Harken if you will to days gone by when aggressive product selection, agent compensation and producer incentive trips were essentially meaningless components of a prospective sales engagement. When agent/client relationships were fundamentally based upon an intimate understanding of who the customer “is” and what comprises the foundational underpinnings of the life insurance need.
In the oftentimes perplexing environment of special risk underwriting, the ability to connect with the client on the most intimate and important aspect of their lives—their health and their mortality—can prove to be the driving differentiator for life advisor production success. An advisor’s ability to recognize this fact is only superseded by his or her willingness to act upon the same.
With respectful deference to advanced estate planning techniques, strategies aligned with precipitous reduction in tax exposure and unique illustrative product iterations, it is mortality pricing that dictates advisor differentiation in today’s ultra-competitive special risk marketplace. History teaches us that “whatever goes around, comes around” and the concept of formidable field underwriting skill has reemerged to remind us of our past.
Field Underwriting and Special Risk
The notion of special risk pricing creativity and home office underwriting decision-making are not always deemed to have a symbiotic relationship in the minds of most life insurance advisors. Moreover, underwriting department personnel utilizing innovative approaches when assessing complicated clinical impairments is not commonly viewed as a familiar experience by the same audience. However, we should not be deferring to the home office for performance above and beyond the call of duty. Rather, the burden (opportunity) should remain with the producer to develop a comfort zone within which the underwriter can interact outside the boundaries of conventional risk appraisal. The genesis tied to differentiating one risk from another of similar like and feel should not lie in the hands of the home office underwriter. Instead, the responsibility sits with the proposed insured’s representative advocate—the field underwriter. It rests in high quality field underwriting preparation where the benefits of creative underwriting decisions can be reaped for all to enjoy…the producer, the brokerage agency, the home office underwriter, the carrier and, of course, the customer.
Ideally, the goal should be to take the basics of special risk underwriting innovation to its optimum level by instilling the inherent importance of field underwriting talent within a particularly focused producer community. An advisory firm immersed in the “big case/big age” marketplace must become an active participant in underwriting case preparation rather than an occasional observer (or at times hindrance). All too often high-end clients with obvious medical impairments are not advised of the eminent pricing problems until it is too late. Our firm preaches that a committed life insurance producer should possess the ability to recognize when a clinical malady has the potential to unfavorably impact an underwriting assessment and thereafter have the ability to take action as a field underwriter. The foundation of this skill is built upon a fundamental if not reasonable grasp of medical knowledge and the testing criteria that forms clinical diagnosis. This does not mean that a field underwriter need possess expertise in the intricacies of clinical underwriting minutia. Rather, and by example, a field underwriter with an insulin dependent diabetic client should understand whether a glycohemoglobin result (A1c) is indicative of favorable or unfavorable disease control.
Field Underwriting and the Client
Our firm’s experience in the special risk client setting is that the customer measurably appreciates his or her representative’s ability to “clinical speak” where the client’s interests are at stake. We work daily with advisors and centers of influence on the education of their client’s impairment history, what the producer must know and, more important, how it should be communicated to the customer. In addition, we more often than not speak directly with the client discussing the confounding conundrum of “insurance medicine versus clinical medicine” and specifically the particular impairment in play and its pure impact on underwriting pricing.
The heart and soul of top notch field underwriting in not simply based upon preparation of the case, it rests in the preparation of the client in preparation of the case. This particular means of client preparation drives to the root of case presentation goals—presenting favorable data in its most amplified form. The core of this endeavor lies in the education of the client and his or her willingness to participate in the creative process. The preliminary focus is to improve the immediate assessment base; to enhance the criteria upon which a special risk client will be priced. However, as important as the client’s participation, it is oftentimes equally important (when applicable) to engage the client’s corps of physician care. The patient’s physician as an active player/consultant in the underwriting presentation process is an invariably useful tool. As such, we prompt the physician to act as a complimentary participant in the underwriting process on behalf of the patient by amplifying unique idiosyncrasies of a clinical impairment rather than a mere provider of digitized objective APS data. An example of a favorably differentiated field underwriting result is captured in a recent case encountered by our agency.
A 75 year old gentleman who was previously deemed uninsurable by (seven) life companies for $9,000,000 of survivorship coverage due to extensive coronary artery disease history. An initial clinical triage unveils past inferior and anteroseptal heart attacks, diffuse coronary artery disease, enlarged heart, Stage II chronic kidney disease and a 2012 brain injury. However, further review indicates remarkably favorable cardiac function, essentially normal kidney function tests and normal neurological profile. Question: How can the client’s cardiac, renal and neurologic results look so good in the presence of such foreboding diagnoses? There must be a reason. Enter the advisor as a field underwriter...
We engaged the advisor, immediately requesting an opportunity to speak with the client in order to gain insight as to his day-to-day lifestyle, exercise pattern and symptoms in the presence of his established medical history. We soon have the pleasure of conversing with a very unique 75 year old World Class triathlete (in his age bracket)! The client confirms his diagnostic record yet moreover documents his amazing exercise pattern and aerobic workload. In addition, he notes his past brain injury was the result of hitting his head on the roll-bar portion of a vehicle while on photo safari in Africa. As such, it becomes immediately apparent that a conversation with his attending cardiologist is mandatory in order to differentiate this septuagenarian from the “law of large numbers.” Moreover, it is critical that the physician be willing to participate in the underwriting presentation on behalf of his patient. Upon gaining approval from the advisor and client, we engaged his cardiologist in a lively and very enlightening discussion buffeting the field underwriting/risk differentiation strategy at hand.
Our conversation with the cardiologist produces a much more amplified picture of the client reflecting an abundance of favorable data that heretofore was not clearly apparent:
The aforementioned detail was captured in a written summation from the cardiologist and included in a much more amplified presentation to a select insurance carrier. The unique idiosyncrasies now in play produced a differentiated view of the client and approval at Table C pricing for $9,000,000 of SUL coverage.
The benefits of this form of field underwriting creativity not only bolsters the producer/client relationship, it is also well received by the home office underwriter. At no expense to the carrier they are provided an opportunity to insure a uniquely amplified risk profile that enjoys close physician involvement. In risk assessment terms, the insurance carrier received favorable data in its most amplified form and a “more complete” decision is made for the benefit of all.
We believe a life producer with heightened attention to field underwriting expertise creates a uniquely differentiated advisory platform when engaging the special risk client. The medically impaired client lives each and every day under the specter of their clinical malady, to stray from the subject borders on neglect while embracing the same can be a life production game changer.
If we truly endeavor to be an engaged advocate for the special risk client are we not accountable to clearly understand who our customer “is”? By doing so we satisfy the elemental service principle of the consummate special risk producer...welcoming the role as field underwriter.
Timothy C. Moynihan
is the senior vice president and director of risk appraisal for Brokers’ Service Marketing Group (BSMG). In this leadership position, Moynihan oversees all BSMG underwriting/risk selection operations as well as seeks out new business development opportunities. Prior to joining BSMG, Moynihan served as president of CBIZ Special Risk, a wholly owned subsidiary of CBIZ. In that role, he led all risk appraisal, new business and carrier/advisor relationship efforts. In addition, Moynihan was a home office underwriter with Connecticut General and manager of CIGNA Associates impaired risk division. With more than 35 years of experience in the life insurance industry, he possesses a unique skill-set utilized to differentiate mortality risks. He has extensive experience handling difficult risks as well as working with attending physicians, medical directors, home office underwriters and clients on behalf of financial advisors and centers of influence. Moynihan and BSMG have introduced a dramatically different approach to mortality assessment: Risk Differentiation Underwriting (RDU). RDU is a transformational change in the way life insurance companies across the country analyze and price life expectancy. Moynihan is a graduate of Amherst College and contributor to several industry publications on various life insurance solutions. He has also been the keynote speaker for AHOU, CLU, IAFP and IRUA meetings on the subject of insurance underwriting. Moynihan can be reached by telephone at 800-343-7772, ext. 176. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.