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We Are All That Some People Have

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By Jack Bobo

Several months ago our business lost one of its most dedicated leaders. Jim Krueger was first and foremost a gentleman and one of the kindest people I have ever known.

But he was also highly respected as an effective leader, serving the National Association of Life Underwriters and the National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors in many capacities, and GAMA more recently as its president. Jim and his quiet style of leadership will be greatly missed. As an agency head for Aid Association for Lutherans he also served his company with distinction, as did his father before him.

My first contact with Jim was at a sales congress in Minneapolis more than 30 years ago. Jim was one of the speakers, and the title of his presentation was “We Are All That Some People Have.” His message was sincere and concise, and I always have regarded that speech as one of the finest I have heard in my nearly 50 years in the business.

The central thrust of Jim’s talk was that most people do not have a lawyer on retainer or a CPA and few, if any, have ever visited the trust department of a bank. And yet, people have problems in creating and conserving an estate to provide for their families. They have mortgages that have to be satisfied. The children require funds for education. Life must go on when the breadwinner dies. And who do most people turn to when in need of help with such problems? In most cases, we are the only ones who can offer help. We are all that some people have.

As I mentally review my own experience in the field, I recall many instances that validate Jim’s thesis. The backbone of our business community is small business, and it is also one of our most important markets. The average agent has little to offer the giant publicly held corporations, but in the case of small businesses we are often all that some of them have.

I remember two partners in an auto parts store in a small town in our state. The partners had known each other since childhood and were the best of friends, with wives that were equally compatible. I had worked with them in my previous occupation and had built a measure of trust with them. However, when I started to discuss the need for a partnership buy-sell agreement, their reaction was very negative. They felt such an agreement was unnecessary, given their friendship of long standing, and, in fact, might even imply a lack of trust between them. But I persisted, explaining the problems that could arise no matter how well-intentioned parties might be, and urged them to talk to a lawyer about an appropriate agreement. They took my advice, had a lawyer draw up an agreement and we funded it with life insurance. As often happens, three years later the older partner was diagnosed with cancer and died shortly after. To the surviving partner’s dismay, the widow turned into a witch making all kinds of unreasonable demands. But the buy-sell agreement held and the business survived.

The surviving partner said to me on several occasions, “Thank God, you came along when you did. We didn’t realize we had a problem and no one else had alerted us.”

I also remember two brothers who owned a very successful shoe store. One brother was married to a woman who had inherited a lot of money, and he did not see the need for an agreement to buy out his brother’s interest in the event of death. The other brother had no such resources at his disposal and was much quicker to realize the need for a funded buy-sell agreement. It wasn’t easy, but by carefully outlining the problems that can occur when a partner dies, the older brother came around and finally agreed that they needed to take action.

Following the axiom, “get the insurance in force before you go to the lawyer,” I had policies issued on both of them. To my surprise, when I walked into the office of the lawyer they recommended and handed the policy to the lawyer, he stood up behind his desk, held out his hand and said, “I want to shake your hand, for you have done what nobody else has been able to do–get those brothers to face reality.” Many years later this agreement was also executed smoothly when the older brother died of complication from myasthenia gravis.

I remember so many poignant experiences when our product was the only help available. Topping this list was my meeting many years ago with a young Air Force pilot who was adding to his personal insurance program. When I had completed the application on his life he said he also wanted a smaller policy on the life of each of his two young boys. After a minute or two, and somewhat misty-eyed, he told me why he wanted to insure his boys. He said that while stationed in the Philippines they had lost their little girl. It was very expensive to fly the whole family back to Ohio for the funeral, and there were also high costs associated with shipping a body out of one country and into another. He went on to say they had no money to speak of so he had to take out a loan to pay the bills. Then he asked me, “Did you ever have to pay for a funeral on the installment plan?” He said every time he made a payment he thought of their little girl. He finally sold his car to pay off the loan.

We are all that some people have to deal with some of life’s most difficult problems.

The backbone of our business community is small business, and it is also one of our most important markets. The average agent has little to offer the giant publicly held corporations, but in the case of small business we are often all that some of them have.”