Column: Roger's Soapbox

The Men From the Pru

By: | May 2, 2017 • 2 min read
Roger Crombie is a United Kingdom-based columnist for Risk & Insurance®. He can be reached at riskletters@lrp.com.

I met the man from the Pru. That may not mean much to anyone, which is a pity.

The term “man from the Pru” was shorthand for a breed of British neighborhood insurance agents. They collected premiums, paid claims and delivered objective advice, financial and otherwise. They wove a web of service around their communities.

The British Prudential Assurance Co. (founded in 1848, 27 years earlier than its American namesake) employed at one point 100,000 direct salesmen. Other major British insurers also ran enormous direct sales forces. These men — they were all men, as I understand it — were the insurance industry’s sales backbone, and something more: its beating heart.

The man from the Pru began selling insurance and collecting relatively small premiums in cash on a weekly basis, door-to-door, from lower-income working families in the late 19th century. For many Britons, a weekly visit from the insurance man, often mid-week, in the evening, was a recurring part of life’s unfolding pageant. An early option allowed customers to save for funeral expenses.

For many Britons, a weekly visit from the insurance man, often mid-week, in the evening, was a recurring part of life’s unfolding pageant.

The rep entered the endowment premiums he collected in his account book — God, this all sounds prehistoric — and at term, the beneficiaries would receive a lump sum, often saved in anticipation of a major life event.

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The men from the Pru were more than a direct sales force. In an age of small data, they knew everything about, and were part of, their clients’ lives.

The most infamous man from the Pru was William Herbert Wallace, convicted in 1931 of the murder of his wife Julia in their home in Liverpool. The Court of Criminal Appeal considered the jury had erred and overturned its guilty verdict, the first occasion in British legal history where an appeal was allowed after re-examination of the evidence. A dark 1990 BBC movie — called (what else?) “The Man From The Pru” — featured Jonathan Pryce as Wallace.

My man from the Pru was driving a taxi. He keenly missed the old days. He’d lost his job some years ago, when the men from the Pru became the men on the unemployment line. Call centers took their place.

Without wanting to sprinkle magic dust on what was, ultimately, a job, imagine a world where your friends and neighbors could pop in and out at will, in an atmosphere of mutual trust. A world where the man from the Pru wasn’t seen in the same light as today’s insurance salesmen are. Woody Allen: “There are worse things in life than death. Have you ever spent an evening with an insurance salesman?”

Early in the 2000s, the Prudential launched a new face-to-face financial advice service aimed at former customers in their homes, a move billed as the return of the man from the Pru. (The company’s female employees weren’t thrilled, apparently.)

Many of the 200,000 potential customers the Pru identified were felt to need financial advice now that they were approaching retirement.

The return of a direct sales force did not, however, set the industry alight.

For many working-class people, the man from the Pru was a financial adviser, a friend and, sometimes, a helpmate. Boy, are those days gone.  &

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

2017 Risk All Stars

Immeasurable Value

The 2017 Risk All Stars strengthened their organizations by taking ownership of improved risk management processes and not quitting until they were in place.
By: | September 12, 2017 • 3 min read

Being the only person to hold a particular opinion or point of view within an organization cannot be easy. Do the following sound like familiar stories? Can you picture yourself or one of your risk management colleagues as the hero or heroine? Or better yet, as a Risk & Insurance® Risk All Star?

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One risk manager took a job with a company that was being spun off, and the risk management program, which was built for a much larger company, was not a good fit for the spun-off company.
Rather than sink into inertia, this risk manager took the bull by the horns and began an aggressive company intranet campaign to instill better safety and other risk management practices throughout the organization.

The risk manager, 2017 Risk All Star Michelle Bennett of Cable One, also changed some long-standing brokerage relationships that weren’t a good fit for the risk management and insurance program. In her first year on the job she produced premium savings and in her second year is in the process of introducing ERM company-wide.

Or perhaps this one rings a bell. The news is trickling out that a company is poised to dramatically expand, increasing the workforce three- or four-fold. Having this knowledge with certainty would be a great benefit to a risk manager, who could begin girding safety, workers’ comp and related programs accordingly. But things sometimes don’t work that way, do they? Sometimes the risk manager is one of the last people to know.

The Risk All Star Award recognizes at its core, creativity, perseverance and passion. The 13 winners of this year’s award all displayed those traits in abundance.

In the case of 2017 Risk All Star winner Steve Richards of the Coca-Cola Bottling Company, the news of an expansion spurred him to action. He completely overhauled the company’s workers’ compensation program and streamlined its claim management system. The results, even with a much higher headcount, were reduced legal costs, better return-to-work experiences for injured workers and a host of other improvements and savings.

The Risk All Star Award recognizes at its core, creativity, perseverance and passion. The 13 winners of this year’s award all displayed those traits in abundance. Sometimes it took years for a particular risk solution, as promoted by a risk manager, to find acceptance.

In other cases a risk manager got so excited about a solution, they never even considered getting turned down. They just kept pushing until they carried the day.

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Butler University’s Zach Finn became obsessive about what he felt was a lackluster effort on the part of the insurance industry to bring in new talent. The former risk manager for the J.M. Smucker Co. settled on the creation of a student-run captive to give his risk management students the experience they would need to get hired right out of college.

The result was a better risk management program for the university’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and immediate traction in the job market for Finn’s students.

A few of our Risk All Stars told us that the results they are achieving were decades in the making. Only by year-in, year-out dedication to gaining transparency about her co-op’s risks and learning more and more about her various insurance carriers, did Growmark Inc.’s Faith Cring create a stalwart risk management and insurance program that is the envy of the agricultural sector. Now she’s been with some of her insurance carriers more than 20 years — some more than 30 years.

Having the right idea and not having a home for it can be a lonely, frustrating experience. Having the creativity, the passion and perhaps, most importantly, the perseverance to see it through and get great results makes you a Risk All Star. &

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Risk All Stars stand out from their peers by overcoming challenges through exceptional problem solving, creativity, perseverance and passion.

See the complete list of 2017 Risk All Stars.

Dan Reynolds is editor-in-chief of Risk & Insurance. He can be reached at dreynolds@lrp.com.