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The Challenging World of Insurance Continuing Education - 1/16/2009

By Sydney LeBlanc

Financial advisors who either specialize in insurance products or include insurance products as part of their business mix have the responsibility of keeping up to date with the changes in tax laws, government benefits programs, and other state and federal regulations. And most state licensing authorities have mandatory continuing education requirements focusing on insurance laws, consumer protection, and the technical details of various insurance policies. That’s a lot for any advisor to keep up with.

That being said, even though advisors are aware of theses responsibilities and requirements, it can be an added burden (on top of their firm element requirements) to fulfill these obligations. Let’s review the challenges and the possible solutions.

The Problems

The inherent problem is that independent firms don’t have the time, horsepower, or the knowledge to help their advisors and brokers keep up with their insurance CE credits or their license renewal requirements. Most do not have an insurance department that keeps up to date on the latest state insurance rules and regulations. Plus, most firms do not have any responsibility or liability and that’s why they don’t focus on it.

Keeping up to date is important. For example, the California Department of Insurance (www.insurance.ca.gov/)  has two-and four-hour ethics courses that California advisors should know about.  Here is what the website says about the regulation:  “Ethics Training Guidelines---Section 2188 et seq. of the California Code of Regulations are currently being amended.  Part of the proposed changes will be the requirement that Life Agents and Fire/Casualty Broker-Agents complete four (4) hours of ethics training during their two-year license term.  Similarly, Personal Lines Broker-Agents will be required to complete two (2) hours of ethics training during their two-year license term.  The training will be part of, not in addition to, the California resident agent's current continuing education requirement.” 

So, what is the deadline, how and where can they take the courses?  Many advisors don’t even know about the courses and neither do their home offices because they aren’t tracking the information.   This can be a serious dilemma because—let’s say---a  New York-based wirehouse may not hear about the new California rules and regs for six months. Meanwhile their advisor’s insurance license is in jeopardy of lapsing.  The problem is exacerbated for those advisors who join an independent firm and who are appointed with multiple insurance companies (i.e., Allianz, MetLife, Pru etc) . These advisors are offered the broker dealer’s in-house general agency (typically 80-90% on inside appointments), but most will keep the outside appointments (100% commission status) and hang their broker’s license with their indy firm. So the advisor’s insurance license is kept independent, making it even more difficult to keep up with all the requirements by him/herself.  What tends to happen is that the advisor begins to lose appointments because they haven’t satisfied the insurance continuing education credits or they haven’t renewed their licenses or taken a state-specific course. Currently, 21 states require a state-specific insurance continuing education course to renew an insurance license. (Do you know if your state has one?)

It may sound like a no-brainer, but if a law came into effect during the last six months, and your advisor is busy building his business and is not familiar with the new law (and why should he be?) and tries to write some insurance business, he may be in for a rude wake-up call. The State of California says “no you can’t write the business because you didn’t complete that new insurance continuing education course.”  It bears repeating….the law of the land is that it’s the advisor’s responsibility to know what new laws, rules, regs, when they took their previous insurance continuing education courses, and which courses they need to take to stay current and stay licensed.

But what about the state?  Should they, or do they, notify the advisor?  The state will not take the responsibility of notifying thousands of insurance licensees about new laws because of the potential liability---would the agent be able to sue for lost business if they didn’t receive the notification and their license lapsed? Perhaps. Some regulators say it’s just too time-consuming and expensive for the state to undertake, and that it’s “not their job.”

A Few Solutions

One way advisors can keep track of when they took their last course is simply by going back to the insurance continuing education provider web page where they took their previous insurance continuing education online exam. The provider should have a “course exam and history page” which lets the advisor see the complete history.  Just bookmark the website and check back periodically, putting the dates on the calendar. Check with the   insurance continuing education provider to see if they have “alarm technology” which reminds the advisor about 3 months in advance of the renewal date, or for new insurance continuing education courses available and new rules and regs that are important to know about.

Another website that looks helpful is offered by CE Registry out of Hollywood, Florida (www.CERegistry.com). Advisors can check insurance continuing education requirements online, as well as access the states’ insurance continuing education requirements and personal records of their credits. According to the service advisors can also access organizations and event flyers, by regions, that are of interest to them and choose whether they want to receive emails of any local events that will be within their desired locations. Most important, of course, is that they will send regulatory and industry updates regarding insurance continuing education requirements. They offer a personal data page template that can be downloaded to help keep track of insurance continuing education courses to be sure they get properly credited. Another helpful area is a listing of the insurance, real estate and CPA associations with links. Advisors have to register and log in, then go to their menu of services. I went to “check your credits” and clicked on every state. Every State Department of Insurance site came up except California (which was being updated). If you direct your advisors to this site, it surely will help keep them organized and informed.

Lead Them to the Water   

Motivating advisors to actually sit down and do the insurance continuing education is a big problem for many managers and broker-dealers. Managers tell us that their advisors procrastinate  until the last possible moment, or they forget, or they just can’t get to it because they are so busy with clients.  Industry stats suggest that 85% of all insurance agents/brokers/advisors wait to complete their insurance continuing education until three months or later before their license renewal comes due.  Basically, you have to say “if you lose your license, you lose your ability to produce income.”  That sounds like good motivation (fear). Thing is, it’s completely understandable that an advisor doesn’t want to spend a lot of time going to class or fooling around online taking tests, but it must be done. So, tell your advisors to go with a insurance continuing education provider (or recommend one) where they can go online and take the hours quickly and efficiently at a low cost. Advisors look at insurance continuing education as, “oh I’ve got to spend 30 long hours on this stuff.” Not necessarily. Advisors really don’t have to spend 30 hours---ONLY if they choose to attend a live insurance continuing education class do they have to spend that kind of time. But, the efficiencies of technologies online allow advisors to use their previous knowledge to complete their insurance continuing education in much less time. It’s not a grueling process.

One advisor we spoke to said he knocked out 45 hours of CE credits in about 4 hours. He said he took the online exam, but…here’s the caveat:  Some states do require live insurance continuing education components as a portion of their total insurance continuing education requirements. For example: Texas requires 15 hours or 50% of the total number of hours (30 hours) of live testing, so an advisor can take 15 online and 15 in a classroom setting.

Get Them to Drink

Best time to take insurance continuing education courses?  During non working hours, of course. With the advent of online insurance continuing education courses, it can be done anytime. With a laptop and a wireless set up, many can knock out the 30 hours in about 45 minutes.   One insurance continuing education provider confided that an advisor could open up a good bottle of ‘98 California Merlot and before they are finished they will have their insurance continuing education hours completed. A pretty good way to spend a little time on a Sunday evening.