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In todays Long Term Care world, many people promote themselves as specialists. I contend that there are Long Term Care specialists and then there are those who are specializing in a specific LTC product or product line.

A person specializing in a product, and who is in fact a “product specialist,” is extremely familiar with an individual product or product line. A “Long Term Care specialist” has a much more in-depth knowledge of the myriad facets involved in the LTC field that goes well beyond product knowledge.

As such, product specialists are often most successful when limiting themselves to direct client work, whereas Long Term Care specialists services and expertise are most beneficial to other professionals–those people who provide certain services to clients but dont have the time to become proficient in the complexities of Long Term Care.

While it is essential that LTC specialists be well acquainted with the different types of coverage available in the marketplace and the companies offering those products, they must also have a thorough understanding of the various LTC services available in both the public and private sectors, a working knowledge of the related legal and tax issues, and an exceptional overall grasp of finance.

It is also imperative to keep abreast of the constantly changing industry, in general. Long Term Care as a whole can include numerous funding methods for the many different types of services available for people in need of care. Therefore, it takes a great deal of initial education and research, as well as a willingness to maintain an ongoing education process, for one to truly become and stay a Long Term Care specialist.

One of the vehicles people turn to in an effort to increase their knowledge and professionalism is a designation. I know a lot of people who claim to be Long Term Care specialists and proudly display designations that have little or nothing to do with Long Term Care to support their claims.

Now dont get me wrong. Im a huge believer in the value of a designation, and would encourage any person taking the time and making the effort required to get any designation. However, getting a designation never made anyone a specialist, especially in the Long Term Care field. What an LTC designation course can offer (and the good ones do) is providing an elevated insight on what it takes to become and maintain the level of competence required to be a Long Term Care specialist. Sadly there are very few that truly fall into that category.

Unfortunately, what we find instead is an ever-increasing number of individuals who specialize in one companys product or one type of LTCI getting a designation and using it as the platform from which they present themselves as LTC Specialists.

When someones product line is limited to one company or type of coverage, they are specializing. What they know is one particular type of insurance. What they dont know, and in many cases are not even aware of, are the numerous other LTC funding vehicles available. Worst of all, in some cases, they arent even open to other possibilities. These individuals are Product Specialists (persons specializing in a particular product). They are not Long Term Care Specialists.

Let me give an example. I know a gentleman who considers himself a Long Term Care Specialist, and he promotes his services as such. Unfortunately he doesnt know anything about life- or annuity-based Long Term Care insurance. This, in reality, greatly limits his ability to offer alternatives other than one companys traditional health-based LTCI over anothers, and even then he is limited to the five companies he promotes.

What surprised me most was his response to a question I asked one day about funding the premiums of a Long Term Care policy. While working a joint case, I suggested we look at the possibility of using an annuity to insure the annual LTCI premium. I found his response most interesting. “I dont know anything about annuities, dont sell them and never will.” He went on to tell me in no uncertain terms that he was a “Long Term Care Specialist” and limited his practice to that.

I then asked how he addressed the issue of funding the premiums of a Long Term Care policy once it was in place. His response here almost floored me. He said he didnt care how they paid for it–that was their brokers problem; his job was to sell Long Term Care!

There is no question in my mind that he is a specialist, but he is not a Long Term Care specialist. He is specializing in selling one type of LTC insurance, nothing more. Not only doesnt he know about the numerous other vehicles available, he isnt even open to looking at them.

Product specialists are in a perfect environment when they are selling directly to clients while working with other producers who want to learn the ins and outs of a specific product or product line. In most cases, these people are limited in their ability to offer products by the contractual arrangements they have with their employers. A good product specialist has an unlimited value. I cant think of a better way to learn a product than to make money while doing it, and a good product specialist can do this for brokers.

Some of the most successful LTCI sales people are, in fact, product specialists. They limit the number of products they offer and have honed their skills. But whats most impressive is that the really great ones learn to identify those prospects that are best suited for the limited product(s) they offer instead of trying to make their products fit where they dont.

True Long-Term Care specialists are in their best possible environment when they are working with professionals to whom people turn for advice, i.e., accountants, financial planners, money managers, estate attorneys, etc. The advantage LTC specialists bring to the table is that they can review the needs and cost associated with Long Term Care and then design solutions for the planner.

In many cases, the Long Term Care Specialist will recommend a solution that doesnt involve the purchasing of a Long Term Care insurance policy. Their knowledge of the overall Long Term Care industry allows them to take into consideration the variety of needs and services available.

Although they arent there to give the client tax or legal advice, they are well versed in both and may provide information and documentation on taxes and laws to the planner(s) with whom they work. In addition, they can answer many concerns or questions the planner may have.

One of the most important tasks of being a Long Term Care specialist is the absolute necessity of maintaining a high level of confidentiality. A LTC specialist is almost always dealing with a client who already has a strong relationship with the advisor. In this situation, addressing Long Term Care is just one part of an overall financial or estate plan. As such, the advisor must feel confident that the LTC specialist can be trusted with personal and confidential information about clients.

When thinking about the difference between a product and industry specialist, my mother comes to mind. She makes the best cheesecake I have ever eaten, but otherwise she isnt a great cook. I love my mother dearly, and luckily her lack of cooking ability isnt going to have any far-reaching effect.

Unfortunately, for some prospects and their families, the same may not be true if the person presenting a LTC plan to them doesnt know there is a difference between a product specialist and a LTC specialist, or even worse knows the difference and doesnt care.

Jonathan J. Neal is president of the Society of Certified Long-Term Care Advisors. He can be reached via e-mail at jneal@cltca.com.


Reproduced from National Underwriter Life & Health/Financial Services Edition, October 10, 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.