The American life insurance industry is comprised of nearly 1,000 individual companies. Collectively, these outfits are responsible for a national portfolio of outstanding life insurance policies worth over $18 trillion. Of course, most of this floating portfolio is comprised of term life policies that will expire worthless. Much of the rest is made up of whole or universal life insurance policies that produce interest and dividend income for their issuers. Many whole life insurance issuers earn tidy sums from these policies.
The country's life insurance industry directly employs tens of thousands of people and is responsible for hundreds of thousands of other jobs. Since many major life insurance issuers also sell other forms of insurance, it's difficult to quantify the exact number of "life insurance" agents working at any given time.
These major employers are responsible for many of the cushiest entry-level positions in the industry. Some publicly-traded providers offer generous compensation packages that include solid health and retirement benefits. After a typical probationary period, direct-selling agents may earn handsome commissions on the policies that they originate. Most of the companies that offer such benefits are mature, established firms with recognizable names.
Allstate, State Farm and Northwestern Mutual are reputable insurance providers that pay competitive salaries and commissions. As larger concerns, these companies have well-defined corporate hierarchies and tend to promote from within. Competent agents tend to earn regular promotions and may eventually occupy positions of relative importance. In addition, these companies' reputations may help smooth the way for agents who wish to change providers or careers. Across the industry, managers and executives generally respect Allstate, State Farm, Northwestern Mutual and other similar companies. Former agents from these companies may transition easily into high-ranking positions at smaller or younger life insurance providers.
Other life insurance providers offer fewer employee benefits and lower starting salaries. However, these outfits tend to make up for these shortcomings by paying competitive commissions and offering generous "overrides" for management-level employees. The corporate culture at these companies tends to be competitive and individualistic.
While some experienced agents who transfer from other companies may thrive in cutthroat environments like these, most find such competition distasteful. Successful life insurance providers that operate in this niche often hire young agents willing to work long hours for low starting salaries. Primerica Financial is well-known for taking this approach. To boost employee morale and retain talent, this company offers generous override packages to its "team leaders."