Magazine article Business Asia

Hard Times for Soft-Selling `Insurance Ladies'

Magazine article Business Asia

Hard Times for Soft-Selling `Insurance Ladies'

Article excerpt

Every morning, Tamae Nakajima leaves her small apartment outside Tokyo, picks up a bag of sales materials at a Meiji Life Insurance Co office and sets off.

For the next nine or 10 hours, she will call on friends, relatives and employees of local companies, trying every trick she knows to sell life insurance for the country's fourth-largest insurer.

"I do everything from giving chocolate for St Valentine's Day to offering fortune-telling to sell policies," she said.

Nakajima, 52, is part of a waning era of Japan's financial industry. She is one of the country's "insurance ladies", an army of soft-sell artists who have been the backbone of the world's largest life insurance business in premium revenue, selling policies to 90 per cent of the country's insured.

But as insurers struggle to recover from Japan's recession, they can't accept the inefficiencies of their traditional sales force. Deregulation also has opened the industry to new competitors, including foreign companies, who are using college-educated, commission-motivated salespeople -- mostly men -- to outsell the insurance ladies. On-line selling is another threat.

"Eventually, the number of insurance ladies will be reduced to less than half because of new entrants and new sales channels such as the Internet," said Keiji Nonomiya, president of Yamato Mutual Life Insurance Co.

His company's insurance ladies have dwindled to 1600 from 7000 before the economy went into its worst post-war slump. Industrywide, the number has fallen 23 per cent to 341,600 from a high of 444,700 in March, 1991. …

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