What products does your agency offer and what suggestions do you have for producers to further protect their clients’ financial well being beyond life products?
We present ourselves as a full service insurance brokerage agency serving financial services professionals using a product lineup that consists of life, annuity, long term care, and disability income protection plans from the major carriers in the industry. Our staff has more than 150 years of experience collectively and we offer, in addition to competitive products from financially sound insurance companies, a commitment to the financial services industry, the people involved in the industry and the people they serve, to bring the best possible carriers, products and solutions for the need at hand. The client’s best interest is first and foremost the most important thing for Benefits Brokerage Agency, Inc. as we engage in the business of brokerage. We feel it is important to work with agents that think and act along those same lines.
Consolidated Insured Benefits, Inc., offers whole life, indexed UL, term life and a complete suite of medical products. It’s our opinion that whenever possible all life products sold should include living benefits, chronic condition and critical illness. Life products sold with living benefits do not increase the cost of the coverage and allow for the death benefit to be accessed while the insured is living.
We are seeing a trend towards the hybrid life with LTC or CI type riders. The trend is important as we are seeing a shift towards this marketplace. The challenge for the consumer and broker is information overload–there is a lot of product out there! Many times a deeper analysis of your client is needed to get to the right suite of products. We have trained our brokerage consultants to work with brokers to help them understand the various suites of products and clear through the clutter.
Like most BGAs we offer life insurance. It’s been a mainstay of ours for ages. However, we’re probably more diverse in our “front-line” product offerings than many BGAs. We also offer disability income products; long term care insurance; fixed annuities; and non-health insurance group products: life, STD, LTD, dental. We’ve also started ramping up our efforts in the worksite life arena.
When I was young in this business I took for granted that this was the “way things were” in BGA product offerings. We’ve always offered more than just “cheap term and impaired risk” life products and I thought everyone in our space did. The multiple product lines allow us to open doors that would remain locked if we were otherwise only a life agency. We respect relationships that brokers might have with other agencies, but if a broker has a great relationship with another BGA for life products, that’s fine–use us for fixed annuities or DI. Just like a consumer might do the bulk of his grocery shopping at one supermarket, but just loves the corner bakery–we’re fine with a broker getting his French pastries through us while he gets his eggs and milk somewhere else so to speak.
For those who want to use us as their “primary grocery store” we’ve got the milk and eggs, as well as those French pastries, a great butcher shop, and the freshest produce. The proverbial “one stop shop” at play.
Likewise, in some unexplainable way it seems there’s a buoyancy to our revenues–if one product line starts to stumble, we’ve seemingly always experienced the dynamic that another fills in that drop off. And, overall, we’ve been fortunate that our diversity has led to slow but steady topline growth.
In a similar fashion I think that’s why a broker should not just be a “life insurance agent”–clients need to consider multiple insurance products and the people they refer an agent to might need a product beyond life insurance.
Our model has adjusted to this very recognition–not only by life insurance agents, but by benefits producers, property-casualty agents, and investment advisors. They are looking for education, training and often outright partnership or point-of-sale help in lines outside of their area of comfort. We are there as a credible and trusted source to help expand their practice beyond their core business and diversify their revenue stream.
The collection of products we offer is intended to encourage agents to protect their clients beyond the scope of life insurance. Our fundamental product lines include individual life insurance, long term care, disability income, critical illness and annuities. To accompany life insurance coverage, we offer long term care and critical illness riders. Pensions and life settlements are also available.
Our group product line includes life insurance / AD&D, dental, vision, long term disability and short term disability.
We recommend formulating a diverse portfolio of products to promote security for all stages of life; to help cover unexpected accidents or illness, to be prepared with income for retirement, and to support loved ones in the event of death. By doing so, not only will agents provide a more secure future for their clients, they also strengthen their relationship with them.
Much of the traditional training and education of agents has either evaporated or shifted. What does your agency do to fill this gap and where would you steer agents to find necessary training and education?
The level of new agent recruiting and training that was the norm in 1973 for me is almost nonexistent today. In order to separate our agency from others we focus on the “value added” every chance we have with a broker or client in a joint call situation. The extra time spent discussing with the broker the recommendation we are making has proven to be invaluable, as has the offer to participate in the face-to-face interview with the client to assist in making the meeting successful. Helping the broker in other ways includes utilizing the partner carriers’ vast supplies of information with broker meetings and WebEx training meetings to enhance agent understanding or provide training that they are not getting on their own.
At CIB, Inc., we offer extensive concept training. Concept selling is a much better platform to communicate with potential clients. Selling from the concept platform allows clients to see life insurance as a solution rather than as a product. If you ask 10 people if they want to buy life insurance, nine will say no. One will say yes because he is about to need it. Selling from a concept like tax-free retirement or college planning allows clients to view the benefits and rewards of the life insurance contract as positives and not view life insurance from the stereotypical negative perspective.
Brokers need to take the time to expand their education and knowledge of not only the products, but the underwriting programs and the advanced technology that is available in the marketplace. There is “product” and then there is “process.” Today’s modern insurance broker needs to understand both to move ahead. There may be very little difference in product and a huge difference in process–and that edge can win you a case. Then again, you don’t want to sacrifice products of better value for just an easier process. There’s a fine line and our brokerage consultants are trained to help brokers identify both areas. We teach and run programs daily. We are very consumer driven and attract brokers that are like minded.
We offer many educational opportunities for agents and brokers. We market many carrier or marketing group webinars and presentations. We direct brokers digitally to the endless array of training resources on carrier websites and industry websites. But we’ve taken more of a back-to-the-future approach after feeling many of these methods have fallen short: we see brokers. We call brokers. We have face-to-face meetings and workshops with brokers to provide information, product training and education.
There’s a manic chase for the millennials in our space–and every consumer space that’s out there. I get it. But I think too often an agency or broker assumes that their current constituents are those that will consume the trendy opportunities that are out there. We’re constantly bombarded by the fact that the average age of an independent producer is in his/her 50s. We can bemoan the fact that our future is bleak and we can wring our hands that the industry is not reaching younger consumers, but while we’re angsting away, we’ve got to make a living. We need to provide training and educational opportunities to the constituents who are here right now.
While those 50-somethings (like me!) have come light years in their understanding and grasp of digital opportunities, for the time being the old fashioned way is the way most want to be interacted with in my opinion. Don’t get me wrong, even the most primitive of agent or consumer is “jiggy” with current technology and it is a fact that more and more education and training is moving to a digital platform. It will, someday, be all-digital, all-the-time. But for now, I think the time tested methods of educating, training and marketing to an agent, or them marketing to a consumer, hold true.
Plowing through with accepted methods to one’s constituents while laying the groundwork, understanding systems and knowledge is the trick. I think we’re doing a good job with that.
While we continue to organize webinars and seminars for agents to learn about specific products or processes, our emphasis is on a personal, hands-on approach. Whether over the phone or face-to-face, we consistently coach them every step of the way. We recommend prospecting methods and provide customized materials, teach them sales ideas and how to recognize cross-selling opportunities, walk them through contracting and application processes, and hold their hand through underwriting. At the core, we provide a complete backroom support system.
Underperforming or soon-to-lapse policies can have major consequences for consumers and their financial planning goals. How important, structured and persistent are your agency’s policy review initiatives? What advice would you offer brokers?
Financial services products are critical to a client and his family or business. At times they require a rather large financial commitment to pay the premiums needed to maintain the products. With that in mind, it is extremely important that the client knows how his solution is performing, that it will do the job it was intended to do and that the value for the premiums paid remains. The client depends on professional advice from the advisor to know that the plan is strong. The client would likely have little idea of the internal impact on a life policy that has endured the most recent extended economy of low interest rate return. With a policy review, the client can be informed about the financial condition of his policy and, at the same time, determine if his current needs are being met or if they have changed altogether. My advice would be for the broker to call one existing policyholder per week and set an appoint to do a policy review on existing plans and discuss, with the age appropriate client, that long term care is likely in their future and that maybe the appropriate solution is a new plan with a long term care rider that provides either death benefit or a long term care pool of money if needed. How would the client know unless his insurance person called to ask for the appointment to tell him?
Life insurance solutions are often only as good as the person that designed them and their annual review to determine if they are on track to achieve the goal of the design. CIB offers a review and evaluation not just of the products we place, but of any contract a producer may encounter when interacting with clients. Simply offering to all clients with whom a producer may interact a policy review of all inforce contracts can create new business or solidify a producers professional relationship with current and prospective clients.
Brokers need to go through their block of business and sign up for the insurance company websites in order to monitor their business. Some companies even have monitoring programs that can help a broker better manage their business. While not every company has these set up yet, many do have programs–and some have programs that can even email important notices directly to the broker. The majority of companies are not physically mailing out copies of late notices and other policy owner notices that are sent to the consumer. In the past copies of these notices were sent out, but now they are being posted online for the broker to retrieve. The broker needs to manage their block of business, monitor the status, track conversion dates, and have re-illustrations run on a fairly consistent basis. If I was a retail broker today, I would be sure to set up a tracking system to include, but not limited to: Term insurance expiration dates of the guaranteed level premium; term conversion dates; and policy dates of UL policies so that re-illustrations can be ordered.
We try to alert brokers of pending in-force policy issues. It is a very difficult task to maintain. We will talk to a broker on an inforce client that has a term policy expiring or a permanent policy starting to lapse, but it is a herculean task. Especially given the complexity and inconsistency of policyholder’s service notifications across the carriers and industry.
My advice to brokers is to recognize their obligation to their clients to keep an eye on things. Meet with clients regularly. Call them. Make sure their situation hasn’t changed–if it has there might be an additional sales opportunity! But most of all make sure they remember what they bought, determine whether the funding level is appropriate for the policy’s current status, and be a resource for any questions or changes they might consider. These are “clients” not “customers”.
We strongly promote the importance of life insurance reviews and provide agents with a kit of custom materials to encourage them to incorporate them into their practices. In addition, we personally contact the agent when their client’s policy is going to expire in six months. When applicable, we suggest options and alternatives to continue their clients’ coverage, giving them the opportunity to preserve the security of their clients’ financial plan, and again strengthening the relationship with them.
Lower and middle income consumers, particularly those “just starting out”, have the need for life insurance protection but often can only budget for term insurance. What encouragement can you give producers to still reach out to fulfill these needs, and what suggestions can you offer to make term sales profitable?
With premature death protection being so important to young families, and cash flows being tight as they often are, the cost effective delivery of term plans starts a lifelong client relationship for the broker. Brokers should partner with an agency that is embracing the latest technology that carriers are offering that allows the transaction be handled in a cost effective way. Policy application, underwriting, and policy delivery can be handled via online technology. Quick turnaround time, complete and accurate application processes and prompt policy delivery can make a small premium plan of protection become profitable for everyone involved. And most important–provide a tax-free death benefit to a grieving family that might have lost a mom or dad.
Concepts! Even in the face of a term-only sale. Show your client a concept that may apply to them even though they are not in a position to purchase at the current time. For example: A new business owner is concerned with his retirement. Show him or her how to generate tax-free retirement. Explain that you understand that he is not in a position to execute this plan today, but you have provided a term product that will enable him to execute that plan without underwriting through conversion at almost any time in the future. This means that a quality term product must be used offering full conversion to any of the carrier’s permanent plans of coverage.
Regardless of how small or large the premium or face amount, there is a beneficiary on the other side of the policy. This is why we are in the insurance business. We need to help the consumer, regardless of how small the policy, to protect what’s most important to them. When a broker follows a principle of helping and serving the client, good things will follow. The “just starting out” consumer of today is the future of the business tomorrow–and if not them, perhaps their neighbor or the other referrals that come from providing incredible service regardless of premium. If you have the opportunity to make that personal connection, grab it! In today’s world the ability to connect on a one-to-one, face-to-face basis has become more and more rare.
As with anything in marketing, it’s a marathon not a sprint. Producers should recognize these are not just clients for life insurance, they are clients for life. Term insurance is a viable, practical tool for a young consumer. But life changes may dictate a change in product structure, a consideration of a product in a different product line, or at least additional term insurance sales!
Communication is the key, and I see an alarming amount of brokers who lose touch with their clients. It may be something as simple as a note on policy anniversary date to a full blown face-to-face policy review.
The age old sales adage of “see the people” can be morphed into a modern day adage “be seen by the people.” I am a fan of producer’s engagement on social media to allow their clients (and prospects) to see them. Periodic emails, websites, even activity in some of the social media opportunities constantly reinforce the message that “You’re my client and I’m here to help.” The fact is that the cost of such digital efforts is minimal which is an added bonus.
Life insurance agents must realize the importance of building relationships with their clients. If a client’s finances are tight, term insurance is a good place to start. It’s easy, inexpensive, and non-invasive—now that drop-ticket platforms are available. It provides them with a basic layer of protection. And, this is where life insurance reviews come in! Stay in touch with clients. Review their coverage and situation periodically and adjust as needed.
Impaired risk business is widely considered the foundation on which today’s life brokerage business was built. What experience can you share with brokers to help them best serve the “special risk” client?
Last but not least, instead of a broker walking away from a prospect that has a negative health history, build issue or other formally rated policy concern, do some “field underwriting”. Brokers should ask questions to find out all they can, bring those issues to the brokerage agency and ask them to help the client with his coverage needs. The more information a BGA has to work with, the better the chances a coverage plan design can be worked up by the agency that can fit within the client’s budget. That is serving the client well by going the extra mile. Not every client is 35 and preferred plus.
In the past there were carriers that focused on the impaired risk market, but as a whole the market has moved away from this strategy. Today’s best offers come from relationships built with focused and substantial production. Trying to place a substandard risk with a carrier as your first piece of business doesn’t typically generate the offers you desire. Carriers with whom producers have significant history, or their BGAs or FMOs have significant relationships, are the best sources of meaningful offers.
Every client is special in their own way. If someone has a medical issue, find an expert in that marketplace and find out as much as possible about their medical information. There is usually some type of product that can be obtained. Remember that underwriting is sort of like a yelp review, everyone has different opinions. Depending on the type of case, the experience can be different with different companies. Just like in any professional field, there are different ways to recognize those truly experienced in combining product knowledge, case design and the art of underwriting. A quick interview with the MGA/IMO, or some additional research, can help a broker save time in their quest to obtain coverage. Asking for their work history and experience, testimonials, or about membership in underwriting groups such as the Risk Appraisal Forum, can help you find the right agency to partner with ahead of time.
I remember fondly the golden age of impaired risk underwriting. Like many BGAs I sharpened my skills on the honing stones of multitudes of attending physician reports and many conversations with brilliant underwriters, chief underwriters and medical directors. There were a handful of dominant impaired risk carriers and by God, I was darned good at pointing a case to that carrier for a Table 2 rating or another carrier for a Standard rating. It’s what I did.
To a great extent those days are long gone. And, while there are carriers that will often do something that approaches the impaired risk days of yore, in my experience there’s been a flattening of the market. I’ve had wonderful offers from carriers of every shape and size. I’ve had rejections from things that I viewed as almost sure things from others that I thought would underwrite a risk.
As the clinical world has evolved it seems that carriers are often more comfortable with the information that they gather. An ounce of prevention in the clinical sense seems to allow for a pound of standard issues in underwriting as the industry seems to be very comfortable in offering up good offers on clients who’ve had an episode that affects mortality, but who has consistent, methodical follow up. Indeed because, perhaps, there’s no way a provider is going to let those with a medical impairment not get good follow-up because of liabilities, evolved protocols for follow up, whatever–there’s more information out there for a carrier, almost any carrier, to hang their underwriting hat on.
So the takeaway for brokers is two-fold: First, the consumer who’s experienced a medical pothole feels the power of life insurance–and they want some! Coming face-to-face with one’s own mortality tends to spur one’s interest in life insurance planning.
Second, now more than ever because of the dynamics above, there is a home for all but the very impaired risk client. Clinician’s efforts in follow up, clients efforts in preventative medicine and commitment to keeping an eye on medical conditions allow for more quality underwriting offers.
Now if those same clinicians could figure out a way to release those records of follow up and prevention in a timely manner, things would be really great! But that’s a topic for another article…
Since we started out as an impaired risk BGA, it is undeniably the foundation on which we were built. Our experience is extensive. The most important advice I can give is that when a client has a “special risk” (or risks), don’t shy away. Be open and honest about the effect it may have on their insurability and the importance of obtaining as much information as possible up front.
To make it easy, we provide numerous questionnaires that aid in gathering the necessary details for a client’s particular risk. Once we receive the information, we shop our carriers to find the best possible solution for the client.