Regulation 60 requires life insurance agents in New York State to make a full disclosure to clients when moving them from one insurance product or company to another. It was designed to make sure such moves are in the best interest of the client. This week, two experts at the company where I am working spoke to field agents about “Reg 60.” Unfortunately, as presentations go, it was everything I tell my students not to do: Power Point karaoke, dense images of insurance forms, and a speaking style that made me imagine shooting myself à la Bud Cort in Harold and Maude.
The agents I have met are good, honest professionals who care about helping people, but they are very practical. Their answers to the question about the purpose of Reg 60 included, “to meet a state requirement,” “to comply with paperwork,” “to make sure the app goes through.” A few recognized that it was to protect the public interest, but we never got around to asking why a state regulation is needed for that.
I know why, and I told my class how I knew the following day. Back in 1988 I was living in the Bay Area and selling insurance, annuities, and investments to schoolteachers. The company phone reps had arranged an appointment with a couple and handed it off to me to close the sale, which I did in two hours one night at their kitchen table. I was good. I was a hotshot. They even thanked me profusely when I left. I moved the couple out of two tax-deferred annuities into ours and then sold them a real-estate limited partnership that was going to earn great dividends for their retirement. The brochure was dark blue and had an American eagle on the front panel. It was all very impressive.
Almost immediately, the other company flew their rep up from Los Angeles to meet with the couple and talk them out of switching. Convinced, they decided not to go through with it, which was the right thing to do. There was no benefit to the deal other than generating a nice commission for me. I went back to the couple shame-faced and apologized for putting my needs before theirs. Back then, what I had done was legal if not ethical, which is why we now have Reg 60.
The irony that today I teach business ethics at a Jesuit university and have a consulting firm that specializes in mission, virtue, and moral decision-making is not lost on me. It raises a larger, more important question. Do we have to experience sin, even to the point of participating in it actively, to understand grace? Must we commit wrong to know what is right? I had to do it, but smarter people may have the ability to figure it out before going astray.
Elie Wiesel, paraphrasing Dostoevsky, says that “man does not choose between good and evil but oscillates between them.” Maybe that was the problem. I didn’t consciously choose anything but did what I thought would make me money. After all these years, I am back at that kitchen table, which may be a blessing. Of course, Ralph Kramden put it another way: “Be kind to the people you meet on the way up, cause you’re gonna meet the same people on the way down.”
Note to self: Came across this in a psychology handbook published by Oxford University Press (a very expensive handbook): “Do you remember the scene in Skinner’s (1948) utopian novel Walden Two in which children are required to be in the presence of savory deserts without sampling them?” Overlooking the lack of commas setting the book title apart, I had to wonder whether the editor had ever been in a savory desert. This, from Oxford. Reply to this blog with your favorite grammatical atrocities and I’ll do a grammar blog. It’ll be a “Hackathon…”