In 1984, only half a dozen states required insurance agents to earn continuing education (CE) credits. To- day, just six states do not. Alabama, Alaska, Connecticut, Hawaii, Vermont, and Wisconsin (as well as the District of Columbia) are the last places in the U.S. where CE isn't mandatory for agents, but some of those may not be far behind.
Anxious to earn their agents' loyalty and make the most of their training dollars, some insurance companies have become CE providers, offering a new and convenient source of certified courses-but at the same time creating a new set of challenges for the people in charge of those meetings.
The Filing Frenzy As more states establish CE laws, each with its own forms, fees, and deadlines, the filing procedure can come to resemble a comic routine. Those doing the filing, however, are not amused.
Let's see . . . this state wants a course outline and a $10 fee 30 days out, that one a $30 fee 60 days out. Does this one need the roster sent to the state in advance with a flat fee, or within five days after the course with a per-attendee fee? An instructor form, or an instructor bio?
The details can be menacing-and they're different for just about every state.
Sheila Koech, field sales licensing and recruitment coordinator, handles state filings for Principal Financial Group in Des Moines and has become something of an expert on the complexities and inconsistencies of the process. The one thing required by all 28 states in which she files is a course outline. Sounds simple? Listen to Koech.
"For each class, I have to give the time of day, the name of the session, and a brief description of the course, as well as the instructor's name, how many minutes the session will last, and how many credits I want for it. I also have to list all the breaks and state that I'm not requesting credit for them." Every minute of the day must be accounted for (a challenge when courses need to be filed anywhere from 30 to 90 days before they're presented). "Then I total the minutes, excluding breaks and lunch, divide by 60 minutes-or 50 minutes, depending on the state-to get the number of credits we can request," she says.
That's just the beginning. Some states also want copies of instructors' handouts; about a dozen require instructors' forms to be completed, and others want a biographical sketch. Many want an attendee roster-some require it within five days after the course is complete-and some want a bibliography.
"The majority of states assess one fee, which ranges from $10 to $100 per course," Koech says. "But two states require $10 for each credit hour per course. And two or three also have a roster fee of $1 per credit for each attendee."
Then there are the "fun" things. When North Carolina and South Carolina approve an instructor, they send an approval number to the instructor's home, not to Koech. But if she doesn't put the instructor number on the roster, attendees won't get CE credits. She used to check with instructors constantly to find out if they had their numbers. Now she has a form letter for instructors to send to her when their numbers are assigned.
And the administration process is not over when the course is over. "We have to issue certificates of completion to the attendees on state-specific forms," says Koech. "But we also send out certificates from us." Koech files copies of all those certificates because states require them for license renewal.
Therese Rolfes, Principal Financial's senior administrator, group and pension sales training, says the states' CE systems aren't designed for flexibility. "When states established their CE laws, they thought courses would be offered by colleges or junior colleges," Rolfes says. "A lot of [the schools] offer a class for six months and work with one instructor, so it's easy to file. But we determine issues and topics much closer to the time of our meeting. And in two and a half days, I could have 15 instructors."
Crossing the Line The CE submission process is a challenge even when things go well, but home-grown courses have plenty of programming mistakes to avoid as well. First, course material that's too company-specific will be rejected by state insurance commissions. "It has to be technical," says White. "Naming our products is not acceptable."
The other chief blunder is sales and marketing training. "The state wants [educational courses] that will make a person a better agent, not make more money for the agent," explains Louie Rodgers, education and development coordinator for State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company in Columbia, MO.
A course might also be denied credit if the state commission considers the instructor not properly qualified.
Companies know what they can and can't do, and make every effort to observe the rules. But Rolfes maintains that she won't revise a course if the state denies certification. "We need to do what we need to do," she insists. "We know what we want to convey to our people, and we won't change a course to get CE credit."
Why Bother? If filing for state certification for continuing education courses is so time-consuming, costly, and nerve-wracking, why do insurance companies bother? Agents can earn CE credits by taking courses with colleges and junior colleges, industry associations such as the Life Office Management Association and the Life Underwriting Training Council, and independent providers such as A.D. Banker and Pictorial, Inc.
The benefit, say companies that have in-house experts to write courses and maneuver through the approval mire, is a continuing education program that is more focused, more relevant, and thus more valuable to agents.
They also believe their CE opportunities are a bonus for producers, who are clamoring for help under growing regulatory demands.
"We're the disability income leaders and specialists," says Robert Jeffrey, vice president, sales support services for Paul Revere Insurance Group in Worcester, MA. "We know more about this business and about our people's needs, than any of the people who put courses togeth-er. The material that is available just doesn't have the depth and breadth that we require.
"Education is the obligation of a leader," says Jeffrey. "If we're going to do it anyway, why not provide added value to our producer customers by enabling them to earn credits?"
Agents themselves provide direction for the educational conferences offered by AmerUS Life Insurance in Des Moines. As advanced underwriters work with agents throughout the year, they identify areas of interest and inform the home office, says Director of Marketing Services Mary Bell. Additional guidance comes from a field advisory council, which reviews the agenda before the conference. As a result, "We give them what they want and need to learn," says Bell. "It's not just a pat course from a textbook."
AmerUS, which has held educational conferences for nearly ten years, submitted courses as each state formalized its requirements. It currently has 12 to 15 courses certified in 35 to 38 states. The conferences include both certified and noncertified sessions; agents choose which ones they want to attend. But, says Bell, "Our agents want more and more CE because of the states' requirements."
Of course, not every insurance company buys into the benefits of company-designed courses. "We got out of that business long ago," says Mike Borislow, CLU, director of agent training for John Hancock. "In this day and age, it isn't necessary. The textbooks that are available are very generic but also very comprehensive."
But for companies that do choose to customize, their courses provide not only what agents want to learn, but also what management wants them to learn.
"It's a bear to work with state insurance commissions," says Pauline White, Paul Revere's consultant, field administration. But, she says, "Developing our own continuing education programs gives us some control over the material our agents or reps are studying. If they take a course from a vendor, we don't know what they're learning."
So insurance companies grit their teeth and file their courses with state after state.
Fortunately, relief may be in sight-relief not from the challenge of creating relevant courses that meet state requirements, but from the hours of tedious paperwork necessary for a company to file on its own.
Opportunity from Chaos As the number of state requirements has boomed, entrepreneurs have found opportunity in the chaos. Companies have emerged to handle certification procedures for both state insurance commissions as well as CE providers.
Among them, two companies-Insurance Testing Corporation (ITC) in St. Paul, MN and Assessment Systems Inc. (ASI) in Bala Cynwyd, PA-are trying to persuade state regulators, who are increasingly burdened by CE administration, to outsource everything from course submissions to auditing of presentations to record-keeping.
For the review process, ITC is partnering with Kelly Insurance Center at Drake University, and ASI with College of Insurance of New York City. To date, Virginia and Pennsylvania have outsourced to ITC, and Wisconsin to ASI. Now, providers file directly with the private companies for certification in those states.
ITC also has established a clearinghouse for providers (using standards proposed by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, after the association itself decided it would not itself establish one). Whether the provider is an insurance company, an association, or any other group interested in offering certified courses, course materials are filed with ITC, which reviews the course, makes recommendations to the state, and informs providers of the state's decision.
Eight states now accept ITC's recommendations: California, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Oregon, Utah, Kansas, North Dakota, and Iowa. Bradley D. Hansen, ITC's director of continuing education, notes with satisfaction that Iowa was the first to sign on, after its insurance commissioner spoke last year at a meeting of the Chartered Property Casualty Underwriters Society and, as a result, had to complete approval forms for each state so attendees could get credit. Once he saw the morass firsthand, he was sold on simplifying the system.
For providers, the clearinghouse system means that they file one form with ITC to obtain certification in any-or all-of those eight states. "The procedures are spelled out. Filing companies are easier to deal with," says Paul Revere's White.
Another type of service is provided by The Saenger Organization, Inc., in Medway, MA, a publishing company that also handles CE and pre-licensing state compliance services for insurance companies. Among its 30-plus clients is John Hancock in Boston.
"Saenger does all our filings and submissions," says Borislow. "Their expertise is in this area, and they have lines of communication and relationships in all the states." (John Hancock purchases its CE courses, rather than developing them in-house, but companies that buy courses still must file because state regulators need to know which elements are being offered, how much time is allotted to them, and who the instructor is.)
With new companies and services emerging, companies may soon be able to concentrate on creating courses that fit agents' needs and leave the unwieldy paperwork to a filing specialist. "Will it take us another 20 years to simplify and streamline the process?" asks ITC's Hansen. Probably not.
End It All? These new companies and services are one way to eliminate the CE procedural nightmare, but some argue that dropping CE regulations altogether is another. So says the Michigan Insurance Bureau, which is about to do just that. "It's unnecessary bureaucracy," insists deputy insurance commissioner Kurt Gallinger. "There is no proof that the regulations produce a more honest, more professional agent. Regulators can't point to anything except good feelings about education."
Gallinger says there is some concern about Michigan agents with nonresident licenses in other states who need to satisfy those states' requirements through reciprocal agreements. "We thought we could maintain a core CE program requiring such agents to continue to take courses," says Gallinger. "But we got no commitment, so we'll be forced to pursue complete sunset by September 30."
How do insurance executives feel about the prospect of eliminating the continuing education regulations? State Farm's Rodgers sees it two ways. On the plus side, "Mediocre agents who did not attend before, do now," he says. "But I think my good agents might have taken more courses in the past. Now they hit 16 credits and stop."
Rolfes admits that there "might be some truth" in the Michigan bureau's view. Still, she says, "It's better to force the issue" with CE regulations that ensure that all agents continue to maintain their professional competence.
Requirements are applicable to all resident agents licensed to sell life/health or porperty/casualty insurance in the states listed below. State insurance department phone numbers follow state requirements. The Guide is published by Pictorial, Inc., Indianapolis, IN. For more infomation call Pictorial at (317)872-7220.
Alabama 12 hours annually. (334) 265-7890
Arkansas 16 hours biennially. LH/PC combined-20 hours biennially. (501) 371-2600
California If licensed after 1/1/92, 25 hours annually for first 4 years from original license issuance date, then 30 hours biennially thereafter. If licensed before 1/1/92, 30 hours biennially. Hours must be taken in lines for which license is held. (916) 327-3964
Colorado 24 hours biennially. At least 18 hours must be taken in lines for which license is held. (303) 894-7499, ext. 393
Delaware If licensed for 2-5 years, 20 hours annually. If licensed for 6 years or more, 10 hours annually. (302) 739-4251
Florida 28 hours biennially (requirement must include 2 hours on Florida rules and regulations). Hours must be taken in lines for which license is held. LH/PC combined licensees must take 50% of hours in each line. (904) 922-2134, ext. 1108
Georgia If licensed less than 20 years, 15 hours annually. If licensed 20 years or more, 10 hours annually. 3 hours of ethics required. (404) 656-2101
Idaho 40 hours biennially. (208) 334-4339
Illinois 25 hours annually for first 4 years of licensure. (Effective 1/1/97, the requirement will become 15 hours annually for all producers, no matter how long licensed.) (217) 782-1019
Indiana 30 hours biennially. (Effective 1/1/98, the requirement will include 2 hours of ethics) (317) 232-2409
Iowa 30 hours triennially. LH/PC-combined -60 hours triennially. Hours must be taken in lines for which license is held. LH/PC combined licensees must take 50% of hours in each line. (515) 281-4383
Kansas 12 hours biennially (including 1 hour of ethics). LH/PC combined-24 hours biennially (including 2 hours of ethics).
Hours must be taken in lines for which license is held. LH/PC combined licensees must take 50% of hours in each line. (913) 296-7859
Kentucky 24 hours biennially. (502) 564-6144
Louisiana LH-16 hours biennially. PC-24 hours biennially. LH/PC combined-32 hours biennially (12 hours in LH and 20 hours in PC). Hours must be taken in lines for which license is held. (504) 342-0856
Maine 30 hours biennially. (207) 624-8411
Maryland 16 hours biennially. (410) 333-4059
Massachusetts 60 hours during first 36 months of licensure, and 45 hours triennially thereafter. At least 1 hour must be taken in lines for which license is held. (617) 521-7345
Michigan 30 hours biennially. At least 15 hours must be taken in lines for which license is held. LH/PC combined licensees must take 15 hours in each line. (517) 335-2071
Minnesota 30 hours biennially. (At least 15 hours of the requirement must be completed within the first half of the biennium.) (612) 296-6319
Mississippi LH-25 hours annually for first 4 years of licensure. PC-12 hours annually.
Hours must be taken in lines for which license is held. LH/PC combined licensees must take 25 hours in LH courses and 12 hours in PC courses (601) 359-3569
Missouri 10 hours biennially. LH/PC combined-16 biennially Hours must be taken in lines for which license is held. LH/PC combined licensees must take at least 6 hours in each line. (573) 751-3518
Montana 10 hours annually. LH/PC combined-15 hours annually (including 1 hour of Montana law biennially). (406) 444-2040
Nebraska Life or Health only-6 hours biennially. LH-12 hours biennially. Variable-6 hours biennially. PC-24 hours biennially. LH/PC combined-24 hours biennially. (An additional 6 hours must be taken in insurance industry ethics.) Hours must be taken in lines for which license is held. (402) 471-4913
Nevada 30 hours triennially. Hours must be taken in lines for which license is held. (702) 687-7670
New Hampshire 30 hours biennially. (603) 225-3374
New Jersey 48 units every 4 years. (609) 633-0818
New Mexico 15 hours annually. (including 1 hour of ethics.) Hours must be taken in lines for which license is held. (505) 827-4662
New York 1996 and 1997 renewals: 8 hours biennially. 1998 renewals and after: 15 hours biennially. Hours must be taken in lines for which license is held. LH/PC combined licensees must complete full requirement in each line. (Courses approved for both LH and PC may be simultaneously applied to both LH and PC requirements.) (518) 486-7296
North Carolina 12 hours annually. LH/PC combined-18 hours annually. Hours must be taken in lines for which license is held. LH/PC combined licensees must take 50% of hours in each line. (919) 733-1642
North Dakota 15 hours annually. (701) 328-3548
Ohio 30 hours biennially. (614) 728-5860
Oklahoma 16 hours biennially. (including 1 hour of ethics.) Hours must be taken in lines for which license is held. (405) 522-4626
Oregon If licensed for 1 year: 24 hours at first renewal. If licensed for 2-5 years: 48 hours biennially. If licensed for 6 years or more: 24 hours biennially. Hours must be taken in lines for which license is held. LH/PC combined licensees must take at least 25% of hours in each line. (503) 378-4511, ext. 248
Pennsylvania If licensed before 3/2/95: 24 hours biennially. If licensed on or after 3/2/95: 48 hours biennially for first 2 reporting periods, then 24 hours biennially.
Rhode Island 15 hours annually. Hours must be taken in lines for which license is held. LH/PC combined licensees must take 5 hours in life courses, 5 hours in health courses and 5 hours in PC courses. (401) 277-2223
South Carolina 24 hours biennially. At least 8 hours must be taken in lines for which license is held. LH/PC combined licensees must take at least 8 hours in each line. (803) 737-6095
South Dakota 10 hours biennially. LH/PC combined-20 hours biennially (at least 8 hours in each line). Hours must be taken in lines for which license is held. (605) 733-3946
Tennessee 25 hours annually for first 4 years of licensure. (Effective 1/1/97, the requirement will be 12 hours annually, for each year agent is licensed.) (615) 741-2693
Texas 30 hours biennially. Hours must be taken in lines for which license is held. (512) 322-3503
Utah 12 hours biennially. (801) 538-3645
Virginia 16 hours biennially. LH/PC combined-24 hours biennially (Requirement must include 2 hours of federal and/or Virginia insurance law.) At least 8 hours must be taken in lines for which license is held. LH/PC combined licensees must take at least 8 hours in each line. (800) 482-2366
Washington 32 hours biennially. (360) 438-7708
West Virginia 24 hours biennially. (304) 558-0610
Wisconsin By 2/15/97: 12 hours annually. After 2/15/97: 24 hours biennially. (608) 267-1234
Wyoming 10 hours annually. (307) 777-7319