If you have been to even one industry conference, chances are good that you have seen the ever-dapper Joe Jordan speak. He has been in the sales end of the insurance and financial business for more than 40 years, but these days he is known by some as “the chaplain of insurance” for the uplifting messages he brings to the industry.
In fact, he was on a worldwide tour delivering his message that wrapped up in mid-March, just in time to hunker down in his Manhattan home and ride out the pandemic. But even though he is 68, he had no intention to stop his mission. He got acquainted with the world of Zoom and remote meetings, turning himself into a webinar warrior. (Although viewers will not get to see the full complement of vintage duds, he does sport a bowtie for a dash of the Joe Jordan style.)
Although Jordan was a vice president of sales and products for PaineWebber and MetLife, he has been speaking for the past several years about bringing significance to the life insurance and financial business beyond simply selling products. He wants to show that the business is more than a client’s dollars and cents. He encapsulated some of those thoughts in his book, Living a Life of Significance.
So, rather than being sidelined by the pandemic, Jordan is instead finding his message has even more resonance today. In this discussion with Publisher Paul Feldman, Jordan shows how seeking significance can help not just individual agents and advisors, but the industry as a whole.
FELDMAN: Your message has been of gratitude and optimism. How can we bring more of that to our clients these days?
JORDAN: Here’s an example. I got a phone call from a guy out of the blue who said that he heard me speak six years ago. He said I changed his life and he attributed a lot of his success to me.
I’ve had a few of these calls in the past but this was different. The guy does this thing he calls Gratitude Fridays. And he calls one person on Fridays, to tell them how they impacted his life. I picked up on this.
I started doing it, and I just finished one of my calls today. I can’t begin to tell you how great you feel doing that. And it gets you out of yourself, and then you’ve impacted another life.
Having a positive mental attitude is crucial. Expressing gratitude is another way to do that.
That’s some of the stuff I’m talking about.
You’ve got to really stay positive in an environment like this because if you’re an optimist, it’s rare, and you become very attractive. Optimists aren’t necessarily Pollyannas. They know there are problems, but they feel those can be corrected. It makes you extremely attractive.
FELDMAN: How much importance do you think that plays today? What other things can people do in addition to the gratitude?
JORDAN: We sent out thousands of notes and emails. We got an unbelievable response from people saying, “That really made my day.”
I think a lot of people now are suffering Zoom fatigue. Because there’s a lot of important stuff out there, but it tends to be product-oriented or process-oriented, things you have to do. Part of that gratitude thing is it gets you in the right mindset.
The other thing I would mention also falls under the guise of gratefulness.
I’m beginning to focus on what you need to be grateful for. It’s your family; be grateful you’re in this country; be grateful for all the benefits that you’ve created.
We always talk about commissions and stuff. What about the death benefits you’ve created?
Those numbers can be astronomical. We had a guy at MetLife who was going to quit, and then he realized, he said, “I read your book and I realized if all my clients died last night, it would be more revenue than the host of the Super Bowl would get.” He had $1.8 billion of life insurance in force.
Be grateful for the advancements in technology. Imagine if this stuff happened three years ago, and people are just plodding along trying to create virtual stuff. Now, boom, we’re right in the middle of it so it’s forcing you to change.
The whole thrust of my talk is “don’t waste this crisis.” I want to make it clear, I’m not trying to take advantage of it. What I am saying is that the question you have to ask yourself is, “Is this happening to me or is this happening for me?"
It’s happening for you because it’s going to force up, by at least five years, changing from the way we normally did business to the idea of having to go virtual and having to figure it out – how to interview people. You can do that, and three years ago, you couldn’t. That’s something that you really need to be grateful for.
If you think about it, look at our profession. Look at what we do. The medical profession extends life, but we deal with the quality and dignity of life. It’s trying to get people into that type of framework to be thinking about how this thing is happening for me, because you’re being forced into it.
I got forced into having to do webinars, and now that’s taking off. I’ve been in the business 46 years. I lived through every financial crisis under the sun: the high interest rates of the ‘70s, the 1987 crash, we had a couple of near crashes too, and then the most recent one. Well, ’07-’09 was really a big one and then we had the Christmas Eve Massacre that happened in 2018. All of those crises were from a financial point of view. This is the first one where mortality and health are issues.
We have something new now, and that’s called demand. I know 1-800-Buy-Term-Insurance, their calls are going way up. Some people can’t get insurance now. I think you noticed a couple of companies are really cutting back, so you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone. This is really a time to take advantage of where you are.
The other thing I think that’s important is this: I think there’s a fundamental evolution here. All of this compliance stuff is not being driven by regulators. It’s being driven by consumers. What they really want is the idea and the ability to talk to one person who can take care of multiple things.
FELDMAN: Do you see life insurance morphing into a planning profession?
JORDAN: I’ve always been a proponent of KYC, know your customer. That’s the whole idea of doing plans. Not selling product but doing a plan.
But most of the planning culture has been focused on retirement. On top of that, you’ve got a decade worth of bull markets going on, so the whole idea of protection products doesn’t fit into that.
Here’s the bottom line: now people are being very sensitive to the thing and so now it’s time to come on with holistic planning. That means not just taking care of the investments that people have, but also making certain that they are protected, because it’s a different reality right now.
If you’re just in wealth management, then yeah, it’s tough. People feel losses twice as much as they feel gains. Even if you have great performance, there’s always someone who does better, and you don’t get the big pat on the back.
Deliver a death claim or deliver a disability claim, or a long-term care, something like that. That’s a completely different environment.
I’ll tell you this: there is absolutely no case on record where someone on their death bed said, “Call my broker. I appreciate he or she beat the S&P by four basis points.” It just doesn’t happen.
The idea of doing a holistic plan is congruent with what the consumer wants. It’s also congruent with all of the consumer-oriented regulations that are out there.
That was the whole impetus behind me writing the book, Living a Life of Significance. I saw a Gallup survey, and this was around 2012, looking at different professions, in terms of integrity, believability and trustworthiness.
The only ones below insurance agents were Congress and car salesmen. I figured that was a big issue. You know what the No. 1 was? It was nurses. That’s probably pretty consistent today. All the others in the top were service organizations.
I think that we have to evolve from a sales culture to a service culture. Holistic planning gets you to the point.
When you think about it, all service organizations are built on two foundations. One is humility and the other is maturity. Humble people don’t think less of themselves. They just think of themselves less. Mature people aren’t necessarily older; they see things from another person’s perspective.
I always ask people, “How many people want to live a significant life?” Everyone puts their hands up. It’s built on four pillars: belonging, purpose, storytelling, and transcendence.
FELDMAN: Would you tell what the pillars mean?
JORDAN: Belonging. With the secularization of society and the rise of social media, and the decline of religion and family values, people have never felt more isolated or alone.
Yale did a study and found out the more people use Facebook, the worse they feel. Why? No one posts they have a lousy day or what have you. They never talk about the dog dying or the call blew up. It’s all this idyllic stuff, which has put on this new thing called FOMO, fear of missing out, especially affecting younger people.
The UK now has the Ministry of Loneliness. Can you believe it? That’s for real. This isn’t John Cleese and the Ministry of Silly Walks. People have never felt more isolated and alone.
It’s thinking about life’s meaning and purpose, right? I think people are searching out looking for having a relationship.
FELDMAN: Speaking of purpose, that is the second pillar.
JORDAN: Purpose requires a commitment that’s greater than what’s in it for you.
Here’s an important distinction. There are goals and then there’s purpose. Goals are things you want to obtain: you want a big house; you want a car; you want to make more money; you want to get the trip. All of that stuff. Those are important but those are things you obtain.
A way to figure out the difference is to read a eulogy. When you’re dead, you don’t want people getting up and saying, “Boy, he had a great pair of shoes and look at the car he’s got, look at the house he has.”
No, you want to be remembered for something that’s of a higher order, and that’s really the idea of purpose that gets you to that kind of category.
Viktor Frankl said, “Significance cannot be pursued, it must ensue. It can only do so as the unintended side effect of one’s devotion to a cause greater than one’s self, or is the byproduct of one’s surrender to someone other than one’s self.”
FELDMAN: How about storytelling?
JORDAN: Our business is very left-brain, analytically approaching people. We have to recover the lost art of storytelling. All wisdom comes from specific human experiences. The fact of the matter is stories create trust, a biological bond that no roboadvisor can do.
It’s also a vicarious experience that can change people’s perspective. Stories reduce cynicism. Why? Because they happen to be true.
I bump into people who heard me speak 10 years ago and they remember the stories like they heard them yesterday. This is the crucial point that I think needs to be discussed; people feel first and they rationalize later. Statistics and numbers play a supporting role, not a leading one. Unfortunately, most of our financial planning culture tends to be more left brain, analytical.
Using metaphors is effective. And the best metaphor guy in our business is Warren Buffett, the Oracle of Omaha. They asked him, “What should you be worried about investing in for a bull market?” He said, “Well, a rising tide raises all ships but when the tide goes out you see who’s swimming naked.”
You don’t have to be a rocket scientist or take courses in economics to understand that one.
Sometimes we piss people off because we hit them with facts and figures that don’t mean anything to them. Here’s the other important part; it’s funny. Humor and stress can’t exist at the same time.
The last one is transcendence. That’s the out-of-body experience you get when you do something that’s worthwhile.
FELDMAN: What kind of concerns are agents raising to you right now?
JORDAN: They’re saying they’re fearful. They really don’t know how to use this technology. They feel very disoriented with this change.
FELDMAN: Considering the high average age of agents, might this prompt more of them to retire?
JORDAN: I think that’s right. That happens every time there’s a bear market or a big scare. It chases out the guys who don’t belong in the business.
That was why I was doing this whole moniker of Living a Life of Significance. I wanted to attract younger people. They’re saying that they espouse the idea that they want to do something that’s worthwhile. I don’t think there’s anything more worthwhile than what we do. That’s why I’ve always been trying to change the mindset.
Paul, I’m as good of a product hawker as there was. You know my background. I developed the annuities business at MetLife. Started with the annuities and then went to broker/dealer stuff.
I’m as good a product hawker as there is. But I decided not to do that. My mission, I think, is to elevate the profession toward what it actually can do. I think a lot of things are conspiring to help make that happen.