Becoming an Insurance Sales Agent: Salary Info & Job Description

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What are the pros and cons of an insurance sales career? Get real job descriptions, career outlook and salary information to see if this career path could be right for you.
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Pros and Cons of an Insurance Sales Career

Insurance sales agents work with a variety of people by helping to ensure that their clients have appropriate insurance policies for medical situations and other emergencies. Consider the negative and positive aspects of this career before making your own career decision.

Pros of a Career in Insurance Sales
Entry-level careers require only a high school diploma*
Job prospects are good (employment expected to grow 10% from 2012-2022)*
Unlimited earning potential (pay is often by commission and depends on your selling skills)*
Set your own work schedule*

Cons of a Career in Insurance Sales
Licensure is required after taking mandatory pre-licensing courses*
Continuing education is required to renew licensure*
May have to work evenings and weekends to accommodate clients' schedules*
May have to cold-call potential customers to build client database*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Career Information

Job Description and Duties

Insurance sales agents are usually independent agents who work for insurance brokerage firms and sell the policies of several different carriers. Alternatively, some are captive agents who work for single insurance companies. In both cases, agents must develop and maintain their client bases by reaching out to potential clients, often in the form of 'cold' calls. In this career, you might interview clients to determine what kind of coverage they need and what their budgetary constraints are. You'll then match clients with the policies that best suit their needs. You may also suggest modifications to policies and help clients settle claims when necessary.

Many agents sell multiple types of insurance, but some specialize in property, casualty, life, health, long-term care or auto insurance. It's also becoming more common for insurance sales agents, particularly those who specialize in life insurance, to offer financial planning services. For example, you might help a client who is purchasing life insurance plan for retirement or plan an estate. Insurance agents usually set their own work schedules; however, many must work weekends and evenings to meet the schedules of their clients.

Salary Information and Job Outlook

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there were about 375,000 insurance sales agents working in the United States as of May 2014. These agents reported earning a mean salary of nearly $64,000. Most agents, particularly those who work independently, are paid by commission. Those who work for agencies or insurance companies can be paid flat salaries with additional commission or flat salaries with bonuses. The majority of insurance sales agents work at insurance agencies and brokerage firms; however, the highest-paying insurance sales agents tend to work in securities and brokerage firms. They earned a mean salary of about $120,000 in 2014.

The BLS also reports that this profession was projected to see average job growth at a rate of 10% from 2012-2022. This increase will be due in part to economic growth. Multilingual sales agents as well as agents who have a strong understanding of technical and legal terminology should experience the strongest job prospects.

What Are the Requirements?

Education and Licensure

A high school diploma is the minimum education requirement for entering a career in insurance sales. You'll generally gain the training you need on the job by shadowing a more experienced sales agent to learn the company procedures and sales tactics.

While the education requirements are minimal, an insurance agent must have a license in order to sell insurance. In fact, those who sell life and health or property and casualty insurance must hold separate licenses. Each state regulates the licensure process and requirements. In Oregon, for example, a property and casualty agent must complete a minimum of 20 hours of training in both property and casualty insurance, while in New York, the same type of agent must complete a minimum of 90 hours of training prior to licensure. Agents typically must renew licensure by earning a state-mandated number of continuing education credits every two years.

Essential Skills for Insurance Sales Agents

As an insurance sales agent, you'll need to have strong customer service skills because you'll work closely with clients on a daily basis. You'll also need to be a good interviewer and listener in order to collect the necessary information from clients. Initiative is another important qualification, since you'll often work on your own schedule.

What Do Employers Look For?

Employers often seek insurance sales agents who have backgrounds in sales and are self-motivated. Some agencies will train insurance sales agents and assist them with the licensing process. Here are examples of job postings available in April 2012 to help you discover what employers might want from you:

  • An insurance agency in Ohio sought a licensed insurance agent with organizational skills, a proactive attitude and an outgoing personality to sell life and casualty insurance.
  • A nationally-known company in California sought an insurance sales agent to work with clients to identify appropriate product lines and policies. This person must have had a diploma, although a bachelor's degree was preferred.
  • A Utah-based insurance company sought an individual with financial stability, good credit and driving records and previous sales or management experience to sell policies to customers. The ideal candidate would have a bachelor's degree.
  • An Ohio-based branch of a nationally-known insurance company sought a candidate for sales associate training with the ability to gain licensure to sell property and casualty insurance. This person must have had the energy and ability to work individually with existing clients to ensure that their insurance met their needs.

Standing Out From the Crowd

Get a Degree

While there are no strict formal education requirements, you may consider earning a college degree to get ahead in the field. In fact, the BLS reports that more than 33% of insurance sales agents hold bachelor's degrees. You could, for example, earn a 4-year degree in marketing, sales or another applicable field. Some schools also offer bachelor's degrees in insurance and risk management, although it is more common to find undergraduate certificates in these topics. You may benefit from taking courses in public speaking, finance and economics. The BLS reports that instruction in business, in particular, can help sales agents advance to management positions.

Pursue Professional Certification

Another way to stand out in the field is to obtain professional certifications. The American Institute for Chartered Property Casualty Underwriters (AICPCU), for example, offers certification programs that lead to the Associate in General Insurance (AINS), Associate in Claims (AIC) and Accredited Adviser in Insurance (AAI) designations. Requirements may vary for each certification, but candidates generally must pass a series of courses and exams.

Alternative Career Paths

Insurance Underwriter

If you're sure that insurance is the field for you but don't want to work in sales, consider a career as an insurance underwriter. This is the individual who looks at a specific claim and decides if it's covered under a patient's insurance. You'll typically need a bachelor's degree to enter this career, and employers may require that you earn certification in insurance underwriting. According to the BLS, about 93,000 underwriters were employed in the U.S. as of May 2011, and they earned a mean salary of about $68,000.

Real Estate Sales Agent

If you're looking for a career in sales not related to insurance, consider a career as a real estate sales agent. According to the BLS, state regulations may vary, but a real estate agent in any state must have a high school diploma and must pass an exam to gain professional licensure. The licensure process also involves completion of a handful of classes related to real estate sales. As of May 2011, there were about 158,000 real estate sales agents working in the nation, and they earned a mean salary of more than $51,000.

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