The fine art of selling life insurance
by Allen D. Gersten, CLU, ChFC, CFPMr. Gersten, CLU, CFP, ChFC, is Chairman of First American Insurance Underwriters, Inc., an insurance brokerage firm. For much of his career, he was a highly successful producer, having developed underwriting expertise, particularly for impaired risk cases.He is the senior in-house underwriter and assists advisors in preparing their cases for market. Gersten can be reached at 800-444-8715 or [email protected].
In the spirit of full disclosure, this is a sales article. It’s about how to sell life insurance. If you’re looking for “sales tips” for making quick hits, this is not for you. However, if you’re committed to the value of life insurance and want to achieve superior results for your clients and yourself, you’ll find what you’re looking for here.
Selling life insurance never starts with a policy but with finding the right solution for the client, a task many agents find overly demanding and unnecessarily time consuming. Scoping out a client’s need requires asking the right questions, listening carefully to the answers, developing one or more possible solutions and arriving at an agreement with the client that best addresses the problem at hand. At this point, the client and advisor agree that the agent will construct and “price” the life insurance solution selected.
Thorough knowledge of the case
That’s what selling life insurance is all about, but what takes effort is the process for arriving at the most beneficial solution.
The first step is to know the case in its entirety and it’s the agent’s role to gatherthe necessary information, while the role of General Agent (GA) or Broker General Agent (BGA) is to analyze the data so that it becomes the basis for gaining approval of the most appropriate solution. This depends on the interaction between the agent and GA/BGA that continues throughout the case. At times, it involves gathering additional information during the development and underwriting phases.
Advisor and client objectives
As a component of this process, advisor and client each have their own objectives: The advisor’s objective. Agents want to place the case to satisfy their client’s needs and be paid for their creativity, knowledge and effort –– and it’s here that it can become somewhat dicey. The advisor’s discussion and relationship should make it clear that the client’s need is foremost and the agent’s own needs take second place.
There’s always much at stake for the agent,as competitive forces can impinge on good clients. Retaining the client and securing new clients are the lifeblood for the successful agent. Ongoing relationships are invaluable as they pay dividends in terms of referrals and additional business for changing needs.
Success and efficiency in achieving the desired result are critical to the advisor’s need to be professional. Equally important, agents must feel they are doing the most complete job possible for the client, which an astute client recognizes intuitively. All of which makes it necessary for an advisor to have a solid grasp of all product, carrier and underwriting solutions.
The client’s objective
To make the necessary commitment, the client must both fully understand and embrace the insurance solution. Once this occurs, the skilled agent will answer the many client questions as early –– and quickly –– as possible. Difficulties can and do arise as clients object to the price, changes in initial price projections or medical and financial underwriting delays. And, there are always unanticipated issues from either the client or insurance company. It’s at such a time that the process lingers and it can be helpful to remind the client of the conversations that led up to the decision.
Financial and medical underwriting
The foundation that undergirds meeting client and advisor objectives combines both financial and medical underwriting.
The case size dictates the nature and extent of the financial underwriting needed to evaluate and approve the case. Companies have differing requirements as to the paperwork requested, ranging from a notation of personal income and net worth on an application to third-party documents verifying and detailing a client’s various assets and considerations involved in the request for insurance.
Medical underwriting requires a front-end knowledge of a client’s personal and family medical history. It’s here that the advisor plays a key role since the more specific information that is obtained and made available to the GA/BGA, the greater the chances for success and a more efficient, successful process. Successful advisors take this responsibility seriously, recognizing that the fate of a case often depends on how they perform at this early point.
Life insurance company underwriting
Then, there is the role of life insurance companies in underwriting. Any one of dozens of carrierscan handle basic risks. However, only two or three maybe appropriate for a more challenging or sophisticated case where there are medical issues, financial underwriting concerns and pricing questions. It’s with these situations that the knowledge of what can work, what will not work and what is available to solve the problem at hand is critical.
Individual companies have their own unique approaches and pricing to problem resolution and underwriting. It’s important to know this or at least to have a sense of what may be needed for approvals. While this information is readily available, the question still needs to be asked.
Companies have the ability to “retain” a maximum amount of coverage for each risk based on their financial strength. In other cases, they will reinsure portions of the risk, which makes them responsible to the reinsurer. At times, a reinsurance relationship causes a company to be more conservative than one without that responsibility. When it comes to retention, this can range from zero to $40 million for a company.
Each insurance company has it’s own underwriting niches, special capabilities and perspectives. A company can offer preferential and more competitive treatment of risks when it wants to be more aggressive or “win” a case with a unique underwriting program that offers credits for various lifestyle factors.
Others may have special knowledge and experience in handling various type of risks, i.e., heart or coronary artery disease, certain cancers, diabetes, sleep apnea, particular types of tobacco use, alcohol abuse history or mentions and moral history among others. There also table shaving and upgrade programs, which apply to specific products.
The point is that underwriting criteria and requirements should formthe basic components in making carrier selections.
Managing three critical relationships
Perhaps the most significant task in life insurance selling is managing three essential relationships in such a way that the process moves forward to a successful conclusion: Advisor and GA/BGA, Advisor and Client, and BGA and Company Underwriting.
BGA/GA with Advisor. The core of this relationship is open and frank discussions in regard to expectations and the presentation of all appropriate alternatives to select the best plan that fits the client’s needs.
Advisor with Client
Clients must want to help their advisor from the start, feeling confident that this professional will help them make appropriate decisions and expedite the case. BGA/GA with Company Underwriter. Mutual respect and a genuine appreciation and appreciation for the role each performs are necessary ingredients in promulgating and maintaining a win-win relationship.
Presenting the case to underwriting
The methodology for presenting a case to the underwriter is an important step in the process. Once the relationships are aligned and the available information, including attending physician reports, are collected and analyzed, it’s time to compare company feedback and how the marketplace sees the case.
At this point, the advisor will have an estimate of what is possible and determine whether or not it’s likely to meet the desired objective or if it will be necessary to make a mid–course correction in setting the pricing expectations.
There are several initial ways to engage the company. Generally, a confidential quote (one that protectsthe client’s anonymity) is obtained by sending selected companies a carefully crafted summary of the client’s medical picture.
Responses from the summary usually, but not always, give the GA/BGA a direction as to which one or two companies would be the best choices to pursue further for an offer. If there seems to be a clear indication of a carrier offer, a trial application or informal application is submitted with the entire file.
There are times when GA/BGA discuss the chances and handling of a case with insurance company officials. It can be useful to let the company know that this is an important case that should be discussed with them.
Overall, the best strategy is having a plan that’s flexible and fully communicated to all parties involved, while having back up plans ready, should it be necessary.
Winning the case
Winning a life case –– making the sale –– depends on everyone involved maintaining an open mind and a vision, one that encompasses one or more courses of action for its resolution. In the final analysis, we all want to deal with those with a reputation for knowing what they are doing and who act with integrity.
There are many ebbs and flows that occur during the course of a case. If they are seen in the best light and dealt with properly, they create a winning result for a very satisfied client who offers many years of repeat business and referrals.