Sometimes You Simply Cannot Fix Stupid

I recently observed my twenty-third anniversary in the long term care insurance industry. I am not certain that the adage, “Time flies when you are having fun,” would be applicable, but it has prompted me to pause for a moment and to reflect on what has been a wonderful career in which I have genuinely helped countless people protect themselves and their families against the ravages of long term care. In some ways I was truly fortunate that my first claim occurred within the first six months that I was in the industry, thus making the “intangible promise” associated with the contract a very real thing to me as I helped the family negotiate the claims process.

One of my professional associates (not in the LTCI industry) asked me whether I still have the same “fire in the belly” that I had all those years ago, and to that query I could enthusiastically respond with a resounding “Yes!” He also wanted to know whether my attitude regarding the requisite activities at the point of sale had changed after all my years in management. And to this query I responded in the negative. Because I have “kept my hand in it” over the years, and still consider myself a Long Term Care Advocate (producer) at heart, I can honestly say that the belief system I embraced while a student in the Basic Training Seminar has remained largely intact and only the techniques and available tools have been subject to a few minor tweaks over the years.

Some of you reading this article may find this next statement shocking or even border on braggadocio, but I have always believed that the sale of traditional long term care insurance is a one-appointment sale. After about three or four months in the business of having to return to the clients’ house for a second go around where I largely had to repeat the interview and further answer questions, I discovered the importance of simply asking, “What do you need to think about?” or “Would six to eight weeks be enough to consider what you actually want this policy to provide you?” After asking one or both of those questions, I soon found myself closing about 90 percent of my appointments on the first go around. It simply made sense to do this, and so I really focused on identifying and personalizing need, creating the requisite sense of urgency that prompted the client(s) to answer the call to action in that first interview, and demonstrating the value associated with owning a policy. I have encountered producers who have made it a two-, three-, or even four-appointment process. Even after all these years, I do not know how one can make it more than a two- appointment close unless one is shifting to a different form of protection or lacks the confidence to ask for the application.

I can also remember how genuinely angry I would get at myself and how I would replay the interview in my head as I drove to my next appointment or worse, home with my tail between my legs, on those occasions when I had not closed the appointment during the initial interview. I learned that sometimes all that had prevented the sale from occurring was not asking that one additional question. That mini epiphany was enough to transform me into a long term care advocate.

Ignorance is defined as the lack of knowledge. I determined that after I had educated my clients, and they were no longer ignorant, that the decision to purchase a policy should be a no brainer. Yet I still encountered those who believed that “It won’t happen to me,” and that they “Would be in the ten percent unimpacted by long term care,” or, despite the irrefutable evidence to the contrary, they would remain in denial and unaffected by long term care. It was only after I realized that if I were conducting the interview in the same tried-and-true method, that the failure to close was not a shortcoming or worse, a failure, on my part, but the harsh reality, in the absence of ignorance, I could not fix stupid.

That may sound harsh, or even a tad egotistical, but because of the passion with which I approach each interview, I have simply come to expect to close every appointment when the client has the requisite health, wealth, and has been afforded the opportunity to become informed and aware of the risks and consequences of not purchasing a plan.

On the brighter side, more consumers surveyed say they are more likely to purchase a long term care insurance plan because of personal or family-related experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic. This has been most helpful in younger clients who have “lived the nightmare” of long term care with elderly parents.

While I long ago came to terms with the fact that we are offering a product that people do not want to consider for myriad reasons, including their own mortality and morbidity, I also realized that, like a lot of myths, it is our job to educate and make them aware of the pertinent risks and consequences and help them get out of their own way. The excuses we most commonly hear range from “It is too expensive,” “I am too young and can bank the premiums and save some cash,” “I am young and healthy,” to “Nobody in my family has ever needed it,” and “How do I know that your company will even be around if I ever need to file a claim?” Talk about an uphill putt!

Much like the specter of life insurance, which forces a potential buyer to contemplate his or her own mortality, most prefer to simply avoid the topic entirely until we peel back the onion, layer by layer, again using education and awareness to help them protect the ones they love. Overcoming this denial or reluctance is key to their accepting and planning for their mortality and building a strong financial plan for retirement and beyond.

With life insurance, when you deliver the death benefit your client is dead. The policy is for the people he or she leaves behind. With long term care insurance your client is very much alive, and thus the policy is for the living!

I also had to accept the fact that unlike a shiny new car or an exciting flat-screen television with all the bells and whistles, I was largely offering my clients a promise. A pledge, a piece of paper, based on an intangible promise that the assets and resources offered by the contract with the carrier would be there in their time of need. It is not about having a flashy animated PowerPoint presentation or glossy brochure but bringing sincerity, professionalism, and passion to every interview we conduct. The mindset that this is an interview should also dictate that the client will do more of the talking, or in a two-to-one ratio to what we are saying. Long term care insurance is all about helping them make an emotional decision to buy based on need and urgency, followed up by the logical reinforcement of this emotional decision.

So, again, it all comes back to education and awareness, and ensuring that your client is no longer ignorant or lacking in the requisite knowledge to make an informed decision.

As a “young” agent, I was taught that, after ten years in the industry I would be considered “older than dirt” and would have truly earned my spurs. Having eclipsed that milestone twice over, I can now say that the emotions that I experience when the sale does not occur have subsided from anger and frustration to those of acceptance and sadness for the client. A sale is not going to change my life, but the absence of a sale will likely impact theirs with the odds of a long term care incident very high. Tempering these emotions is the realization that while I can eliminate ignorance, it is not within my power to eliminate denial or to fix stupid. All I can do is to bring my “A” game to each interview, to be as professional and transparent (in a good way) as I can be, and to provide them with the relevant information necessary to make an informed decision.

A friend of mine who is ten years older than I and has been in the industry longer than I have, recently experienced a severe health scare (he was dead on the kitchen floor until he was revived) that I thought would prompt him to retire. When I asked him about it, he quietly said, “Only about ten percent have coverage, and we know that seventy percent need it, so I guess I will keep working until I cannot work any longer.”

He laughed when we recalled the ignorance and stupid dichotomy, and simply added that he hoped to find more of the former and less of the latter.

Don Levin, JD, MPA, CLF, CSA, LTCP, CLTC, is chairman of the board of the National Long Term Care Network and the managing general agent of PNW Insurance Services, a national brokerage which offers long term care insurance, short term recovery care, life insurance and annuities to the general public across the country. The long term care planning specialists and staff of PNWIS are proud to offer comprehensive individualized planning solutions to their clients while also working through a strategic alliance of financial planners, estate planning and elder law attorneys, CPAs, and other businesses and organizations.

Levin has been in the long term care industry since 1999, during which time he has been an award-winning agent, district manager, regional sales manager, marketing director, associate general agent, general agent, and divisional vice president. Levin is also a former practicing Attorney-at-Law, court-appointed arbitrator and is a retired U.S. Army officer.

In addition to his various law and life and health insurance licenses, and the above designations, Levin has also earned Green Belt certification through GE’s Six Sigma program, and is a graduate of GAMA International’s Essentials of Leadership and Management. He has also taught Managing Goal Achievement®, Integrity Selling® and The Way to Wealth® to hundreds of leaders and salespeople over the past fifteen years. He previously possessed FINRA Series 7, 24, and 66 licenses.

Levin earned his Juris Doctor from The John Marshall Law School, his MPA, from the University of Oklahoma, and his BA from the University of Illinois-Chicago. He is also a graduate of the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College and the Defense Strategy Course, U.S. Army War College.

He is a published author of nine books in a wide range of genre.

Levin may be reached via telephone at (509) 348-0206. Email: dlevin@pnwis.com.