It seems as though the insurance industry just can't cut a break in the media. As I write this, the news of a MetLife agent convicted in a New York murder-for-life-insurance plot received coverage across all major business wires. Those of you who remember insurance executive Michael Segal's 2004 conviction on racketeering, fraud and embezzlement, or the trials and tribulations of Maurice R. "Hank" Greenberg, will agree that regardless of guilt or innocence, propaganda or truth, information is power. This is particularly true as health insurers put their talking points together to respond to the recent release of Michael Moore's movie, "Sicko." This type of news brings the entire industry down... and puts the industry under increased scrutiny.Information published by either the public or the trade press is held to stringent ethical standards, and although this may not always be the case, we'd like to think that professionals from both mediums report truthful information without bias. This is INN's editorial mission. Reporting negative information tends to stir the pot, however, from generating a quiet dialogue to generating results that force accountability. The facts are the facts.
Apparently, National Underwriter (June 25, 2007, p. 28) agrees. Its "Agents Do Go Rogue, But Determining Which Are Crooked Can Be a Challenge," story tackled the same difficult subject as our July cover story, "Keeping Agents Honest-Legally and Ethically." Both trade publications deemed the subject newsworthy.
I'm certain that neither story was written to prove that our industry considers the terms "legal" and "ethical" mutually exclusive, or to stereotype any one group of agents as being "thieves."
The INN story was written to provide carriers with the information necessary to be proactive in their selection of and response to agents who participate in unethical or illegal business practices. If this issue did not exist, the states' watchdog efforts that apply to both licensing and market conduct rules would not exist, either. There are even books written on this subject, such as "Market Conduct for Life Insurance Agents." And the National Association of Insurance Commissioners did not create its Online Fraud Reporting System in a vacuum.
We acknowledge that in our story, we could have presented a more balanced view, i.e., the total number of independent and captive agents in the U.S. and the number of either group that find themselves on wrong side of the law (an unknown number). And although we could cite examples of carriers that conduct business unethically or illegally, we did not include this element in the story because the story was not about carriers-it was about agents.
Speaking of agents, the article also did not include a discussion of the number of agents who are above reproach. Why? Because conducting business ethically and legally is the expected norm for agents and carriers. This should be a non-issue.
P.S. As you can imagine, the INN story garnered reader response (see "Letters to the Editor", www.insurancenetworking.com, "Viewpoints.")
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