Highway patrolman, criminal investigator, real estate agent, real estate broker, insurance agent, insurance executive. It may seem like a winding career path, but for Troy Braswell it has been a natural progression.

“I really enjoy working with and helping people,” Braswell said, adding that he has answered that calling through his work in law enforcement, the real estate industry and the insurance industry.

A managing partner in New York Life Insurance Co.’s Kansas City office, Braswell said there are particular similarities between the real estate and insurance industries, and his company has taken note as well.

New York Life is hoping to attract more real estate professionals to consider a career change, and the recruitment push is timed with a slowdown in the real estate market. Real estate trade associations are anticipating a dip in membership this year as the sliding sales pace leads struggling agents in search of a new line of work.

Such cycles are normal in real estate. The latest national real estate boom in the nation’s history was gaining steam when the embers from the dot-com implosion were still hot, and a share of out-of-work techies and other newcomers and entrepreneurs hopped aboard the real estate rollercoaster for the U.S. economy’s next wild ride.

New York Life is hoping that insurance will be a welcome exit strategy for those real estate agents who are seeking a change while utilizing a similar skill set. The company took out an ad in the May edition of Realtor magazine, the official magazine of the 1.3 million-member National Association of Realtors trade group, to promote its recruitment effort.

“Launch your career selling peace of mind,” the ad states. “Balance your work and life with a flexible schedule. Receive training throughout your career. Seize the opportunity for professional growth and a future in management.”

According to LIMRA International, an association for companies that offer life, disability and health insurance and other services, recruitment of new insurance agents was up about 12 percent in the first half of 2006 compared to the first half of 2005.

And the Independent Insurance Agents and Brokers of America association has reported in member surveys that “locating the best available talent” ranks among the highest priorities for the industry.

Howard Drescher, spokesman for LIMRA, said, “A key success factor for new (insurance) agents is the existence of a broad network of personal and business contacts that they can work with during the critical first year in their new profession,” and such a network is also vital for real estate professionals.

Braswell said that past clients and contacts from his years working in the real estate business proved valuable when he made the jump to insurance. The process of building a relationship with clients and finding out their unique needs is similar in both the real estate and insurance industries, he said.

“I had a strong market of individuals I had sold homes to and even with the Realtors I had done business with. The individuals who I had relationships with as a Realtor — I continued those relationships with a lot of them as an insurance professional,” he said. “As a Realtor I learned a lot about marketing. Real estate seems to be one (occupation) that really has a lot of the same attributes and the skills are transferable.”

While some real estate agents also sell insurance products, Drescher said that licensing laws in Texas prevented him from simultaneously working as an insurance agent and real estate agent.

He was working as a real estate broker for a company in Texas when he decided to try his hand at insurance. “I remember it being kind of a tough decision to give up my real estate broker’s license — they are tough to get,” he said. He hired a highway patrolman and a Realtor colleague to assist with his insurance office and gradually built up the business.

“The structured career path and being able to have more control of your time” attracted him to the insurance business, Braswell said.

A handbook with descriptions of various occupations, published by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, states that while the barriers to entry are low, “real estate brokers and sales agents often work evenings and weekends and usually are on call to suit the needs of clients,” and “employment is sensitive to swings in the economy.”

The description also notes that there are similar job skills required among insurance sales agents, retail salespersons and financial services sales agents, among other professions. And some real estate brokers and agents “combine other types of work, such as selling insurance or practicing law, with their real estate business,” the handbook states.

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data show that all sectors in the insurance industry provided about 2.32 million jobs in 2006, which is up from 2.26 million in 2005.

Mark Pfaff, senior vice president for New York Life’s Agency Department, said, “A good salesperson listens very well,” whether the salesperson is in the real estate or insurance business. “There are actually a lot of similarities between the two. They both tend to be very involved in the community — they tend to develop close relationships with a lot of people.”

There is also the independent nature of the two businesses — agents typically work on commission and are independent contractors.

Pfaff said that as the real estate market slumps in many parts of the country, it’s “an odd time for real estate agents,” and the insurance industry offers the opportunity “to go back and work with prior clients who you had.” But while some approach real estate as a part-time career or hobby, New York Life has a demand for full-time professionals, “so this is their career when they come on board.”

There are other professions that the insurance industry has also looked to as a source for new agents, he said, such as teachers and people with prior sales experience. “We have always been a very good second career. We want people who have good people skills, develop good relationships, who are entrepreneurial, who listen well, who have some sense of self-discipline,” Pfaff said. Managers in the insurance business tend to be promoted from within the sales force, he said.

Though there may be ebbs and flows for various products that insurance agents can offer, there are products for different phases of the market, he said. “Everybody still needs to do basic financial planning” no matter the market conditions, he said.

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