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  • Writer's pictureChris Burand

Snake Oil Salesman

Updated: Aug 25, 2020

There is a great scene in the old movie, "The Outlaw Josie Wales," where a snake oil salesman is selling medicinal cures. It is a short scene, only about 50 seconds long. In the scene, the snake oil 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."

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I hear that same line from insurance producers all the time! They go, "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 that sell!" When I asked about the need to employ people who know what they are selling, the response was, "I just need people that 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 the question, "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 when 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 they're selling?" I see many distributor models clearly and purposely built upon exactly this premise. I'm not saying it is wrong from a business perspective if one has all their 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.

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 too. Many people want to believe a middle ground exists. It may have existed in the past, but it will cease to exist in the future 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? If you are already a carrier focused on limiting coverages, does it even matter?"

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.


NOTE: The information provided herein is intended for educational and informational purposes only and it represents only the views of the authors. It is not a recommendation that a particular course of action be followed. Burand Insurance Education, Burand & Associates, LLC and Chris Burand assume, and will have, no responsibility for liability or damage which may result from the use of any of this information.


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