“We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.”
“Retirement is not in my vocabulary. They aren’t going to get rid of me that way.”
Readers of this publication are generally familiar with my ruminations on topics related to long term care planning and insurance. Being type-cast as a long term care insurance “guy” is understandable. Nearly 70 percent of my time in the insurance industry has been spent as a marketer, brokerage general agent, trainer, and consultant with a singular (some might say maniacal) focus on all things long term care. However, the first 14 years of my “agenthood” was spent in the trenches as a classically trained life insurance agent.
It may seem surprising to some that, as I come into the home stretch of my sixth decade on this planet, I am not longing for life in a planned senior community with a golf course and many recreational and cocktail choices. To quote the great George Burns, “Retirement at 65 is ridiculous. When I was 65, I still had pimples.”
COVID-19 gave all of us time to think about what we would like to do when life returned to some semblance of normalcy. As Ron Hagelman and I wrapped up a few consulting projects, it became clear to me I needed to “re-imagine” (I really hate that word; I have my pronoun and I’m sticking to it!) myself. An internet meme that circulated last year went something like this: During COVID, one became either a hunk, a chunk or a drunk. Having accomplished two of the three, I decided to add a fourth choice: Become a personal producing life insurance agent, again!
How could this notion possibly cross my mind? Could it be early-onset dementia? After all, in my early career I was not all that successful. Don’t get me wrong. I was a competent and knowledgeable agent but lacked the discipline to consistently get in front of enough prospects. Somehow, I sold enough insurance to get by, but Ben Feldman had no worries that I would surpass his sales records.
In the last quarter of 2020, as I contemplated revisiting life as a retail agent, some questions and ideas provided me with direction and a concept for this effort.
- LIMRA reports continued to point to life insurance ownership rates in the low 50 percent range.
- Has non-stop radio/TV advertising from term life call centers moved the life insurance ownership needle? Either no, or it is replacing what is not being sold by an aging-out sales force.
- Feedback from my BGA brethren suggested that most “financial advisors” do not sell life or long term care insurance. Many BGAs today actually write life and long term care business for financial advisors on a split case basis, something that most agents were reluctant to do a decade ago.
- Over the past few years I have helped some old clients and friends with their life insurance needs. The cases fell into two primary categories:
- Insureds who had purchased cheap 20-year term policies in their late 40s thinking they wouldn’t need life insurance after they were in their late 60s. They were wrong for various reasons, but now premiums were a lot higher, insurability was an issue, and conversion was not an option.
- Underperforming universal life policies that needed to be rescued.
- I reviewed the demographics of our local community. Our county has a population just north of 300,000 (small for California), a broad socio-economic profile thanks to the wine and tourist industries, and it is becoming a tech alternative to Silicon Valley and other parts of the state. We have a demographically diverse population; lots of small business owners, professionals, and families with a focus on community and “keeping it local.”
- I checked out the probable competition: Retail property/casualty and health insurance agents and financial advisors abound. Many offer life and long term care insurance, but based on their advertising and websites, these appear to be secondary offerings to their core business.
Maybe I’m a sap, but I’ve always believed that the services of life insurance and long term care planning are a societal good. Both make a significant difference in people’s lives while alive and at point of claim. After consulting with my wife and business partner Susan Blais, who’s been selling long term care insurance through a referral network she has established over the past several years, we concluded there is room for a local retail life and long term care insurance agency in our area. The initial goal is to establish a business presence via our local contacts and centers of influence, radio advertising, and a website with top-notch educational content. Blaze ‘n Bear Insurance Services, Inc., began operation January 1, 2021.
As I work to refresh my memory on a broader range of insurance planning topics, I admit that I have forgotten more than I remember. Interestingly, one of the first cases I wrote was a non-can disability policy on a young attorney, my first in over 35 years. The insurance carriers and BGAs I have affiliated with show a great deal of patience working with an “old dog” like me. The relearning curve has been steep but satisfying.
Our market focus is simple and clear. We help consumers mitigate risk. We do not give investment advice and are not looking for assets under management. After 30+ years of long term care focus, it’s a pleasure working with young people, especially when we can educate them on something more than just term life. When we sell term we always promote the value of convertibility. I am comfortable discussing the value of par whole life and the “Infinite Banking” concept. I like guarantees and reliable cash value growth. I wish I still had all those whole life policies I bought when I was in my 20s in order to qualify for contests or validate my contract. Indexed UL causes me concern. While some provide transparency, many do not. I understand their appeal, but I am worried that our industry is moving down another long and bumpy road that will not end well 20 years from now.
Working with small business owners is another key component of our strategy. While most plan to fund their retirement via the sale of their business, more than 95 percent do not know its value. We subscribe to a service that allows us to provide credible business valuation and helps us guide business owners in business continuation and succession planning. We also expect this to lead us into some estate planning cases, particularly if current laws are not extended past 2026. Long term care planning also continues to be part of our repertoire. Tax-deductible premiums and tax-free benefits still resonate for owners of closely-held businesses. An unplanned-for long term care event can blow up the best-laid retirement plans.
What has not changed in all these years is that consumers are reluctant to plan ahead unless, as Ron always says, “They’re touched by an angel.” When they do express interest in something we discuss, getting them to the next steps can be a struggle. Many people just fail to plan. Inertia, new “bright shiny objects” in the financial services space (ex. Cryptos) along with exhaustion from COVID-19, low financial literacy pertaining to life and long term care insurance and the unsettled nature of our times are all factors that cause frustration. Perseverance will be critical for success. I suspect it will take 18 to 24 months to create a robust prospect pipeline.
After 45 years in the insurance business, it is hard not to be a “student of the game.” When I was a BGA I was always gratified when one of my agents would actually try one of my marketing or sales ideas. Generally, they worked to some extent. Sometimes they did not, but learning from mistakes does make us stronger. I also remember getting calls from men or women that had never been in the insurance industry wanting to know how they could get started. I used to tell them it will not be quick or easy but being a successful insurance agent is rewarding for all parties concerned.
So, I am off on a new adventure. If you have any whiz-bang ideas that you think will help, please send them my way. I suppose from time to time BW’s fearless publisher will prevail upon me to share mine as well.
Good luck and good selling!