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November is a glorious month. It’s the home of Thanksgiving, when the days are sliding toward Christmas, football is in full swing, and Frosty is on his way.But permit me to focus upon one other famed denizen of these days that is far too familiar to us insurance folk–namely, the turkey.Allow me to begin my fowl presentation with a paragraph I included in my August 2008 article:

“You’re an idiot.Oh, and I mean that in the best possible way. Not that you’re stupid–no doubt you’re an intelligent human being with many fine attributes. But dare I suggest that none of them include a comprehensive understanding of the complexities of property-casualty insurance? Trust me, there’s a reason I’ve tried not to sleep through more continuing education classes on this stuff than you can imagine in your worst nightmares. I have literally forgotten more than you’ll ever know. So why don’t we just agree that you’ll stick to your part of the deal–telling me what you’re most afraid of losing or what you fear will cause that loss–and leave the coverage solutions to me?”

For this month’s tale, permit me to change “idiot” to “turkey” and apply it to a common party to the insurance transaction: specifically, those who add multiple layers of complexity to what should basically be a very simple tool for the transfer of information–a certificate of insurance (COI).Last month in Illinois, I enjoyed taking part in a spirited seminar discussion about COIs and the myriad of misconceptions, misunderstandings and downright bull surrounding this process. It is hard to believe that the COI began as an attempt at simplifying what had become a sometimes paper-intensive process–providing information to others about a client’s current insurance coverages. Thanks to ACORD developing a single document where the necessary policy information could be displayed, agencies and carriers now had a simple process, those interested in verification of coverage received what they needed, and millions of trees annually were saved from the paper mills. In fact, ACORD may be the first organization qualified to be embraced by both titans of insurance and Al Gore with equal enthusiasm.Ah, but even the glorious lifestyle of the Garden of Eden did not last forever. Soon the turkeys emerged, gobbling in the ears of COI requesters: “Why just settle for what works? Let’s see if we can turn this COI from a simple, effective informational tool into a basis for total warfare! Let us unleash a veritable downpour of demands that can’t be met, then condemn all who protest as fools standing in the way of the free flow of commerce. And if they somehow are able to provide some semblance of our requests, we’ll just ratchet up the process to the realm of the ridiculous. There must come a tipping point where they will be forced to admit to themselves they don’t understand our increasingly incomprehensible requirements, and then we will have them. For that will be the time to unleash our ultimate weapon: the threat that they are the only ones without clear understanding, and the fault lies with them, not us. They must then either blindly agree to our wishes or believe beyond doubt we will simply take our formidable business revenue to another, who will no doubt be far more willing to meet our needs.”In other words, these supposedly sophisticated insurance buyers are using a form of negotiation perfected long ago by oversexed teenage males: “Get in the back seat or get out of the car!”“Paradise by the dashboard lights,” indeed.Let but one example among thousands suffice to see how all of the facets I raised above play out in real life. Here are excerpts, with my comments, from an actual bulletin issued by the general counsel of a large franchisor to the franchisees about insurance.o “The requirements in this bulletin must be met upon your next insurance renewal.” Note the non-negotiable demand: Don’t question us–do it or else.o “Much of the language and concepts in this Bulletin may seem unusual to a business owner, but will be easily understood by your insurance agent and insurance company.” In other words, if your agent or carrier should be so bold as to call a bluff, it just proves the agent is untrustworthy and you should move your coverage to another source that will prove more submissive to bullying.o “If your (insurance policies listed) do not meet these requirements, your policies are not acceptable and you must find another carrier that meets these requirements at your next insurance policy renewal date.” A more blatant version of the “easily understood” provision above.o “The (providers of the franchisor’s coverage) already meet these requirements.” See, how can you say it can’t be done when we’ve already found a least one other fool to do it? (Teen variation: “Hey, if you don’t want to come across, I know someone who will!”) This provision is especially sinister in that it at one blow creates distrust in the franchisee’s mind for any agent who says the requirements can’t be met, while subtly suggesting the franchisee would be better off just dealing directly with the franchisor’s preferred supplier. There is a bit of possible coercion, don’t you agree?o “For all other insurance companies and policies, your agent must provide written assurance in the form attached to the end of this bulletin that your insurance policies meet these requirements.” That “for all other” language makes it tempting for the franchisee to just go to the franchisor provider, doesn’t it?o “Your agent must submit their written assurance on their agency letterhead with the licensed agent’s signature…” Nice. In one fell swoop, the franchisor just stripped the agent of every protection afforded by the disclaimer language included on the ACORD COI. ACORD, along with your agent and carrier representatives, spent resources and legal effort on the wording in those disclaimers specifically to protect agents and their carriers from this type of attack, and any agent who follows the franchisor’s requirement just threw it all away.The bulletin then goes into a myriad of insurance requirements, some of which are met easily and more than a few that either make little sense or are borderline impossible. When this bulletin was submitted to the IIABA Virtual University “Ask an Expert,” a rare 100 percent of experts responding agreed the agent should never sign that “written assurance” set down as non-negotiable by the franchisor. Seriously, how often do experts in this industry totally agree on anything?So what is an agent to do when confronted with this far too familiar quandary of a client being told “meet our requirements or else”? Let me suggest a few guidelines.1. The time to try and negotiate your way through such a situation is not, as my mother used to tell my sisters, “after you get in the back seat.” You need to start from the very first conversation with a prospective insured to build a solid relationship as a advisor, not just a salesperson. As Billy Joel framed the issue so well, “It’s a matter of trust.” Only with that well in hand will you have the credibility with the client to claim the franchisor is the turkey, not you.2. Accept that in some situations the requirements may be reasonable, yet still beyond your ability, or possibly desire, to provide. In that case, a healthy relationship with your client indicates total honesty such as that exemplified by Dylan via the Turtles: “No, no, no, it ain’t me, babe. It ain’t me you’re looking for, babe.”3. Recognize it is a foundational principle of negotiations that anyone can ask for whatever they want–but that doesn’t mean you have to give it to them. As one of my favorite pieces of advice from Harvey Mackay’s “Swim with the Sharks Without Getting Eaten Alive” states, if you can’t walk away from a deal, you aren’t negotiating, you’re begging. Notice he didn’t say you have to enjoy walking away, just that you must be willing, if all else fails, to do so, or you’ve already lost. So don’t take it personally when confronting seemingly outlandish requests. Assume they just don’t understand the situation, and attempt to work with your client to clarify what is needed and how you can provide it. You may be pleasantly surprised to find the folks on the other side of the table are not unreasonable, just unclear as to how to express their needs in technically correct insurance terms. If you can assist in reconciling that issue, your clients will soon agree with Roger Miller that you’re “King of the Road.”If, however, as I believe is true in this case, you find after your best efforts that you are truly dealing with a “no-win” scenario, follow the Left Banke’s advice, and “Just walk away, Renee.”4. Never let anyone intimidate you into doing what you know is wrong. I know that’s easy to say but hard to do. You will be assured that countless others have already gone along, so what’s your problem? Add in a client who is practically begging you to just go along and help make life easier for all, along with a threat to pull what may be a highly profitable account if you don’t knuckle under, and you have all the makings of a major bummer. And the reality is, the requirement issuer is counting on that pressure to force you to fold up and give in. Alas, such an approach seems to work often enough with at least some agents that we can’t assume these situations will one day just go away.So, it all comes down to you. Trust me, you aren’t alone. Every day, legions of folks face similar pressures in a plethora of noninsurance situations. What, you thought all those songs were about insurance? No matter how good a job you do, or how good a relationship you have with your clients, you are going to find yourself confronting turkeys. Perhaps the Lovin’ Spoonful put it best: “Did you ever have to make up your mind; pick up on one and leave the other behind. It’s not often easy, and not often kind, did you ever have to make up your mind?”And in this month of Thanksgiving, have no doubt at least one person in this world–namely, me–is extremely thankful there are those who, despite the pressures and temptations, are willing to take a stand. For you, I’m with Bette Midler: “Did you ever know that you’re my hero?”And as for those turkeys, any “wind beneath their wings” is probably gas.Chris Amrhein is an insurance educator and speaker with more than 30 years in the industry. He is also chief fun officer of www.insuranceisfun.com and author of “Yes, Virginia, There is Insurance.” Contact Amrhein at [email protected].

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