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Put Down the Device and Read!

As a professor serving our industry, I’m often surprised – although I shouldn’t be – that so many well-intentioned and smart agents will spend so many hours each day reading company and client emails that they lose touch with important economic and investment trends around them.

Each person has their own preference about knowledge sources that will empower their practice, and obviously no two advisors are alike. But as I look across the landscape, let me challenge you with a few questions, just to see if you find them interesting – and tell you why these questions may have impact for your clients.

  1. What’s the number one for-profit company that has a three-year waiting list for the education it provides to grade school children in China?
  2. What government bonds are in such deep trouble that some have recently traded for 60 cents on the dollar, and a complete default could trigger widespread alarm for all muni and government bonds?
  3. What well-known U.S. insurance company derives more than 70 percent of all of its revenue from Japan?

Don’t cheat! Read the rest of this column and we’ll give the answers at the end.

So, back to the classroom. Here’s my “must read” list for any insurance advisor who intends to remain competitive and knowledgeable today and in the future:

  1. The Wall Street Journal. Read every word on the front page, even if the brief summaries deal with industries, geopolitical issues or topics that don’t have an impact on you. At a minimum, it will make you a better informed – and, yes, you may be tempted to turn the page.
  2. Barron’s. There is no way any active person with a balanced home life can read the entire publication, but to read their Roundtables provides, in my opinion, the most provocative and candid insight from the best money managers around. Their columnists are balanced and brutal about companies that are underperforming as well as companies that are about to flourish.
  3. Fortune. No other magazine spends so much time and so many resources to research facts and trends in so many disparate industries. They do their homework and take no prisoners. Many of their stories later become case studies in colleges and universities for a reason – their periscope tends to identify problem products, sales techniques, regulatory issues or other topics months before other media report on them.
  4. InsuranceNewsNet. This publication and its sister website keep you up to date with your industry in a manner that is forward-looking. The writers are engaged. And no, I receive no compensation for writing this column. I think they sent me cookies last Christmas, but if not, this is a shameless attempt to suggest such to the editor.
  5. and The Wealth Channel Magazine. Unbiased, updated daily and with more than 2,000 interviews with the best minds in retirement, estate planning, life insurance and philanthropy. If you don’t spend 30 minutes each week looking at the website and reading the magazine published by The American College, you are cheating yourself. This is part of our role as a public service to keep everyone informed and engaged – and if you want to see what the competition is up to, this is competitive intelligence at its very best.

Audio books? Great! Kindle? Perfect! But with this column, I’m asking that you stretch yourself even further beyond books. If you spent one hour a week less on The Food Network or ESPN, and read what your clients are reading – Kiplinger’s, Money and Wired, for example – you will be ahead of others on issues that transcend investments, retirement planning and the technology that is rapidly transforming how products will be sold and underwritten in the years ahead.

So, back to the quiz. The largest for-profit educator in China is The Walt Disney Co. Go figure. Disney University already trains hundreds of thousands of managers in the U.S. and abroad each year on management and customer service as well as logistics, human relations and diversity.  It makes sense that with a diamond brand that they expand that reach into education.

Many experts who I read and respect believe that Puerto Rican government bonds, already under high scrutiny by the U.S. Treasury and elsewhere, are at a very high risk for default. That will be a disaster for all bonds and especially for pension funds that rely upon them for “guarantees.” We’ll be hearing more about this in the future.

The company that quacks and makes us smile with each commercial, Aflac, is still driven with success because of unparalleled market share in Japan. The company is navigating Obamacare with insight on their website that is downright smart. As they learn to transition from being a benefits company to one with a broader reach, this industry, and your competitive landscape, will change.

Read. Spend the money to subscribe to a few select publications or websites that you find compelling. And enjoy the journey. What you read and retain, and how you embed that information in client presentations, can be a true, distinguishing feature of your practice. 

Larry Barton, Ph.D., CAP, is Chancellor of The American College. Larry may be contacted at [email protected] [email protected].

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