on a $100,000 house will take 100 years to pay in the coverage limit—and that’s only Coverage A. To break even on a $300,000 liability claim under the same policy, the carrier will have to collect premiums for another three centuries! Heaven forbid there also should be a loss-of-use claim!
It’s there when we see a politician circling over a disaster area promising government money, and we realize that those funds will be a drop in the bucket compared with what insurance companies will pay to rebuild that community.
It’s there when an insured pays $300 for a personal-umbrella policy and realizes his carrier just opened a bank account in the insured’s name and deposited $1 million that can be tapped into whenever a covered liability claim arises—even if that’s only an hour later.
People who do not see these as miracles need to reset their cynic meters. They have been working too hard for too long. Without insurance, our world would be a darker, more dangerous place. In fact, insurance is so crucial to our lives that if it didn’t exist, we’d need to invent it.
I’m very glad you wrote. Thanks to you, I’m reminded how great the industry I’ve chosen as my own truly is, and how much better off we are for having it. Yes, Virginia, there is insurance. I hope this indisputable fact brings you some happiness this Christmas season, because that would make two of us.
Virginia looked up, clearing her throat. “Wow. That does put things in a different light, doesn’t it?”
Dad nodded. “When I first saw that article almost 20 years ago I couldn’t help thinking it was the kind of question you would ask me. ‘ It has never been totally about markets, and marketing, and tools, or even policies. It’s about how what we do affects lives every day. Whether our clients always realize that or not, it’s important that we do. You know how I feel about this business and how proud I am you decided to join me. And on those days when it just seems too much and the future bleak, maybe you’ll reread that article and it will keep you keep going-- until maybe one day you’ll find yourself handing over a copy to Stephanie.”
“Dad, she’s only six. Who knows what her future holds?”
His smile literally lit up the room. “I remember thinking that about my baby girl.”
Virginia laughed. “Ok, but when that time comes it will definitely be a download to her iPad.”
“Agreed. Now, how about we lock up and stop on the way home for an eggnog latte?”
“I’m with you. And Dad?”
“Yes, baby girl?”
“I’m glad we still believe in miracles.”
“Me, too, baby girl. Me too.”