Can We Tolerate Snake Oil Salesmen?

There is little future for snake oil salesmen because bots can offer inadequate coverage much more cheaply than humans can.


There is a great scene in the old movie, "The Outlaw Josie Wales," where a snake oil salesman is selling medicinal cures. The salesman encourages a character to try a sip, and the character responds, "You drink it!" The salesman stutters. The prospective customer asks, "What’s in it?" The salesman says, "Why, I don't know. I'm only the salesman."

I hear that same line from insurance producers all the time! They say, "Here's your policy." The customer says, "What’s in it?" "I don't know. I'm only the sales person. See this caveat right here? It says you have a duty to read your own policy."

I was in a meeting where the CEO of a sizeable agency proclaimed, "I just need producers who sell!" When I asked about the need to employ people who know what they are selling, the response was, "I just need people who can sell!" He wants that snake oil salesman.

Needing people to sell is not the same thing as needing people to sell the right coverages. I asked, "You're saying you need people to sell insurance without regard to coverages?" He said he was not saying that. He then revised his statement and said, “I need people to sell the right coverages." That is a big difference, but then I asked, "Are you going to invest in strong coverage education for these people?" He said, "No. I just need people to sell."

Needing people to sell the right coverages but not investing in solid, really solid, coverage education is just fanciful thinking. The reality is that, without high quality and successful education, those people are going to offer inadequate coverage at best and the wrong coverage at worst.

The question for the reader who runs an agency is, "Do you want to employ the snake oil salesman who has no idea what is in the snake oil he or she is selling?"

I see many distributor models clearly and purposely built on exactly this premise. I'm not saying it is wrong from a business perspective if one has all the legalities and E&O standards of care aligned. What I am saying is that I'm not sure there is any future in this model for live agents because technology and bots can offer inadequate coverage much more cheaply than humans.

See also: Becoming a True Professional Agent  

The question for the individual producer is, "Do you want to be seen as honest, ethical and professional, or do you want to be seen as the snake oil salesman?" Your choice. It is an either/or choice. Many people want to believe a middle ground exists. It may have existed in the past, but it will cease to exist because of changes in E&O conditions combined with how technology will offer inadequate coverages more cheaply.

The question for carriers is this, "Do you want distributors who are seen as polishing your reputation for quality or tarnishing that reputation?"

A snake oil salesman or a person who can make positive differences in the lives of people when they have had a serious loss? It is your choice.

Chris Burand

Profile picture for user ChrisBurand

Chris Burand

Chris Burand is president and owner of Burand & Associates, LLC, a management consulting firm specializing in the property-casualty insurance industry. He is recognized as a leading consultant for agency valuations and is one of very few consultants with a certification in business appraisal.


Read More