In a shopping mall in Nashville, you can walk into the PrinSource Financial Center and spend ten minutes--or two hours--getting answers to all your insurance questions without ever having to talk to a salesperson.

"Customers say they don't want to be sold a product," says Karen Brett, second vice president at Des Moines, IA based The Principal Financial Group, operator of the PrinSource center. "They want someone to help them understand different insurance products and how they might meet their needs."

The Principal makes staffers available to educate consumers at the PrinSource center, but if a customer doesn't want even the feel of a sales environment, he or she has two other options. One is to sit down at a computer and boot up The Principal's interactive software program; the other is to browse through the PrinSource library, which contains videos, books, magazines, and rating agency reports, all designed to demystify the process of selecting and buying insurance.

The software program uses a travel agency theme to help a customer figure out how, financially, to get to one of several "destinations," e.g., retirement or college. "We also hold free seminars on a number of topics, such as buying a home," Brett notes.

"I look at [PrinSource] as the Home Depot of financial services," she continues. "You can go in and buy something; you can go in and get an explanation of how to use something, or you can go in and have us 'install' it all for you. And there's no obligation to buy from us. You could go in, learn all you can, then go on the Internet and buy a piece of term."

Although the staffers at the PrinSource Financial Center are fully licensed, they are not insurance agents in the traditional sense of the term. They are full-time, salaried employees of The Principal Financial Group. They do not work on commission, but they do operate within a bonus system based on accumulating points. But the points come not just from making a sale; rather, a staff person gets points for filling out a "fact finder" for a customer, for example, or for performing a full needs-assessment with a customer.

Theoretically, Brett says, the retail center staff could qualify for The Principal's "clubs"--the regular incentive trips. But not until the level of traffic at the Nashville center (and at other centers the company might open in the future) increases significantly. You can give the customer what he says he wants, she points out, but you can't make him use it.