Csaba Sziklai Passed
I’m writing because I heard last year that Csaba had passed, but I was unable to confirm the fact or learn details by searching the internet. Something prompted me to look again and upon a deeper search, I found a legal notice to creditors of his estate, confirming the fact. Aside from that, and another similar notice, the internet seems empty. I telephoned his company and spoke with a former associate of Csaba’s, who confirmed that he fell ill and died “last year.” The date seems to be in mid December 2012.
Aside from testimonials to the effectiveness of his system, I have yet to find anyone who speaks about Csaba as a man or his tremendous legacy to both the life insurance industry and greater humanity. Because of his brilliance, passion, and values, probably hundreds of thousands or even millions of people’s lives are insured today that otherwise wouldn’t be. That means a greater number of spouses, children, business partners, and employees are protected from the untimely deaths of the people they depend upon, all because Csaba helped insurance agents understand the nobility of their social roles. In fact, Csaba’s effect upon many insurance industry leaders was so profound that they became role models of Csaba’s philosophy, and influenced the beliefs of others through personal example.
I am not the best person to pay tribute to Csaba. I was only in his proximity for the three days I attended his Advocacy System school in Tucson, a couple years ago. But because I cannot find where anyone else has done so, and because his school prompted a once-in-a-lifetime reorganization of my professional worldview, I feel compelled to honor him.
Who Was Csaba Sziklai?
First, his name is pronounced Chaba Sick-lie. He escaped a Soviet-controlled country of Eastern Europe in the mid to late sixties, riding a motorcycle with a tire that went flat by a Soviet guard, who unknowingly helped Dr. Sziklai escape by providing him a valve that allowed him to re-inflate the tire.
He had been a law student but changed to pursue psychology. In the United States, his practice evolved to working exclusively with life insurance agents. Out of this close association he came to formulate a unique view of the role of the insurance agent in society–a much better view than the average insurance agent holds of himself. This understanding of the agent’s social role is one of the foundational parts of the Advocacy System that Csaba Sziklai created.
Whereas most insurance companies teach their representatives to be aggressive for the sale, and often turn a blind eye to unsavory sales practices, Csaba rejected all of it. If you have an automatic, negative view of an insurance agent, it’s probably because you associate him with stereotypical behaviors such as being pushy, deceptive, self interested, manipulative, rude, under trained, etc. These stereotypes exist because they have often been true, and the entire industry is to blame. In fact, the traditional selling approach requires an agent to engage in acts he finds repugnant, which in part leads to the industry’s high turnover rate.
When a life insurance agent’s behavior suggests he is a salesperson, whoever he talks to assumes the stereotypes are true. Thus agents trigger sales resistance by behaving like salespeople–and then have to deploy all of their sales training to overcome the resistance they just caused. The people who suffer, in the end, are those who need to think through issues of life insurance protection for their families, but finding a ready excuse not to, don’t, and leave their dependents exposed. For many, the gamble turns out to be a bad one.
I won’t get too deep into the philosophy of the Advocacy System, but the following principles shed light on the system’s profundity:
All human beings live in denial of their mortality. This is healthy–we couldn’t function if we believed, every day, that we would die that day. It is healthy to believe we will die much later, a date so far into the future, we needn’t obsess about it today.
All human beings a hardwired with a sense of love and responsibility for the people who depend upon them.
Our denial of our immediate mortality often leads us to put off making decisions about protecting the people who depend on us. This means, in essence, that we do not live up to our values.
The Advocate’s role is to help people see the distance between their actions and their values, thereby compelling them to make decisions about protection that they can feel good about.
The Advocate’s goal is not to make a buck. It is to compel a decision. If an Advocate talks to a person about life insurance and that person buys elsewhere, it is a victory for the Advocate.
If a person looks at his family and decides not to protect them, the Advocate moves on. There is not enough time to try to rewire the values of people who don’t care for their families. (Because life insurance is so inexpensive, anyone who wants to provide for their families can do so. The person who chooses not to, after considering all the facts, is worthy of insult and will only be redeemed by God’s grace. That’s not Csaba talking there, just me. Csaba only shrugged and said move on to the people you can help. If you throw a life vest to a drowning man, and he bats it away, do you throw him another, or throw your next to the person a few feet away who wants to live?)
I remember one of the most profound points Csaba made in class: if we learn of a breadwinner who had a family, died, and left them penniless, we naturally think he didn’t care about them. And if we learn of a breadwinner who left his family well off, so that everything he ever would have provided to them endowed at his death in the form of a large insurance benefit, we think, this person loved his family. Yet, the only the difference between the two breadwinners is that the latter was contacted by a life insurance agent.
The first breadwinner loved his family as well–but his family will suffer unnecessary hardship because no one in the insurance industry reached out and spoke on their behalf to the breadwinner who provided for them.
This is because most people own no life insurance at all, and those who do are grossly under-insured. People do not typically make life insurance buying decisions without the assistance of a life insurance agent.
Who suffers from an untimely death? The people left behind–dependents. And if we look at them, they are often unable or unwilling to compel the breadwinner to take action bringing his deeds into alignment with his values.
What five year old girl will say, “Daddy, have you bought enough life insurance to make sure I’ll still be okay if something happens to you?”
Csaba’s point was that the life insurance professional provides a beautiful service to society. The agent–like no one else–is capable of leading the breadwinner to think through the issues of family protection, and guide him or her to a decision he or she can feel good about. The life insurance agent is not only morally justified, but morally obligated, to speak out for those who cannot speak for themselves in life insurance decisions that might determine their economic fates. Hence the name Advocacy System.
Being a psychologist, Csaba explained, in psychological terms, countless aspects of how we think about ourselves as agents, how to talk to people, how to get in touch emotionally with the importance of our roles, and how to remain ever mindful of the true significance or our work.
Csaba’s Advocacy System led me to a new understanding of my career in the financial services industry, because as he said, we don’t only procrastinate our life insurance decisions. We do the same for financial planning, legacy planning, college funding, etc. In all these cases, the financial advisor is in a unique position to help people live up to their highest values as protectors and providers. No one in society but the financial advisor/life insurance agent can say that.
To my mind, the entire financial industry should grind to a halt and pay tribute to the man who articulated better than any why our financial products exist in the first place, and what the values of the people who represent those products ought to be, if they are to be aligned with their clients.
God Bless Dr. Csaba Sziklai. He will be missed.