Jobs Outlook: Insurance Sales Agents

Although slower-than-average employment growth is expected among insurance agents through 2012, opportunities for agents will be favorable for persons with the right qualifications and skills. Among such persons are flexible and ambitious people who enjoy competitive sales work, have excellent interpersonal skills, and possess expertise in a wide range of insurance and financial services. Multilingual agents also should be in high demand because they can serve a wider range of customers. Insurance language tends to be quite technical, so it is important for insurance sales agents to have a firm understanding of relevant technical and legal terms. Because many beginners find it difficult to establish a sufficiently large clientele in this commission-based occupation, many eventually leave for other jobs. Most job openings are likely to result from the need to replace agents who leave the occupation or retire. A large number of agents are expected to retire in coming years.

Future demand for insurance sales agents depends largely on the volume of sales of insurance and other financial products. Sales of health and long-term-care insurance are expected to rise sharply as the population ages. In addition, a growing population will increase demand for insurance for automobiles, homes, and high-priced valuables and equipment. As new businesses emerge and existing firms expand their insurance coverage, sales of commercial insurance also should increase, including coverage such as product liability, workers’ compensation, employee benefits, and pollution liability insurance.

Employment of agents will not keep up with the rising level of insurance sales, however. Many insurance carriers are trying to contain costs. As a result, many are shedding their captive agents—those agents working directly for insurance carriers—and are relying more on independent agents or direct marketing through the mail, by phone, or on the Internet.

Agents who incorporate new technology into their existing businesses will remain competitive. Agents who use the Internet to market their products will reach a broader client base and expand their businesses, but because most clients value their relationship with their agent, the Internet should not threaten jobs, given that many individuals still prefer discussing their policies directly with their agents, rather than through a computer. Also, the automation of policy and claims processing is allowing insurance agents to take on more clients.

Agents may face increased competition from traditional securities brokers and bankers as they begin to sell insurance policies. Because of increasing consolidation among insurance companies, banks, and brokerage firms, and due to increasing demands from clients for more comprehensive financial planning, insurance sales agents will need to expand the products and services they offer.

Agents who offer better customer service also will remain competitive. Call centers are another important way carriers and agents are offering better service to customers, because such centers provide greater access to their policies and more prompt services.

Insurance and investments are becoming more complex, and many people and businesses lack the time and expertise to buy insurance without the advice of an agent. Moreover, most individuals and businesses consider insurance a necessity, regardless of economic conditions. Therefore, agents are not likely to face unemployment because of a recession.