Following brief introductions and chat as they help themselves to teas and coffees, Will formally welcomes Anne, Martin, and Lydia to their induction seminar. All three are starting out as insurance sales reps with Will’s team. As they take their seats in the seminar room, Will collects a signed contract from each new employee and double-checks that they have indeed signed the contracts that he has gathered. Placing these on a corner unit, Will turns to the group with a wide smile. “It’s official now!” The group all laugh, releasing the last shreds of nerves or apprehension they might have had ahead of the first day on the job. “It’s all a bit rubbish, isn’t it?” Will proffers, gesturing around the seminar room. “I mean, you’re all here, itching to get to work, dealing with online queries or answering phones…” Will pauses before gesturing around the room once more. “I always say that most of this job is learn-by-doing. Unfortunately, everyone has to complete these training sessions in advance. Now, did everyone read the preparatory notes?”
All three shift awkwardly in their chairs. “None of you?” Will asks as he raises both of his hands, before clapping them together excitedly. “Excellent! It’s the worst thing you can do. I mean, half of this session is usually undoing the damage of those notes.” Will moves over beside the flip-chart and turns over the cover to reveal a blank sheet. “Every so often,” he begins, “trainee staff arrive in and they’ve learned off insurance policy rules or guidelines or they’ve worked out a few quotes using a formula…” Will allows the sentence to trail away, pointing at the blank sheet. “Instead of all that jargon, let’s cut right to it – providing insurance quotes is complete and utter guesswork. I mean, we might as well start with blank pages as with all of the information that we get customers to provide.” The group sit back in their chairs and look around the room. “I bloody well knew it…” Anne groans, a lot louder than she intended. Martin and Lydia look at her in surprise, turning to see Will is nodding agreeably. “I said the exact same thing myself. It’s one of those things, what do you call it?” Will clicks his fingers, “I mean, when something is so obvious that it’s almost not obvious…” Martin sits forward, offering “Like, hiding in plain sight?” Will frowns and tips his head side to side. “It is like that, but I think there’s just a word for it…”
The group spend a few minutes thinking this over, until Will remembers it isn’t all that important. “Whatever it is, that’s basically what insurance companies are, when you stop and think, I mean, really think about it. And the customers are all Anne, in a way,” Will says with a chuckle, “we all know it in our own heads, only we can’t believe someone else wouldn’t have said something about it by now.” The group look at each other, not so much with disbelief but with realisation, a shared epiphany. Lydia raises her hand and Will grimaces, not wanting the session to be that formal. He gestures for her to go ahead and ask whatever she wants to ask. “I just want to be clear, are we saying that all insurance is made up?” Without hesitation, Will nods affirmatively. “I mean, it’s important to dress it up with all of the application forms and other steps that are required, but -” Will stares off in to the distance, searching for easier words that don’t appear for him. “But, life is an absolute mess. It’s chaos from the moment you wake up to the moment you go back to sleep and all the time you’re asleep is chaos, too. I mean, it’s called insurance. People don’t like that the world is chaos and they think if they throw some money at us, we’ll get some part of it under control for them. All people want from insurance is a number and it’s your job to come up with that number. I mean, that’s all there is to it, really.”
Quite some time passes as those words sink in for Anne, Martin, and Lydia. Will sits and sips from his coffee. He’s facilitated enough of these sessions to know that it’s usually best to leave space for trainees to process the real work of insurance in their own time. Another little while passes by, as the group attempt to reconcile the calmness of the seminar room against their awareness of the chaos of the outside world. Finding that his coffee is cooling considerably, Will rises gently from his seat and returns to the flip-chart, turning over the blank sheet to reveal the beginnings of a list titled ‘Ways to Invent an Insurance Quote’. His three trainees slowly drift back into the room, once more appearing mentally engaged. “Let’s try a brainstorming exercise,” Will begins, explaining the list that he has already started. “I call this first approach ‘The David Drumm Method’. Pick the first amount that comes into your head and just go with it. That’s what you offer. Call it gut-feeling or picking a number from your hole, but it really can be that straight-forward. If the customer agrees to pay, that’s their issue.” Anne sits forward, her chin resting in her hands with both arms propped on the table. Martin and Lydia open notepads and scribble as Will continues through the list.
“Next one along, numbers from a birthday. This technique works especially well in car insurance quotes for younger drivers. I mean, you can’t go badly wrong here. Following that, a similar technique is selecting random digits from a customer’s phone number. Experience really plays a part in this technique. Again, keep it simple – really, any four digits should do it.” Will pauses, his eyes flashing wide. “Actually, here’s a useful tip to keep in mind. If you ever offer a number to a customer that isn’t a high enough quote, you can back-track by adjusting the decimal point and calling it a daily, weekly, or monthly installment. So, a quote of 2357 can actually be 235.7 a month. Little tricks like that help you to hit your sales targets, just be sure that you are adjusting upwards.” Martin and Lydia nod along, absorbing every word. At this point, Anne is also scribbling down notes. Will carries on through the list.
“Here’s one of my favourites – a preferred bonus this month. If you’d like to take a particular amount home in your sales bonus, someone has to have paid in at least that much, right? I mean, that’s basic good sense. OK, I’ll open the list to the floor – any other ideas? Ways to come up with a value for a quote?” Lydia puts her pen down. “Maybe… a suggested daily calorie intake?” Will smiles and raises a marker to write this on the sheet. “Brilliant suggestion! As long as it’s kilo-cals, you’ll be in the right region. Any others?” Martin puts up his hand. “How about if the letters in the customer’s name match with Roman numerals?” Will raises a finger to respond, instead choosing to think about this suggestion for a moment. “Sorry, I’m trying to remember what Roman numerals match with what values,” Will admits with a grin, to the amusement of the group. “Skill and experience would be crucial for that to be an effective way to make a quote. But enough names have an M, D, C, or L to find a way to make that work. I mean, let’s add it to the list, anyway. Any more?”
The room goes silent from concentrated thought. Anne sits back in her chair, wincing as no new ideas appear. Martin bites his lip and stares at the list, hoping to identify another option. Lydia folds her arms, appearing content with her contribution. Will looks from person to person and decides to leave the exercise there. He turns the sheet over and points to the list titled ‘Three Top Tips’. Sitting back in his seat, Will explains, “I’ll run through these quickly and then we’ll take a break – we’ve covered a lot already.” The group nod along in varying degrees, feeling a bit drained at this stage. Will goes on, “These are three essentials to remember when you’re providing an insurance quote. First of all, when you’re dealing with customers, always remember that the point of insurance – for the company – is to get money for something that probably won’t happen. I mean, that’s just good business for us. OK?” Again, the group nod along, hearing what Will has to say and absorbing it at different rates. “Second of all, if a customer tries to haggle on the quote, you can make some concessions but just remember that, thanks to our friends in government, it’s illegal for the customer to not have insurance. I mean, sometimes the choice is the quote you provide or court and jail.” Will looks at the slowly fading faces in the room and decides to press ahead to the end. “Finally, if a customer gets noticeably upset about a quote, blame insurance fraud. ‘Premiums are increasing because of insurance fraud’. It’s important that we turn people against each other and not our own company or the industry. I mean, you have to remember, we’re all that stands between people and chaos.”
Evidently, Anne, Martin, and Lydia all remember Will’s explanation of insurance as a necessary distraction from existential dread and sit bolt upright, eyes wide open. Will attempts to soothe the group and suggests a lunch break. It’s not even noon, but they all agree that there has been a lot to think about and a break would be quite welcome. After all, what’s the harm in taking a break when the entire world is chaos? Or even a really long break, like a holiday… there’s insurance for that…