Life Insurance Agents and Brokers


Education and Training Requirements

High School

Formal requirements for the life insurance field are few. Because more mature individuals are usually better able to master the complexities of the business and inspire customer confidence, most companies prefer to hire people who are at least 21 years of age. Many starting agents are more than 30 years of age. If this field interests you, there are a number of courses you can take in high school to prepare yourself for college and this type of work. Naturally, you should take English classes. These classes will help you improve your research, writing, and possibly speaking skills—all communication skills that you will use in this line of work. Business classes will teach you how to interact professionally with others and deal with customer needs. If your high school offers economics or finance classes, take these as well. Working with insurance means working with money and numbers, and these classes will give you this exposure. You may also benefit from taking sociology and psychology classes, which can give you a greater understanding of people. Finally, take math and computer classes. Undoubtedly you will be using computers in your professional life, so start becoming comfortable with this tool now.

Postsecondary Training

Although it is not a requirement, today most insurance companies and agencies prefer to hire college graduates, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Those who have majored in economics or business will likely have an advantage in getting jobs. Classes you can take in college that will be helpful include math, economics, and accounting. Business law, government, and business administration classes will help you understand the functions of different types of insurance as well as learn how to successfully run a business. Of course, keep up with technology. Knowing how to use software, such as spreadsheet software, will be indispensable in your line of work. You may want to attend a college or university that offers specific courses in insurance; there are more than 60 colleges and universities in the United States that offer such classes.

Other Education or Training

Continuing education (CE) has become essential for life insurance agents. Several professional organizations provide voluntary certification credentials, which can increase one's chances of attracting clients. Agents who become certified must commit to continuing education on a regular basis. Membership in professional organizations and the accompanying certification is important in establishing client trust. Many states also require continuing education to maintain licensing.

Organizations that provide CE opportunities include The American College, Insurance Institute of Canada, Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of America Inc., LIMRA, National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors, National Association of Professional Insurance Agents, and the Society of Financial Service Professionals.

Certification, Licensing, and Special Requirements

Certification or Licensing

For full professional status, many companies recommend that their agents become chartered life underwriters (CLU) and/or chartered financial consultants (ChFC). To earn these designations, agents must successfully complete at least three years of work in the field and course work offered through The American College of Financial Services. This work will demonstrate the agents' ability to apply their knowledge of life insurance fundamentals, economics, business law, taxation, trusts, and finance to common insurance problems. Only a small percentage of life insurance agents are CLUs and/or ChFCs.

The National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors offers the life underwriter training council fellow credential to applicants who complete three courses and pass an examination. 

Life insurance agents must obtain a license in each state in which they sell insurance. Agents are often sponsored for this license by the company they represent, which usually pays the licensing fee.

In most states, before a license is issued, the agent must pass a written test on insurance fundamentals and state insurance laws. Companies usually provide training programs to help prepare for these examinations. Often, the new agent may sell on a temporary certificate while preparing for the written examination. Information on state life insurance licensing requirements can be easily obtained from your state's commissioner of insurance. Agents who sell securities, such as mutual funds, must obtain a separate securities license.

Experience, Skills, and Personality Traits

Previous experience in a student-agency program will be useful for aspiring agents and brokers.

Personal characteristics of agents are of great importance. The following traits are most helpful: a genuine liking and appreciation for people; a positive attitude toward others and sympathy for their problems; a personal belief in the value of life insurance coverage; a willingness to spend several years learning the business and becoming established; and persistence, hard work, and patience. Sales workers should also be resourceful and organized to make the most effective use of their time.

Requirements for success in life insurance are elusive, and it is this fact that contributes to the high turnover rate in this field. Despite the high rate of failure, life insurance sales offer a rewarding career for those who meet its requirements. It has been said that life insurance offers the easiest way to earn $1,000 to $2,000 a week, but the most difficult way to earn $300 or $400. People with strong qualifications may readily develop a successful insurance career, but poorly qualified people will find it a very difficult field.