As I read the articles regarding “marketing to women” in the April 22 issue of National Underwriter, memories of an important phase early in my selling career came to mind.

Like most agents, when I was new in the business I had a lot more time on my hands than I had prospects. As a consequence, I was like an octopus reaching out for prospects and leads in all directions.

One market that I tried was selling to women, particularly single working women. I gathered lists of nurses, teachers, women entrepreneurs and executives. I was attracted to this market because, at the time, no one else seemed to be interested in it. There were very few women agents in those days and even they did not seem to be particularly attracted to seeking out other women as prospects.

Using a company generated pre-approach letter directed toward working women, I blanketed the various mailing lists I had acquired. My strategy and the letter I used were based upon these three well-established premises:

  • Women live longer than men.
  • Women prefer to retire earlier than men.
  • Women, as a rule, earn less than men.

All of these propositions complicate the retirement plans for working women–particularly single women. Thus the problem to be solved was easily established and my pre-approach letter offered a possible solution.

Essentially the plan involved setting aside a significant amount of money for 10 years, then letting the compounding of the accumulation build to a respectable figure, which could be used to generate income at retirement. Initially, the idea of a limited commitment of only 10 years seemed to have a lot of appeal.

The response from this direct-mail campaign was substantially higher than other programs I had tried in other markets. I also found that it was much easier to get appointments with respondents, which I believe validated the severity of the problem that women faced.

The women that I talked to were more careful buyers than men were; they asked more questions and displayed a bit more suspicion and hesitation. However, once they were ready to buy they were also a more loyal customer. I do not recall any of those policies ever lapsing and even today, over 40 years later, I still get notices of changes in policy status.

Included in the memories of that period in my selling career were several observations and a few special cases. Many of the respondents to my mailing turned out to be over 65 and still working, unable to retire. Even though there was not much I could do for them at this point, I nevertheless made my regular presentation. To a person, each of them said, “Why didnt someone show me such a plan 30 years ago. I could have done it, and I would not be in the fix I am today.” Several gave me referrals to younger nieces or daughters who they felt should have guidance today.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this effort was that, as I was gathering information about these women, I was surprised at the number who were caregivers or financially supporting or subsidizing one or more relatives. Nieces and nephews were helped through college–or children were being helped in buying a house or starting a business. But the most common situation was the care of a dependent mother. Married brothers and sisters with families of their own to raise were all too willing to let their unattached sister bear the brunt of supporting their mother.

Where such dependencies existed, I always offered an alternate plan–one that was open-ended rather than limited to 10 years. Such a plan (sometimes called whole life) offered greater insurance protection with only a slight reduction in the savings element and the option to continue the plan for a longer period. In every such case, the dependency issue always tilted the decision in favor of the open-ended option.

One prospect, a nurse anesthesiologist, was not interested in the insurance aspect but purchased instead the first annuity that I ever sold. Moreover, on two subsequent occasions she called me and purchased two more annuities. She told me, “I do not want to look at the newspaper every day to see if I am worth more or less. I just want to be sure of the amount of income I have and how long it will last.” Many women share that same view.

In the years following this experience, I became a CLU and gravitated to the business and estate planning markets. But I never forgot this experience, for it not only helped me to survive my early years, but it taught me a lot about people and their differences and their motivations for buying products. It was altogether a very gratifying period of service to some wonderful policyholders.

The articles in NU indicated that some things have changed, but the basics have not:

  • Women still live longer than men.
  • Women still prefer earlier retirement.
  • Despite progress, women still earn less than men.

The problem is still there and we still have the solution.


Reproduced from National Underwriter Life & Health/Financial Services Edition, May 13, 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.