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Selling the Stuff of Life

In honor of Life Insurance Awareness Month, I’ll relate the journey that led me to buying a term life policy.

It is often said that life insurance is sold, not bought. The implication being that people would rather not buy it and must be enticed.

But I would suggest that life insurance, especially term, is an inspired purchase. It is usually inspired by an event that reminds a person of the tick-tock of mortality. Term life is meant to make a family whole after the death of a loved one. Of course, dollars cannot completely fill the void left by a departed family member, but they go a long way to help families make it through. (Although it would be naive to say there was never a case where somebody thought money was a fine substitute for a spouse.)

In my case, the inspiration was sleep. I needed more of that. My wife and I had just moved to the Harrisburg area. We had new jobs and a new house. With moving expenses and selling a previous house at a loss, we were in a little bit of a hole.

Cue the demons that poke a person awake with their pointed questions at 3 in the a.m. “What would your wife do if you just up and died, hmm? … Suppose that funny bump in your armpit turns out to be an incurable, malignant tumor – what would she do then?”

I realized there was a way to take that log out of the blaze of anxiety: Get life insurance and fret no more. My wife took a bit of persuading. We were well on our way to paying things off, so why slow that down with a monthly premium? But eventually we ended up in front of an agent.


Becoming a File

It was not easy to find an agent. When I called around for our two relatively small term policies, nobody showed enormous enthusiasm. I finally found an agent, Robert, willing to do the business. I could tell, though, that his office processes and his attention to detail were not the most refined. In my first call, his secretary yelled to his office before transferring – a warning, I guess – and I had to give our names and restate my request a few times.

We finally got an appointment, but between my wife and me, we had a pile of doubts almost as high as the stacks of papers on Robert’s credenza. Robert dug out our file and verified our information. Or more accurately, corrected it.

Then he put down his file, looked at my wife and said, “Your husband loves you very much. A man does this only because he cares about his family. Life insurance is a gift of love.”

A feeling of validation washed over me and cleansed me of my doubts. My wife looked at this, and me, in a completely different light.

I have learned in my time at InsuranceNewsNet that what Robert did was essentially a sales tactic, but I can verify that it works. Always remember that just because people called you up for an appointment and showed up does not mean that they have complete confidence in their decision. In fact, it is safe to assume they do not. They need to be assured that they chose the right path.


Becoming a Process

We decided on a coverage amount, and Robert filled us in on the medical exam. A nurse visited for the tests and questions. Then we waited. We waited so long that we almost forgot we were applying for life insurance. I remembered one day and gave Robert a call. He dug around on his desk for our file and asked whether we had taken the medical exam, which we had taken more than a month earlier. He also had a few other basic questions that I thought we had answered.

Our confidence index took a dive that day. My wife and I were once again wondering whether this was worth the expense.

Robert called weeks later and wanted us to review the results at his office. As we sat before him, he pulled our file from the middle of his “In” stack. The company had pronounced me even better than preferred;  I had acheived the elite status of Super Preferred! I couldn’t wait to share that news with the pitchfork-poking demons!

Then Robert held an envelope and said that the carrier had found a couple of issues with my wife and she would be rated as substandard. He handed us an envelope that had the findings and suggested that we review them in private. He excused himself while we reviewed. The findings were things we already knew of, but we didn’t realize they would be big issues in life insurance. Still, it was disheartening.

Robert returned and saw that we were disappointed. He told us that people are rated across the spectrum and that the important thing was that we both qualified for insurance. We would be able to adjust the coverage amount if we needed to reduce the premium. Then he leaned forward and smiled at us.

“You both balance each other out,” he said. “I am sure there are many times when one of you has more of something than the other. I have always thought that was the beauty of marriage. One lends strength to the other when needed, and together you are a strong unit.”


Sealing the Deal

After some thinking, we readjusted the coverage and went back to sign. Although Robert’s comment helped us feel better about what we were doing, we still had our doubts. We went back to Robert’s office to sign. After Robert dug out the file from his credenza, he looked at my wife and put the file on his desk.

“I’ve been trying to remember who you remind me of, and I just got it,” Robert said. “You look like the first person I delivered a claim check to. Sorry, I hate to bring this up, but an agent does not forget the first time he brings a check to a family.”

It turned out the widow was not even aware of the life insurance. Robert had heard that his client had died, looked up the obit and obtained a check.

“I went over to the house and there were all these cars there, and I realized it must have been right after the funeral. I was really self-conscious and didn’t want to go in and disturb anybody. But I looked at the envelope and thought that I really wanted to carry this out, now.”

Robert knocked at the door and was brought to the living room, where the widow sat with her head down. The client was young and had school-age children. It was apparent that the death was a shock.

He asked if she would speak to him in the hall. He told her about the policy and the envelope. She took out the check and looked at it without expression.

“I didn’t know what to do, so I was about to say something and leave when she hugged me,” he said, looking off as if watching the scene. “She just started crying like all this worry came spilling out. I couldn’t help it – I started crying too. It seemed like quite a while, but then she let go, wiped away her tears, said thank you and went back into the living room. I left there knowing that I picked the right career for myself,” he said, apologizing for the diversion and handing us the contracts to sign.

I cannot even think about that story without tearing up a little. But I have to confess I often wondered how much truth there was to the story and whether my wife really reminded him of that beneficiary or if that was a tactic.

All I can say is that we signed without hesitation.


Steven A. Morelli is editor-in-chief for InsuranceNewsNet. He has more than 25 years of experience as a reporter and editor for newspapers, magazines and insurance periodicals. Steve may be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @INNSteveM. [email protected].

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