Insurance sales agents are licensed finance professionals responsible for selling insurance policies to individuals, families and businesses. They provide advice and guidance for their clients regarding one or more types of insurance and many offer financial planning services as well. To become an agent, one should have above average customer service, interpersonal and analytical skills in addition to having self-confidence, motivation and strong initiative. It might not be the most well-liked or easiest occupation, but it provides both a challenging environment and great pay for individuals who enjoy the worlds of finance, marketing and sales.
In This Guide
- Job Description and Outlook
- Education and Licensing Requirements
- Salary of an Insurance Agent
- Salary by Years Experience
Some individuals are attracted to the career because it offers a considerable level of income while only requiring a high school diploma, a few courses and passing licensing exam(s). The job can be quite rewarding as you can make a difference in a person’s life by getting them the right insurance plan(s) and/or by saving them a significant amount of money over time. This guide provides a full overview of the career including the job description and outlook, required education and licensing exams and complete salary statistics based on state, industry and level of experience.
Job Description and Outlook
Insurance agents sell health, automotive, casualty, property, disability, life and other types of insurance to clients. They may work as an independent broker, refer clients to brokers or be employed directly by an insurance company. There are two types. Captive agents work for and sell insurance from one company, while independent agents represent and refer clients to a variety of insurance carriers and either work for or operate an insurance brokerage. Both types spend most of their time on the following activities:
- Calling potential customers to see if they’re interested in scheduling a meeting
- Interviewing them, discussing existing coverage and collecting information about their finances
- Showing them the best policies that fit their situation and explaining their features and benefits
- Customizing plans to better fit a particular client
- Suggesting changes or additions to clients’ current insurance programs
- Performing administrative tasks including keeping detailed records and filling policy renewals
- Assisting clients in settling claims
They spend a lot of their time advertising their services, developing leads and convincing potential clients to sign off on a policy. They find leads in a number of ways including making “cold” calls to random individuals or people who best fit their particular set of products and services. They also get new clients through referrals made by their current clients, online marketing and traditional advertisements in newspapers and on TV. Referrals are a huge part of any small company’s or individual broker’s business, so it is very important for them to keep their clients happy. This maintains the possibility of them recommending your business to other people.
These days, clients typically take the time to learn about the many policies available by doing comparison shopping online, reading reviews and asking friends and family. When they contact a company, they often know exactly what policies they want to buy so the agent has to do very little convincing. This might sound easy, but it makes marketing activities (inbound and outbound marketing) that much more important.
As mentioned above, agents may specialize in one type of insurance or work as a more general provider by promoting and assisting clients with multiple insurance products. Property and casualty policies protect businesses and people from losing money due to theft, fire, accidents, injuries on the job or medical malpractice. Life insurance plans pay beneficiaries when the policyholder dies. Health or long-term care policies involve covering the costs of medical care, dental care, assisted-living services and long or short term disability.
In order to be successful, they must have strong sales skills and know how to be aggressive without overwhelming the client. The job is very interactive and a good-natured, charismatic personality will get you much further than simply spouting off numbers and figures. They must know quotes for not only their company, but for all other companies that offer similar plans. Those that would rather spend time in the field than behind a desk should look into working for large companies, as they spend more time traveling to meet with small businesses and corporations. One benefit of working in an office environment for a large insurance company is a more consistent schedule. While independent brokers do have more control over their schedules (allowing for time off whenever they want/need it), they often keep irregular hours to accommodate their client’s needs and many work more than 40 hours per week. They may meet with clients during business hours and use evenings and weekends to prepare paperwork, marketing material and presentations for potential customers. Overall, most agents work 40 hours per week.
More and more sales agents are adding to the services they offer and becoming similar to financial planners. Some of these services include: estate planning, selling mutual funds, other securities, retirement planning and setting up pension plans. As you can see, most of the services focus on individuals who are thinking about retirement in order to capitalize on the aging population.
The job outlook is better than that of the overall job market, with an expected increase in employment of about 22 percent between 2010 and 2020 (corresponding to 90,200 jobs). This growth is primarily due to the growth of the economy as a whole. Employment growth is expected to be greatest for independent agents as large insurance companies will continue to cut down on the number of captive agents they have and rely more on brokerages to reduce costs. In terms of specialization, agents who provide health and long-term care should see the largest increase in business. This is because the aging population will purchase more long-term care plans and the federal regulation of health insurance will force many businesses and individuals into the market.
Education and Licensing Requirements
Most companies prefer that agents have a bachelor’s degree in a field such as finance, business or economics, but it is typically not a requirement. However, more than 33% have a bachelor’s degree. The minimum level of education required to apply for most jobs is a high school diploma. Those who only have a high school diploma under their belt must prove themselves with excellent sales and communication skills. Courses in marketing, public speaking, psychology, economics, finance and business all help improve the knowledge, skills and effectiveness of an agent. General business knowledge is essential for those who hope to eventually advance to a managerial position. Entry-level workers in the industry are typically trained by more experienced agents and may be required by some companies to shadow them for a time to learn how to properly interact with clients and write insurance policies. Continuing education is becoming increasingly important and some employers even require it to accommodate the increasing variety of services an agent must be able to sell, changing tax laws, federal regulations, benefit programs and the changing needs of their clients. This education can be in the form of courses at universities and colleges or seminars and conferences that focus on insurance, marketing or business.
Insurance agents are required to be licensed in the state where they work. Licensing requirements vary from state to state, but generally include completing several courses and then passing a licensing examination. Exams typically focus on topics such as state insurance laws and the fundamentals of insurance. Those looking to sell health, life, property or casualty insurance are required to attain separate licenses for each specialization. Most states require licensed agents to complete continuing education courses in subjects such as ethics, insurance laws and consumer protection every 2 years or so in order to maintain their license. In order to be able to sell other financial products and services (securities, variable annuities, etc.) and provide more complete financial planning for their clients, agents must pass the Series 6 or 7 exams.
Salary of an Insurance Agent
According to the 2011 annual report published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average salary was $62,970, which works out to an hourly wage of $30.28. The top 10% of agents made over $115,300 while the lowest 10% had an income of less than $25,910. The salary of an insurance agent largely depends on the commission they make. The better one is at communicating with and bringing in new clients, the more money they can make. Their income also depends on several other factors including geographic location, level of experience, employer and their qualifications. Pay varies from state to state and sometimes even by city due to differences in the cost of living as well as the demand and supply of insurance brokers and agents.
Those who are employed by an insurance company (broker or carrier) can be paid in one of several ways:
- Base salary only (least risk, lowest reward)
- Base salary plus a bonus for their level of performance
- Base salary plus the commission for the products they sell (higher risk, higher reward)
Most independent agents are only paid by the commission they receive (high risk, high reward). Commissions are the most common form of compensation and depend on the amount and type of insurance sold as well as if the transaction was to a new customer or the renewal of an existing plan. Bonuses are awarded to agents when their company reaches its sales goals or when they hit the individual target given to them.
Insurance carriers employ the most insurance agents across the US and Florida (26,940), Texas (26,490), California (23,890), New York (18,580) and Illinois (16,290) are the states with the highest levels of employment. Approximately 321,780 agents are currently working in the United States. The states with the highest average salary for this occupation are Rhode Island ($81,460), Massachusetts ($80,420), Pennsylvania ($77,120) and California ($75,140).
The industries that pay the most on average were the following:
- Securities and Commodity Contracts Intermediation and Brokerage – $83,670 per year (employs 520)
- Insurance and Employee Benefit Funds – $74,350 per year (employs 770)
- Other Financial Investment Activities – $68,130 per year (employs 450)
And here are the three sectors that employ the most agents:
- Agencies, Brokerages, and Other Insurance Related Activities – $62,900 per year (employs 231,940)
- Insurance Carriers– $64,170 per year (employs 76,380)
- Travel Arrangement and Reservation Services – $53,700 per year (employs 2,430)
Salary by Years Experience (United States)
Based on salary data collected and published by Payscale.com, an agent’s salary ranges from $22,120 to $67,538 (including commission, profit sharing and bonuses). This information was submitted by 2,975 insurance sales professionals, most of whom had less than 4 years of experience, which is most likely why the numbers are considerably lower than those reported by the BLS. The average salary is around $35,000.