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GE Taps Celebrity To Pitch LTC On TV

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GE Long Term Care Insurance is taking its LTC sales strategy to television, and its enlisting the marketing prowess of Suze Orman to do it.

Thats Suze Orman, as in: the CFP who has written several New York Times best sellers including The 9 Steps to Financial Freedom; the insurance agent who now hosts a radio talk show named after her; and the financial advisor who currently serves as finance editor for CNBC, a GE-owned company.

GE Long Term Care, of San Rafael, Calif., is the LTC insurance division of General Electric Assurance Company, a member of GE Financial. The insurer has been selling LTC since 1974 and is a leading writer of the coverage.

Together, Orman and GE are marketing an existing fully-underwritten GE LTC that has been “packaged” to provide LTC benefits that Orman says are “essential.” Called Suzes Choice, it contains Ormans “specific recommendations” for the products personal benefit account, benefit period, daily benefit, inflation protection, and elimination period.

Why do it? For Orman, this is a chance to “bring out a product that will help people buy suitable LTC coverage.” For GE, it is an opportunity to reach a broader market. And both say that by “joining forces” they are combining two “trusted names in personal finance” to help consumers obtain LTC insurance.

Initially, the sales venture is concentrating on developing leads from Ormans appearances on the QVC cable-TV shopping channel, says Buck Stinson, president of GE Long Term Care Insurance.

In those appearances, she talks about LTC in general as well as the product. The first such show ran for several days in January, triggered 10,000 calls to QVCs phone center, and resulted in submission of “numerous” applications with checks included, he says. (Underwriting is still pending.)

In time, Stinson says, leads may also come from the product Web site ( and a related toll-free phone number.

In all cases, leads go to 100 LTC tele-agents, whom GE has “certified” to sell the Suzes Choice program, Stinson notes. These agents spend one to three hours on the phone with prospects, further educating on LTC; exploring LTC needs, ability to pay, medical history, suitability, product features, etc.; completing apps; arranging for underwriting; and so on.

To establish the program, GE and Orman cut a five-year contract. “Each party can back out” earlier, points out Orman in an NU interview. Thats important, she says, because if the program is not achieving the intended purpose, it can end.

While on a recent lecture tour, she was asked if the arrangement compromises her credibility as an independent financial advisor.

Her answer is “no.” Its structure precludes that, she contends.

For instance, it does not pay her a celebrity endorsement fee. Rather, “Im a licensed agent in 49 states, and I receive a commission on each contract sold. This is disclosed in the materials, and when I talk about the product.” (Note: the agents who assist the sale, at the telemarketing center, also receive a per-sale commission.)

In addition, Orman says she now limits where and when she talks about the product, or even LTC insurance. When she is on QVC in a promotional role, for instance, she will talk about Suzes Choice. But when she is at informational TV shows or lectures, she wont.

In non-sales settings, she adds, she “never” pushes her own agenda, not even to talk about LTC basics or her books. If pressed to say “something” about LTC insurance anyhow, she says her answer is always the same. “I say I believe in it. Its not for everyone. Here are good ages to buy it. And here are four good companies that sell it.”

Even when discussing the product, she adds, “I always tell people they can go anywhere they want to buy their insurance.”

What happens if the policys “recommended benefits” are not suited to a buyer? Questions posed in the “reality check” section of the Web site, and in the tele-agent training, help identify suitability, Orman says. If a callers answers to the questions suggest the person is ineligible for coverage or that Suzes Choice is not right for the need, the caller is told that. Depending on circumstances, “other alternatives” may be broached.

Further, if the policy is for a parent, “we ask to have the parent on the phone, too.”

Finally, Orman says that if she ever sees any “sign of abuse” in the sales process, “the deal is over.”

As Orman tells it, participating in the marketing venture was the logical next step in her career. She has been recommending LTC insurance for many years, she says, and people are now more educated than ever about it. However, people still are confused about what to buy. For instance, some celebrities think they need it when they dont, she says. Other people try to buy LTC when they cant afford it.

“I decided I needed to get behind a product I could support”a product thats suitable for many people in mid-America, Orman says. She reviewed several policies but settled on GEs.

Why the Web site? It provides a place where people can learn more, she says. It includes coverage basics; questions to help visitors decide if they can afford the coverage; and key medical questions. If they call the toll-free number, the GE agent will cover the same material in greater depth, Orman adds.

How will she assess the program? For one thing, Orman laughs, “QVC customers are vocal buyers. They call and complain if anythings wrong!” So far, no complaints.

Reproduced from National Underwriter Life & Health/Financial Services Edition, March 4, 2002. Copyright 2002 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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