What They DO in Pru Life UK (and How They’re Changing the Business of Insurance)
Industrial evolutions, in its most useful form, are also the subtlest things when they happen. No one speaks of it as a monumental transformation of sorts. It brings the tide of change in peaceful, yet forceful manner. It comes in through the backdoor and swept under the rug, not through the stage curtains, not concerned with its presence to shine on the limelight. It is at best an understatement. Only those who truly embraced the change hummed their excitement, galvanized by what they can do with it against their clueless competitors.
In the vast, expansive arena of the insurance industry, roughly the same evolution occurred without barely a wink and a nod in acknowledgment. Yet the change shifted the momentum in the financial industry, quiet and nonchalant for some years, as it gradually transformed the way we speak and promote our idea of saving money, the way we talk about purpose, and the way we sell insurance and speak of investing.
The understatement I am referring to is the entry of the Variable Unit Linked Insurance (VUL) as introduced by Pru Life UK in the Philippines in 2002. Often mentioned in passing and as-a-matter-of-factly, very few are beholden to the real power it had wrought. VUL did not change the business of insurance per se, but it carved a new landscape for us to see what investing is all about, creating more engagement and participation with one’s insurance. In a nutshell, VUL combines the benefits of insurance and investment, endowing it with both income protection (in case of death and disability) and pension (to be used for whatever purpose). The latter funds created a new manner of interpreting what insurance can and should be. No longer would it be pegged in times of crisis and distress, now it can aim towards your lofty ideals—to your child’s education, to your retirement, to your business capital, and to whatever goals you want to achieve in this life. For the first time, insurance will no longer become as an afterthought upon your sickness and death or a footnote to your existence—it can become an empowerment to your life.
Because of VUL, insurance has become an instrument for dreamers and achievers and would-be giants. I am not saying this merely to pitch for a VUL product. Many other investors and competitors may argue otherwise and create a case on other investment packages. But whatever VUL it is to you or to others, it has become a rare gift, and I believe it has made a positive effect on insurance agents and financial planners, adding a spring to their step, and leading to a livelier discussion on what can be. VUL strengthened its agents of their creative capacities—to be able to talk about possibilities. Creating brighter and more elegant scenes as part of one’s financial solutions has now become part of doing business.
It is quite a miracle that we are just a few years removed from the insurance of old. I was a witness to that atrocity. To be able to justify insurance, fear was prominent time-tested marketing ploy. It was a symbol of aspiration and faith. Agents subtly emboldened you to get protection following a series of distressing statements, warning you of the inevitability of crises. If you already understand the risks that can come to you, your agent will expound the topic and point the imagery in fine details—so you would know how it feels and how heavy it pounds your heart. In this old industry, people who talk to insurance agents and financial advisors become wiling victims. They allowed dread into their lives and dread, more or less, do come. They purchase their insurance policy because it has become their salvation.
Once, an old insurance agent swings by in our neighborhood and into our home. He pitches an insurance product and works his dark magic. He talks about fears and opportunities to my parents. He has them in nearly a spellbound trance—starting with a pleasant exchange of equanimities. Gradually, the talk of distress rises, barely noticeably at first but then the pressure becomes heated, and the heat turns to smoke, and smoke turns into fire. It was quite suffocating. The agent vigorous rationale of fear presses my parents hard, and they do get sufficient insurance as a result.
Fear selling doesn’t stop there. In fact, it can be distributed in larger quantities through financial seminars. The old insurance system understands that mass hysteria is a force to behold. Willing victims are invited to listen for free and then are suddenly thrust to hear and bear witness to nightmarish scenarios that may or may not happen to them, and if you know apply what you’ve learned here, you can dodge these crises by some tiny margin. I have sat-in on many of these listening sessions about the old insurance. Within twenty minutes, I am struggling to manage my claustrophobia from within. I extricate myself from panic situation only by some lucky ice breaker and an occasional funny quip—I suppose, as do others in the audience. We meet our confusion with patience and grit.
Yet where fear thrives and festers, every solution will be inadequate. A conversation of fear develops into a habit of worry and anxiety and into a fixation to cynicism. Soon, the mind suffers constantly because of self-induced harm. When you sow fear onto the ground, you will only reap yourself dark images of tomorrow. The mind never recovers from such state because you mistake vigilance as a cure. Remember, never has peace of mind been achieved by focusing on problems. Never has been your thoughts been clear when it digests and entertains worry as a habit.
The mind is indeed a sponge, absorbing unfiltered information, sinking deep into our subconscious. If you focus on the things you worry, your mind acquiesces, and then coalesces, enables and forms your reality based on a fear-based blueprint. Such people become so enamored by their fears they become a poor little creatures all the same. They focus on what they don’t have. They compare. They compete. They toil and they bicker. And they see the world as one made of scraps and leftovers.
Unexpectedly, a new thought emerged from successful entrepreneurs and financial prosperity teachers who knew too well the importance of thinking like a winner—like the world is your oyster; and at any rate, a giver, if you do so entertain thoughts that you deserve great many things. These teachers were in fact sharing ancient truths that are essential to happiness and peace of mind: that good thoughts lead to a good life. Because what you think now is a compact manifestation of everything you have placed in your mind. So in effect, you thoughts lead to the creation of what you see and experience—and what you see right now is a concentrated theater of everything you believed and thought before.
The shift from fear-based selling toward dream-building has breathed new energies to the agency force of Pru Life UK. VUL did that and it was better for their sanity. By far, it became an investment product that could match the ideal. VUL built up an excitement, and also created a continuous spectacle of what it can do for you in the future. With this idea, I examined the newly designed agency force as they galloped off from their training rooms and to the open world, armed with the new found secret ingredient of intoxicating hope.
On a busy Friday, toward the end of the afternoon, I visited a Pru Life UK agency in Wynsum Building in Ortigas, and turned toward a room festooned with vibrant-colored ribbons and costumed freaks. They are under a spell of empowerment, just delivered to them in silver plates. The celebration was giddy and warm, producing both kind and empathic men and women now entangled with fire and a little madness.
I come back the next day to cap off the week and sat down to listen in a motivational training session. The attendees that fanned out in front of a guest speaker are alert and highly appreciative. The sombre mood and the tiresome agency were gradually stirred to life, bringing their morale to another one of those jolts, endowing them with power and certainty. The projector lights illuminate the screen and flashes the words—“positive mind, positive vibes, positive life”—translating in their own ways to people who devour them for a moment. On the seat in front of me, a father flashes his smartphone open to take a glance of his infant child’s picture on Facebook messenger—for a quick motivational recharge. An unseen form of energy ricochets from the phone and back to him. The motivation manifests itself in that brief spectacle—one would wonder if a miracle just happened in the encounter. He just acquired energy that will help him carry on for the rest of the week.
To a new minted insurance agent, the work of selling the dream can be and often is a series of small embarrassments and awkwardness and discomforts and disappointments: struggling to get your message across your personal network, making cold calls to cold strangers, resuscitating your old contacts, knitting broken ties, being mistaken for a sleazy salesman, being slapped down by a prospect for asking an innocent question, enduring sleepless nights when the prospects run dry and no sales are made. Agents climb back up to the high, bright red offices of Pru Life seeking shelter and assurances for another day, searching to silence their doubts from fellows who’ve gone through the same struggles, hoping to raise their minds for a win. But sometimes you run across the disillusioned—a desperate individual whom the bright aspirations had vanished. You come across them rushing for the elevators. The place had been too much for them. They have no time for small talks. They stand idly for the elevator doors to close, lost in thought and speechless, as we descend back to earth.
I’ve seen so many of these individuals rise again. And I knew how they did it. Their team reached out to them at their lowest spirit, pouring in their support, and sending a ton of inspirational quotes, videos, and good old pat on the back (and sometimes, a shoulder to rest on). They overcome the hazards of work and the resulting deficiencies of spirit by massive doses of supplementary motivational vitamins. “We’re all in this together”, they’re told. It is an insurance of friendship.
I am, at the moment of writing this, still struggling to find balance to this new kind of camaraderie and teamwork. And I am fortunate to be one of many who find comfort in the examples of doers, the role models, and the average men and women who’ve now become giants. Just enough pep talks from these people, the downtrodden are reignited. Their morale reassembled. Their sanity made intact again. I mention this because training in Pru Life UK is peculiarly designed to absorb almost any damned thing that comes along—protecting shock and trauma to its agency force-- so that in every rejection, every condemnation, every broken promise, becomes, in a sense, turned aside, and the downtrodden agent remains in the happy position to choose how to carry on and conserve his spirit.
Pru Life UK could not carry on investing on the morale of their workforce in such efficient and massive scale without an investment instruments that could deliver the fulfilment of dreams. To be honest, the company could not continue to thrive without VUL. Currently, the agency force depends on the variety of options that VUL brings and its flexibility. Its capability to grow investments is something that agents anticipate with excitement. To some, the consistency of VUL maintains their morale and sanity. But I think too that although many agents want to get into the agency force for profit; some, too are here because they want to belong to something that will excite them—and they see Pru Life UK as a substitution to all other things they’ve missed out on.
Just a year immersed with the agency and the atmosphere of the training rooms changes you. You become a teacher of sorts, not just on financial matters, but on how to live a simpler, yet more productive life. You become a miracle worker in the littlest way possible. Oftentimes, out of instinct, a conversation with an agent morphs suddenly into how to simply save money. And the agent described it in succinct terms: the first 10% of one’s salary is both the first-one-to-keep and the last-one-to-go. I realize that financial literacy needs to be like this, so imbedded into the consciousness that it becomes a Zen way of life.
The world may need people like these, most importantly, not just as teachers of finance, but because of how they teach about purpose and how to chase one’s dreams. They are thought-drivers that inject you with possibilities, solutions, and hopes. They do not take shortcuts by pitching insurance to you out of shock or fear (even if this tactic increases the chance of closing the sale). They now better now. They know, for example, not to plant unwanted scenarios and worry into people’s mind. Doing so borders the unethical. Such agents become the threat to the very people they intend to help, albeit, unintentionally. Creating such thoughts (even for illustrative purpose) will linger into someone’s mind, and then as a consequence of their subconscious thoughts, the fear manifests itself and becomes real.
Rest assured, these agents of Pru Life UK will opt for nobler causes. They will traverse the long winding road of positive conversation and meaningful engagements. This could result in lesser volume of sales, but in many respects, but it leads to a more profound relationship. It’s just the right thing to do. And they will keep doing so in line with what VUL was for and with what the whole insurance agency has transformed into: That is to create a more peaceful world and one with better possibilities.
It used to be just about sales at least thirty years ago. Then it also used to be just about problem-solving to your most pressing financial concerns, just short of 20 years prior. Today (as you can see on many commercials and giant ad posts by insurance companies) it is now about solution-finding. All of these changes have the imprint of VUL. We’re all in the business of solutions now.
In Pru Life UK, I believe another transformation is taking place… at this very moment. This year, the company found a crisp, two word tagline—WE DO. By this, they wanted to gain a strong recall for Generation Xs and Millennials, at the same time, sound hip and relevant. I have so many interpretations of this line—too many to list in fact. What I believe it does is that WE DO help even the strangest strokes of different folks. There is, of course, the financially literate individual who buys insurance to prevent the proverbial rainy day or to cushion incoming disasters. The second purchases an insurance policy for prestige. He wants to follow the trend (and VUL, as it happens, remain to be the trendsetter from which all other insurance types are benchmarked). He buys insurance out of habit and near compulsion. The third is the buyer who purchases VUL in the quest for something.
Of these three, I always look forward to meeting the last—they are the clients with a goal, the individuals with a clear vision in their heads. It is this type of investor that Pru Life UK wants to attract and build at the same time. They explain the company’s high strung disposition toward financial literacy, to the point of becoming missionaries and field workers. Whenever I draw up a prospect list, my greatest desire is to find such pursuers of higher goals. I DO find different people of different compulsions, Quite inevitably, I DO find pessimists, cynics, and haters. But along my long and winding search, I DO strike gold and find genuine articles--those people who strive for great ideals. And I think, I have to preserve their childhood wonder. I have to save these dreamers, these forward-thinkers. I have to help them by creating a bridge across if I have to. I need to tell them what insurance can do for them now and what they can do with it. To deny these people the opportunity denies them that possibility. I don’t want to fail from the fact of not doing. I have been refined to act now. I have come to a point that if I don’t try to do at these critical moments, I would, by all accounts, feel without peace.