Jason E. Carter thought he knew nearly all there was to know about selling insurance.
But it wasn’t until he started taking courses for the revamped Life Underwriter Training Council Fellow (LUTCF) designation in July that he realized how much he didn’t know.
Carter is the owner and founder of the 12-employee independent multiline Carter Insurance agency in Texarkana, Texas. He also is president-elect of the Arkansas chapter of the National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors-Arkansas (NAIFA-Arkansas) and a member of NAIFA’s Young Advisor Team (YAT).
“Being in the business for 10 years, I didn’t think I’d learn anything, but boy was I wrong,” Carter said about his LUTCF experience.
Among the new techniques taught in the course are the importance of flagging down a mentor, using “bridge” words during a sales conversation and honing “trial close” skills.
For an industry veteran like Carter, the upshot of working toward the designation is more revenue to his agency and helping more clients — courtesy of the revamped LUTCF.
It has been a long couple of years for the LUTCF, the venerable insurance agent “call letters” that complement the names on the business cards of the more than 50,000 insurance professionals.
Critics grumbled that the LUTCF, which had been offered through the American College of Financial Services, had become stale, dated and neglected.
Weighed down by electives, industry experts said the designation had lost its original mission as the must-have designation for agents breaking into the field.
When the American College announced it would no longer support the curriculum, NAIFA, which owns the designation, scrambled to find a new home for the LUTCF. Association leaders announced last year that the LUTCF had found a new home among the confines of the College for Financial Planning.
Die-hard supporters of LUTCF weren’t shy about showing their support for the program during at NAIFA’s annual conference in New Orleans in October.
One of the more memorable badges available the convention proclaimed “Hands off my LUTCF!”
David Mannaioni, associate professor and lead instructor of the LUTCF, said the course work has been revamped to reflect the generalist needs of insurance agents coming into the industry.
Students chasing the designation must complete three segments, or modules. These modules cover life, health, long-term care, property/casualty, disability, mutual funds, annuities, estate planning and retirement. The course also covers scenarios and specific situations for business and agency owners.
The cost is $782 per course or $1,985 for all three courses (if purchased together), which reflects the NAIFA member discount. The retail price is $920 per course or $2,335 for all three.
Introduced in the mid-1980s as a general introduction, the designation was widely considered the gold standard for life insurance agents looking for broad and thorough exposure to the field.
But the 1980s were also a time when insurance was still a separate and relatively narrow business line within the financial services world.
With the advent of financial services modernization and the passage of the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act in 1999, the walls separating the sale of financial products crumbled. As a result, agents suddenly found themselves faced with selling a host of variable insurance offerings with investment components.
“When those walls came down, it made a big difference,” Mannaioni told InsuranceNewsNet.
Since the turn of the century, new insurance lines such as long-term care and new annuity products such as fixed index annuities have emerged. The revamped LUTCF curriculum has had to introduce agents to those products as well, Mannaioni said.
A distinguishing factor of the LUTCF since its inception has been the real-life sale. This is the live-fire exercise of selling an insurance policy in the field as part of the coursework so that students apply what they learn.
That approach remains very much a part of the new curriculum, which will be kept current with revisions every other year, said Mannaioni, who designed the new course. Courses are offered through professors and instructors in classroom and online.
At NAIFA’s annual conference last month, a handful of LUTCF students introduced themselves to Mannaioni to thank him and let him know how much they enjoyed the course. “Every one of them who came up to me was young, which is a good sign,” Mannaioni said.
Feedback from the first wave of students has been “outstanding,” he added.
Of the 76 students enrolled in Part 1 of the course that began in July, most have re-enrolled for Part 2. This is an excellent retention ratio, said Michael Ruppeck, national account manager with the College for Financial Planning.
Even more important, perhaps, than the enthusiasm shown by individual students with regard to the program, is the support the revamped curriculum has received from life insurance carriers.
Of the top 20 life insurance carriers, 17 have signed agreements with the College for Financial Planning to arrange for LUTCF training, either through the college itself of through instructors off-site, Ruppeck said.
“It’s been absolutely terrific. We’re getting very positive industry feedback and feedback from students who are taking the course,” he said.
InsuranceNewsNet Senior Writer Cyril Tuohy has covered the financial services industry for more than 15 years. Cyril may be reached at [email protected].
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