Go Ahead And Talk With Clients About This `New Normal World

by Linda Koco

Our nations leaders, including our business leaders, seem unified in urging the country to “return to normal,” devastating though the Sept. 11 attacks and now the anthrax cases may be.

Normal, as in resuming everyday activities–work, family, education, travel, community, etc. And, as in everyday buying and selling.

As a provider of insurance, annuity and other financial products, you are in a pivotal position to nudge this restorative process along.

As you do this, you may find the process brings you to new ways of tending to the financial affairs of clients. Far from going back to business as it was before Sept. 11, you may find yourself moving your clients and your own firm forwardto a “new normal.”

Well look at some examples in a moment. First, lets see why this subject is worthy of your active consideration.

The rationale behind the calls for restored normalcy is boilerplate logic. By resuming normal activities, citizens and businesses actually contribute to the war against terrorism. They do this by helping keep our society and economy strong. This shores up the publics optimism and future directedness. And it sends a loud and clear message to the world: “We wont be defeated.”

The strength, hope, and future orientation that flow from this must surely resonate with you, for these are among the very building blocks of the financial services industry. The more you emphasize these messages in your work with clients, the more you yourself contribute to the war effort, even as you help others to do so.

This is the back-to-normal our leaders are seeking.

No one can erase the loss and pain of Sept. 11, of course. Nor does any sober-thinking person suggest the country should function as if the attacks never happened. Hence, the back-to-normal calls are actually calls to draw people into the “new normal” mentioned abovei.e., into business and personal activities played out in full awareness of recent events.

As a financial professional, you can make a vital contribution to such an effort. Here are a few ideas that may aid you in establishing a “new normal” discourse:

Acknowledge the emotional impact of the events.

Respect that some people may be more focused on straightening out family or work issues, or reordering priorities, in light of the attacks, than on financial talk.

The discussion about this may establish a more somber mood than in prior planning days, but its grounded in the new reality. Most clients will no doubt appreciate your sensitivity and willingness to give them “space” to think/feel their way to reviewing their financial needs.

Permit the questions about death and dying.

Many producers have told me that in recent weeks clients are actually initiating calls, often with the premise of seeking life insurance. In the ensuing conversation, some callers reveal whats really on their minds: attack victims, death, and family issues.

In the end, some actually do buy life insurance, while others probe different financial security strategies. The point here is, the conversation establishes the groundwork.

Let the questions about death get personal.

Some clients may be so rattled by attack-related events that they develop a “why buy, if Im just going to die” attitude or perhaps a “why spend on insurance when Ill probably need this money for an emergency tomorrow” viewpoint. If you suppress such views, you may never know why a client rejects necessary planning. Conversely, if you let the views surface, you can validate the worry, give it historic context, and show why the sky may not fall after all.

This way, you can redirect such clients from despair to hope–the firmament in which productive planning occurs.

If clients worry about the safety of their insurance companies, respond with information.

This is a suggestion from Jonathan Pond, president of Financial Planning Information, Inc., Watertown, Mass., and author of 11 books on personal financial planning.

Some insurers and reinsurers did take a big hit as a result of Sept. 11, he told me recently after doing a Web cast for CPAs at John Hancock Financial Services. But he said producers could respond to client concerns about that by noting, “insurance companies prepare for these events. Thats why they have loss reserves.” They could also point out that “Sept. 11 was an extraordinary calamity, but it is not an extraordinary event” from an insurance standpoint, he said.

If sales have slowed, apply your extra time to working on business development.

Thats another suggestion from Pond. “The best companies do that. They dont just pare back” during slowdowns, he said. Producers still must make money, he allowed, but if theyre professional, theyll also look to the future.

Take the high road.

Troubled times always seem to bring out some “bad apples” who use scare tactics to drum up business. But any court docket or insurance department action file will tell you the obvious: Preying upon customer foibles is not a long-term strategy. Its far better to push the professional envelope. That builds clients for life.

Repositioning presentations for the new normal wont be easy for advisors who yearn for the “before,” when the sales environment was less somber and the discussions had a full financial tilt. Yet, each time you help a client to once again envision a future–reordered though it may be–you will be helping your country, your client, and your practice grow and prosper.

This is so for people in the home office as well as the field. Today, perhaps more than ever, you really can make a life-changing difference.


Reproduced from National Underwriter Life & Health/Financial Services Edition, October 29, 2001. Copyright 2001 by The National Underwriter Company in the serial publication. All rights reserved.Copyright in this article as an independent work may be held by the author.


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