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NEW YORK, FEBRUARY
HOW TO BE AN AGENT.
I. Introductory. A series of papers, of which this is the first, are now in preparation in the office of the Equitable Society. These papers will be edited by the Secretary, and will appear irom month to month in the “Equitable News" for the instruction of agents.
But some one may say, “How can those who are shut up in an office teach the men who are in the field? What can the officers know of the difficulties with which the agents have to contend?"
These are fair questions, and are worth answering.
Well, a man may be able to make an excellent rifle, and yet not be a good shot. The painter is not always the best art critic. It does not follow, therefore, that the office man cannot give valuable hints to the field man. Besides, you may have heard that some of the Equitable's officers have proved themselves to be fair to middling agents themselves.
You remember the story of the train starter who discovered that he had made a blunder in starting a certain train. So he telegraphed for doctors and ambulances, sent a wrecking train off along the line, and then blew out his brains. Nothing had happened, no accident had occurred, but he knew that later on at a certain place and at a certain time there would be a collision which it was too late for him to avert. He was not driving either of the distant locomotives that were moving swiftly towards each
other, but he knew what their own engineers did not know, namely, that both trains were in deadly peril; that a multitude of passengers would lose their lives, and that he was responsible. There is a moral to this story, which is that the officers must know how to run the business and must conduct it wisely in accordance with that knowledge, or the agents and policyholders will suffer. But my object in repeating this story was not to point a moral; it was to give you an illustration of the fact that an official at headquarters may be in a position to know a great deal about what is going on beyond his own field of vision, and may at times even see and clearly understand the movements of others who are ignorant of the full significance of their own actions.
The officers of a life company at headquarters are at a central point to which information about the work of the entire field converges. Do you suppose there is any sort of difficulty or perplexity with which the agents have had to contend concerning which the officers are ignorant? No; if one agent does not inform them, another is sure to do so.
For many years the officers of the Equitable have been students of life assurance. The younger officers have profited by the counsel and experience of their elders, and have taken up the development of the work at the point to which it had been brought by them.
We are not only familiar with the methods employed by the agents now
in the field, but have watched those of earlier generations. We know perfectly well the qualities which made Henry H. Hyde, of Boston, the most successful solicitor of his day. We know why men like Brawner, and Jennison, and William T. Blodgett, and other early Equitable agents, succeeded, and why this success was not permanent in every instance. We know why it is that some agents meet with instant success while others develop slowly. We know what helps and what hinders the agent in his work. This knowledge enables us to equip the agent; to give him sound counsel; to encourage and caution him. The officers know what the agents want at the present time, and they intend to keep in touch with them so as to be constantly aware of changing needs and altering conditions. It is their pleasure, as it is their duty, to give agents every proper facility—the latest and best equipment and arms. It is for this reason that we so often urge you to keep us constantly posted as to the action of other companies; to send us the documents of other companies circulated in your territory; to send us a copy of every attack upon the Society; to send us information regarding dividends, policy settlements, and the payment (or contest) of death claims within your borders. When our managers remember these requests they do us a real service which we appreciate. Those who forget them, or who do not take the trouble to keep us constantly posted, fail to co-operate in a very important branch of the Society's work.
But some agent may say: "If you know all this, why is it that you do not remove the obstacles which beset our path?".
Agents meet certain difficulties. They point out to the officers how they can be removed. But the officers feel it to be their duty to refuse, because they see that in removing them, others of a far more serious character would ensue. This is just where the officers of some companies have shown weakness, and by seeking to give temporary aid to their agents have done them and their companies permanent injury.
Agents, especially new agents, sometimes claim that they could frame a policy
that would sell better than any in the market. This would in most cases be no idle boast. No one knows as well as the agent what will help and what will hinder his sales. But the problem is a far more complicated one than that. A good policy must be made not only to sell, but to last, and to give satisfaction at its maturity, and it must tend to the prosperity and not to the injury of the company-and that not for a day, but for all time. Hence it is that many things that would help to sell a policy are inadmissible, for business or scientific reasons.
The framing of a new policy is like the building of a racing craft. The officers are the shipbuilders, and the agent is the skipper who will sail the boat. His counsel is invaluable. He is able to point out defects in former models. But there are many delicate problems. What will serve on smooth water in a light breeze will not serve in a high sea in a gale of wind. If everything is sacrificed to lightness there will be insufficient strength.
It is true that there must be intelligent co-operation between the builder in the workshop and the seaman at the helm, but it does not follow from the fact that the builder's province is to spend most of his time in the shop, that he is ignorant of the needs and preferences of the man who is to sail the boat. Herreshoff, the most famous designer of that famous family of shipbuilders, was blind, consequently he could not sail the yachts which he planned. He could not even see how they moved through the water, but they proved their efficiency by winning.
But to return to the main question. The agent encounters difficulties, and he hastily exclaims, “Why don't the officers remove them and make our path smooth?" This question has already been answered, but there is a phase of it which has not been touched upon. There are many difficulties which are inherent to the business of soliciting life assurance which will never be removed. but do not conclude from this that the agent's lot is unusually hard. Every calling has its own difficulties, and the man who escapes those peculiar to life assurance and enters into some other field of labor, will find that he will have new
disadvantages with which to contend. On the other hand, a life agent has exceptional advantages. He enjoys a freedom which is rare in business life. He enjoys an independence which is very unusual. He is usually master of his own time and of his own movements. If he is without wealth, but is the possessor of the requisite mental qualities, he may quickly achieve results and accumulate profits which could not be paralleled in other lines of business by men without large capital. Many men of marked ability who are engaged in other pursuits are so restricted that they are unable to exercise the talents they possess; but every life agent can carve out for himself a path to success if he has the requisite ability and energy.
The agent is the man behind the gun, but the value of the gun must have some consideration. If our American sailors had been behind the Spanish guns, their achievements would have been less remarkable than they were; for if the mechanism of your gun is out of order, if your ammunition is inadequate, the man behind the gun will be seriously hampered.
Let me repeat, then, that the Equitable Society could never have reached its present position under the management of officers ignorant of the best methods of canvassing, or indifferent to the trials and tribulations of the agents in the field. These officers have well-defined duties to perform. Canvassing is not necessarily one of them, but a knowledge of canvassing is.
In the first place, they must be masters of the theory and practice of life assurance and be able to see what the effect of action taken to-day will be thirty or forty or fifty years hence.
In the second place they must conduct prudently and effectively the affairs of a great financial institution.
In the third place, they must be competent to give the agents good tools, and must be able to aid them in their work.
To this end they must appreciate and understand the agent's trials and difficulties, removing those that can be removed, and aiding him in dealing successfully with those which cannot be removed.
SHOULD THE OLD CLERGYMAN BE SHOT?
The above is the startling title to an article in the December number of the "Ladies' Home Journal,” by Ian Maclaren, the author of "Beside the Bonny Briar Bush," etc. It is only another article on the well-worn theme of the difficulties that beset most men of advanced years.
The author says in the course of the article:
"Nothing is wrong with him, only that he does not walk as quickly as he used to; that he speaks a little more slowly; that he does not always hear what is said to him; that his hair is passing from gray to white; that he is fatigued when going up hill; that it has happened to him just as it happens to other men: the minister is getting old.”
This is applicable not only to ministers, but to men of all other professions and businesses. Such cases multiply day by day, and make the strongest kind of cbject lesson in favor of endowment assurance.
The more this method is used in providing for one's old age the less there will be of such cases as the above. Savings banks are good, but they only permit saving. Endowment assurance compels it.
** Misfortunes Never
Come Singly.” It is said that ninety-five out of every hundred business men meet misfortune-at some stage in their lives; some recover and some do not. If the remedy in business life were as easily found as in the ills that þeset humanity, there would not be as much misfortune.
AN OBJECT LESSON. A manager in the Far West sends us the following clippings from three papers of different dates. It is a series of object lessons to show the folly of neglecting assurance. This manager says that eight years ago the deceased was supposed to be worth over a million dollars, and that he tried in every way to induce him to assure his life, but he was "too rich; didn't need it.” Comment is superfluous:
FUNERAL NOTICE. Smith-In this city, October 7, John Smith, aged 66 years, 7 months and 3 days, beloved husband of Bertha Smith. Funeral from his late residence, at 1:30 P. M., Monday, Octoberç. Please omit flowers. THE JONES AUCTION & COMMISSION
CO., PRELIMINARY NOTICE OF AUCTION SALE OF VALUABLE HOUSEHOLD EFFECTS. MRS. JOHN SMITH HAS INSTRUCTED US TO DISPOSE OF BY PUBLIC AUCTION AT THE RESIDENCE, RICHMOND PARK AVENUE, ON MONDAY NEXT, NOV. 13. COM. MENCING AT 2 O'CLOCK P. M., THE COSTLY FURNITURE, RUGS, FOREIGN DRAPERIES, PAINTINGS, MAHOGANY AND CHOICE PIECES OF RARE FURNITURE, WORKS OF ART, CARPETS, BRIC-A-BRAC, BRASS BEDSTEADS, ETC. THE SALE WILL COM MENCE MONDAY NEXT AT 2 P. M.
The above is reproduced from an advertisement of a remedy for physical ills. What is the matter with life assurance as a remedy for business ills and misfortunes?
ALL SORTS AND CONDITIONS.
From the Hawkeye. The Hawkeye man writes from Hartford: "You can get assured here in any way and for anything. you wish-mutual, endowments, tontine, accident, intentional, nomadic, differential, protoplasmic, Baptist, Old School Presbyterian, Congregational, Bob Ingersoll, Renaissance, Gothic, Byzantine, greenback, composite, Corinthian, Scotch, cheviot, gossamer, seamless, new Wheeler & Wilson, barbed wire, liver pad and hard finish. It is the central and distributing point for the entire assurance business of America. No assurance company is genuine unless ‘Hartford' is blown upon the bottle.”
SUIT TO FORECLOSURE. The United States Trust Company,First National Bank and Lincoln and Garfield Bank have filed suit in the State Court against Bertha Smith, executrix of the will of John Smith, deceased, to foreclose a mortgage for $32,004 and certain interest, and $3,500 attorney's fees are demanded. The mortgage covers the undivided one-half of block 106 Fifth street, the undivided one-half of lots 5 and 6, block 168 ; lots 48, 49, 50, 51, 52 53,69 and 709 Richmond Park avenue; the undivided one-half of 100 acres of land, 42 acres and 30 acres. The amounts due are: United States Trust Company, $2,251; First National Bank, $21,155; Lincoln and Garfield Bank, $8,598. The original loan was made to Mrs. Smith in June, 1893, and was for $100,000. In the mortgage was also included lots 1, 2, 7 and 8, block 216, and these four lots were subsequently sold and the proceeds applied on the loan. J. J. White, who holds a judgment against the estate for about $17,000, and who attached the Richmond Park avenue property, is made a party defendant to protect his interest. This was formerly a claim of the Farmers' National Bank. There are also other defendants, creditors of the estate.
[Of course in the above extracts we have changed the names of all persons and places, but otherwise it is an absolute reproduction of papers sent.-ED.)
TOO RICH! During the panic of 1873, I remember my aunt asking J. W. S— , head of a firm which was estimated to be worth about $2,000,000, how the panic would affect his interests. Though a small boy at the time, I can recall this reply: "Rachel, the panic cannot affect me; I am too rich." Five years from that time the firm failed disastrously, and Mr. S- came out of the wreck with barely enough money to maintain him.
I think this incident had a great deal to do with deciding me to enter the business of life assurance.
W. A. Shreve.
ALEXANDER M. SHIELDS. Mr. Shields, whose portrait appears above, is the Society's manager for California. He first connected himself with the Society on February 28th, 1891, under contract to the then managers at Los Angeles. His first direct contract with the Society was dated March 4th, 1893, at Los Angeles, and gave him the territory of Southern California. Mr. Shields made such a success of this that from January ist, 1897, he was given the whole State of California, Nevada and the Hawaiian Islands. Each year since then this agency has written more than five million dollars of business, and has done a larger business in this territory than has been done by the agency of any other company.
Mr. Shields is a shining example of a man who can not only run an agency successíully, but can also find time to write a very large personal business. In 1897 and 1898 Mr. Shields wrote each year over a million dollars of personal business. During 1899 he even exceeded this, as he wrote and paid for over a million and a half of new business
TWO BANKS. There are two banks in a neighboring city, within a stone's throw of one another, one about thirty years old, the other less than ten. The older bank for years paid large dividends, often as high as 8 per cent. per annum. The younger bank, on the contrary, for five years after it was organized, did not pay one cent in dividends. If people bought bank stock the way many buy life assurance, and the way agents of companies with a smaller surplus than the Equitable would like to have them buy it, the stock of the older bank would be worth infinitely more than the stock of the new bank. What is the actual fact? The stock of the older bank can be bought at 109. That of the younger is hard to get at 190. Why? Because the younger bank has accumulated a large surplus from which to pay future dividends. The older bank has not only no surplus to speak of from which to pay dividends, but it has seriously impaired its strength.
In this connection it is well to take advantage of the fall in rates of interest, as shown so conclusively in the book of letters published last spring by the Society. It is easy to show to the public that there are many companies which would be seriously weakened by adopting the 3% reserve standard, whereas, the Equitable would have $30,000,000 or $40,000,000 clear under this most exacting requirement.
One should be careful always to cxplain that we do not fear that any "legal reserve" company will become insolvent, but it will do exactly what the older bank spoken of did-stop paying dividends, or reduce them very radically until they again accumulate a sufficient surplus to guarantee safety and have dividend paying power.
It is thus clearly shown that large dividends paid in the past are no indication of large dividends in the future. On the contrary, they may be, if paid out of an inadequate surplus, a positive sign that future dividends will be materially reduced, if not dispensed with altogether for some years. Policyholders of the future will have to pay for this mismanagement in the past. The big dividends which attracted them to the company should really have been a danger signal to warn them away.
LAWRENCE C. Woods.