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Special Needs: A Large Niche Market With Personal Appeal

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When Nadine Vogel began selling products for the special needs community, she learned quickly that this “niche” market is actually very large. About one out of every five people is disabled, and one in nine children under 18 are in special education services, she says.

Vogel became interested in the market because she has two daughters with special needs. So, in 1998, the vice president of marketing for MetLife, New York, started MetDESK, a program through which planners can become specialists in selling to people whose children have special needs.

Because of all the legislation involved in funding care for children with special needs, Vogel felt that a comprehensive program was necessary to prepare planners who want to work in this area.

For instance, according to federal law, if a person gives someone with special needs more than $2,000, they automatically lose eligibility for
most of their government benefits, according to MetDESK (The Division of Estate Planning for Special Kids).

Planners who go through the program learn the legal and financial complexities in estate planning, ranging from life insurance, trusts, taxes and other issues. In addition, there are continuing education requirements so they continually are updated on changes and developments that could affect their clients.

About 70% of the specialists have children or a family member with disabilities, so they have firsthand knowledge of the challenges these families face.

Gordon Homes, who works out of Indianapolis, has been a specialist for about three years. When his son was diagnosed as a special needs child, Homes and his wife learned all they could about how best to help their son receive the care and help he needs.

Working in this area gives Homes “the opportunity to network with other parents with a common bond,” he says.

Being a specialist is not the entirety of Homess practice, but its a significant portion and the fastest growing, he says.

In order to be a specialist, this portion has to comprise a minimum of 25% of a planners business, Vogel says.

The appeal of being a specialist for Homes is “the satisfaction that you get from making an impact upon other peoples lives and knowing the peace of mind it creates.”

The specialists travel around the country to conferences and small support groups to educate families for free, Vogel says.

Interested families then sign up for “more individualized information with a specialist,” she says.

Homes says the products he recommends are not specifically designed for the need, but there are certain product applications that work well in this area.

Survivorship life is used frequently as a dedicated funding source for a special needs trust, he says. Term life is also recommended, as is long term care insurance for the parents.

“We try to match products to the need for coverage as well as ability to pay,” he says.

“We also focus on LTC issues for the parents to make certain they are prepared for care for themselves when theyre sick or older so resources that are needed to provide for their children are not depleted as a result of their own care.”

MetDESK currently has about 150 specialists and will have an open enrollment period in January.

The program is so rigorous, only about 10% of applicants typically are accepted, Vogel says.

“They have to have a good amount of experience in the business, in estate planning; they cant have customer complaints on record. They have to show a record of business that theyre going to work with the family and not rush the individual; they have to work with support groups and do volunteer work,” Vogel says.

Many of the specialists participate in Buddy Walks to raise money for a Down syndrome group, Vogel says. “They really have to be committed.”

Homes says if a planner is considering going into this field, he or she should “seek out opportunities that would provide training and support.

“There is a great deal to learn and know so its beneficial to plug into a program that gets you up and running and keeps you current on tax legislation.”

Also important is to weigh ones interest “because it does require a commitment of time and resources,” he says. “Talk with someone else currently working in the special needs area to seek information about their firsthand experience.”

A planner should also look at “the extent to which their education, training and experience will lend themselves to work in this arena,” Homes says.

“I was already a financial planner when I learned my son has special needs,” he says. “So I developed a personal interest and I was able to determine that my education and years of experience lent itself in a very natural way to working in this field.”

Reproduced from National Underwriter Life & Health/Financial Services Edition, October 3, 2003. Copyright 2003 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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