The longer I’ve been an insurance and financial services professional — and I’ve been a producer for more than 30 years and was in operations for about 10 years before that — the more I’ve come to realize how political advocacy is crucial to my success and is an important part of serving the best interests of my clients.
Our advocacy influences legislation created and passed by lawmakers, at both the federal and state levels. This legislation directly affects how we as insurance and financial advisors do business and even whether we can do business.
I serve a mostly middle-income clientele in the Tampa-St. Petersburg area of Florida. My clients rely on the products and services I provide to improve their financial well-being, protect themselves against life’s inevitable financial risks, prepare for comfortable retirement, and create financial legacies to leave their loved ones.
When I speak with regulators or legislators about issues that affect my business, those same issues affect the Main Street Americans I serve. I’ve come to believe that representing their interests goes beyond creating great financial plans to include influencing public policy on their behalf and ensuring I can stay in business to continue serving them.
Making A Difference
The importance of being politically involved really hit home early in my career in 1992 when Hurricane Andrew devastated much of Florida, causing more than $25 billion worth of damage in my home state.
At that time, property/casualty insurance made up 25%-30% of my business, and politicians were putting the insurance industry under intense scrutiny. Some insurance companies considered getting out of the P/C business in Florida, and their professional lobbyists weren’t making much headway in Tallahassee or Washington.
I had been a NAIFA member for several years, but this was when I realized that when it comes to advocacy, there really is strength in numbers. My NAIFA colleagues and I contacted our legislators and showed them how we really were making a difference in the lives of families and business owners impacted by Andrew. We needed laws and regulations to help us do our jobs, not make them more difficult. More important, that’s what our clients needed.
That experience really opened my eyes. I understood that a few people in key positions in legislative bodies can have a major impact on my livelihood and the well-being of my clients. And we, as insurance and financial professionals, can make an impact on those key decision makers.
Advocacy Is In My Job Description
Over the years, I have talked to other agents and advisors who say they want to stay out of politics or that they are intimidated by the political process.
I tell them I’ve come to understand that we must be part of the discussion. There’s an old advocacy saying: “If you don’t have a seat at the table, you may very well be served up on the table.” Other professionals are advocating for their businesses; it’s part of my job to do the same for my business and my clients. If what I do is beneficial to my clients, and I strongly believe that insurance and financial planning is a very noble calling, then ensuring that I am able to continue providing people with financial security ranks pretty high in my job description.
It’s true that a first meeting with a legislator can seem intimidating, but you quickly learn that our elected officials are people just like you and me. But there’s one major difference: They don’t know nearly as much as you do about your clients’ insurance and financial services needs or about how the products and services you provide make your clients’ lives better. We are the ones who can tell compelling stories about how legislation affects the families and small businesses we work with.
The vast majority of lawmakers want to hear our stories and learn how they can help our clients in their districts. They got into public service to make a difference on behalf of people in their communities. They want to help. If you think about it, that’s not much different from what we do, and many of us have a similar motivation.
Taking The Next Step
For me, political involvement has become a professional and personal passion. I have gone from attending a few group meetings with legislators to creating meaningful relationships with lawmakers to serving in advocacy leadership positions with NAIFA. Within the last year, I was elected to the city council of New Port Richey, Fla.
I’ve always had a yearning to serve. Political involvement opened my eyes to how leaders can change things and impact people. It has given me an understanding of the legislative process and the importance of listening to both sides of issues. By advocating with NAIFA, I have given back to my industry and helped ensure consumers have greater flexibility and more financial services choices. As an elected official, I am trying to give back to my local community and come up with solutions that serve most of the people most of the time.
I hope my example might influence other insurance and financial professionals to get involved.