Wall Street's Sex Appeal: Lessons for the Insurance Industry

When Tom McGintee, chair of the Maine Young Agents Committee, spoke at the Maine Insurance Agents Association’s mid-year convention earlier this month, he had just seen “The Wolf of Wall Street” the night before.

The film left him with a question: How can two industries that both operate in the finance world have such vastly different reputations among young people planning their futures?

“This is the image of Wall Street and the finance world that everybody’s seeing—the money being thrown all over the place, the glamour,” says McGintee, who serves as the senior insurance marketer at Norton Insurance Agency in Cumberland Foreside, Maine. “And the insurance industry has ‘About Schmidt’—the actuary with the little green visor doing things at his desk and not talking to people.”

It’s an unfortunate stereotype—and one the Maine YAC has been working hard to change.

“In 10 years, there’s going to be 400,000 positions we need to fill and not enough people to fill them,” says Dottie Chalmers-Cutter, former chair of the Maine YAC and vice president of operations at Chalmers Insurance Group, locations in Maine and New Hampshire. “Teenagers don’t know about insurance and they don’t think about it. It’s so important just to raise the awareness starting at the high school level.”

Named the 2013 Outstanding InVEST® Supporter for outstanding achievement in promoting Young Agent involvement with InVEST, the Maine YAC increased InVEST volunteer participation more than 30% in 2013 and accomplished a laundry list of initiatives focused on presenting the insurance industry as a viable career option for high school and college students: starting an InVEST program at various local high schools; setting up job shadows, internships and field trips; and hosting InVEST students at a roundtable discussion during the Maine Young Agents conference last fall (pictured below).

By targeting high-school students on a business track, the group hopes to continue proving a career in insurance can be just as appealing and satisfying as any other. And it all starts with raising awareness about the diverse array of options the insurance industry has to offer.

“There are so many different career types available that you can fit just about any personality,” says Shannon Gorman, director of education and conferences at the Maine Insurance Agents Association. “If you like solving puzzles, you could be a claims investigator. If you’re a math whiz, you can think about becoming an actuary. If you know everybody in town and you can sell them the Brooklyn Bridge, you need to be in sales.”

As the insurance industry becomes more tech-savvy, opportunities will also expand for young people who are interested in careers in social media, internet marketing and other technology fields. “There’s this misconception that you’re either going to be a salesman knocking on doors trying to sell life insurance policies, or you’re a customer service rep sitting at a desk taking phone calls all day,” McGintee explains. “There’s so much more to it than that.”

In fact, insurance isn’t all that different from Wall Street—both are a “relationship-driven business,” McGintee says. “My No. 1 favorite thing about my job is that I get to talk to and interact with really interesting people on a day-to-day basis. You can choose to have a career in the insurance business where very little of your time is spent sitting behind a desk.”

The perks don’t hurt, either, especially considering that scholarship opportunities abound for college-level risk management and insurance programs—many of which offer job placement ratings close to 100%.

“A lot of these students, especially in Maine, don’t have a lot of opportunities handed to them,” Chalmers-Cutter says. “We have a lot of blue-collar families who don’t even think about going to college or being able to afford it.”

Chalmers Insurance Group is proof of InVEST’s perpetuation potential. The agency employs seven active InVEST graduates who have all been with the agency at least 10 years, as well as what Chalmers-Cutter calls her “biggest success story”: a high-school InVEST student who started off as a two-week summer intern and has stayed on part-time for the past year. He plans to enroll in the insurance and risk management program at the University of Southern Maine next year.

“We’re seeing these huge opportunities like never before for students that are aspiring to be managers or own their own businesses,” Gorman says. “That raises a few eyebrows. Students come back and say, ‘So just what kind of salary are we talking about?’”

Jacquelyn Connelly is IA senior editor.

SIDEBAR: Why You Need to Show Off Your Young Agents

Maine YAC leaders agree that the first step in getting involved in the perpetuation mission is allowing your young agents to shine.

“If you have somebody that’s a young agent now talking to a high-school student, they connect much more easily than me, who’s next generation,” Gorman explains. “I need those younger people to come in and have a peer-to-peer conversation.”

“The only way to get your staff to buy into what InVEST and the Young Agents are doing is to see it firsthand,” McGintee adds. “Sacrifice those couple of hours out of the office. Allow your younger professionals to go volunteer at a school or speak for InVEST at a business class—in fact, don’t just allow it. Encourage it.” —J.C.