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Old Time Insurance Agents

Insurance agents were a familiar sight in the villages for many decades before the 60s and for a long while afterwards. You could see them scurrying around the streets with their ‘insurance book’  which contained  their customers’ policy details and payment records. Many customers were reliable payers but if long term sickness or unemployment struck it usually meant one of three things: [1] a lapsed policy [2] a frozen policy or [3] a surrendered policy.  

There is no doubt that those insurance agents were doing a fine service, for example: they were enabling cars to be insured and property to be protected against fire and any number of other risks. They were also collecting small premiums without  customers having to arrange to make payment at the local office.

It was important that the agent called at a regular time  so that the customer was not left waiting for them when they were meant to be elsewhere. To be a good agent required a rapport with customers and a caring attitude. Having said that there were accusations of bad practice such as churning. Churning involved encouraging customers to surrender policies early and persuading them to take out new ones; it meant more commission for the agent and the customer would lose a terminal bonus on the original policy. The extent of this practice is not known. Some customers actually encouraged it in that they treated what was meant to be a five/ten/fifteen year [or even for life] contract as a short term savings plan – a bad deal financially although it must not be forgotten that [1] they were insured during the time of such premature policies and [2] they otherwise might not have saved at all.

Competition amongst agents was often intense and sometimes more than one agent could be found in a customer’s house at the same time! Not only did the insurance agent have to spend some part of the week collecting premiums in the day time he/she had also a need to go out and interview potential customers during the evening – whether by cold calling or pre arranged appointment. It was not a job for everyone and the turnover of agents was frequent.

I having nothing but respect for agents and on the whole they gave a good deal to their customers. There are many fewer agents to be seen in the streets these days owing to changing business practice. 


Categories: Memories
  1. Alf Rothwell
    September 8, 2009 at 12:18 pm

    Wilf, You have done it again!! Got me thinking when I was the “Man from the Pru” in Ushaw Moor for 7 years before I was Promoted to North Shields office as a Section Superintendent or was it a Sexual Superintendent. My round in Ushaw Moor was north of main road through Ushaw Moor starting at the Farm that used to be John Bells then all the street all the way to the new Stan Watsons Garage near Valley View, I think that is what it was called.The bottom part of Ushaw Moor was covered for the Pru by George Bailey from Bearpark, his wife was called Finnegan I think. Before working for the Pru I knew most of the customers as I covered the same area with a Travelling shop from Brandon & New Brancepeth Co-op. I had some great times there and I had one of the largest book of customers in the Durham area.There you go again Wilf, making my memory work overtime!! Cheers, Alf R. p.s I started the Pru in 1963.

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