As an annuity agent, you need to know who to believe and listen to. You want the skill to develop when someone is telling you things for their benefit (e.g. an insurance company or marketing organization) and if that differs from what is true. Your ultimate legal and ethical responsibility is to the client for accurate and appropriate recommendations. Therefore, your annuity training is critical.
If you’ve been around the annuity field for long, you’ve probably heard the conflicting information on a program called Annuity University – hailed as the largest annuity training resource of its kind. According to the program’s website, the class is “the #1 rated annuity and senior market training course of its kind,” although critics of the class cite examples of the highly-manipulative training tactics as evidence of fraud and abuse.
Annuity University has been in business since 1993 with self-proclaimed “annuity sensation” Tyrone Clark at the helm. Since it’s opening in Denver, CO, the program has educated over 7,000 agents in sales and marketing strategies for selling annuities. The program takes place over two days, and costs roughly $375 to attend. Of course, the company’s main business is recruitment and sales of annuities. Always be clear of the annuity training sponsor’s agenda when taking any annuity education.
In 2002, the Wall Street Journal published a report on the program that criticized some of the sales tactics emphasized in the course, especially those related to selling to seniors. In the article, they quote program organizer Clark as saying, “Treat them like they're blind 12-year-olds,” (in reference to senior citizens) and “They thrive on fear, anger and greed. Show them their finances are all screwed up so that they think, ‘Oh, no, I've done it all wrong.’ This will make you money,” in his course.
The Global Action on Aging organization also condemns the program, citing the following excerpts from the course’s training manual:
“You'll waste time if you think you can impress them with charts, graphs, printouts or use sophisticated words. They buy based upon emotions! Emotions of fear, anger and greed.”
“Toss hand grenades into the advice to disturb the seniors. You're there to solve their problems, but you have to create those problems first. No problem, no sale. So at the seminars, you're creating problems, and you tease them with the solutions”
Mr. Clark’s Responses about his Annuity Training
According to Clark, many of these quotes are taken out of context or blown out of proportion in order to paint him in a bad light. In fact, he considers annuities to be one of the best possible investment vehicles for senior citizens.
In addition, Clark responds to criticisms with the fact that he requires agents that attend his annuity training to sign a code of conduct designed to enforce ethical marketing to seniors, but admits, “The problem is agents take the classes and abuse the information everyday. And I have no control over that. These [agents] are independent and want to pitch high-commission products, and we can't stop them.”
Despite numerous criticisms and an investigation by the SEC, this annuity training runs today and is as popular as ever. Although I can’t offer specific recommendations on whether or not the program is worth attending – having never gone myself – I can only say this: If you choose to attend Annuity University or any other annuity training, take everything you hear in the context of ethical and legal behavior and treating prospects with dignity and respect.