It’s no secret that hard work is one of the biggest contributing factors in being a successful long-term care insurance producer. But loving what you do is also pretty strong motivation, and it’s helped make Alan Stuart the top dog in the business. The Encino, Calif.-based independent producer capped off 2006 with a record-setting $540,597 in policy sales, a figure that makes him the country’s No. 1 producer, according to the American Association for Long-Term Care Insurance.

While long hours and frequent weekend appointments are part of Stuart’s stunning results, an incredibly strong work ethic and a genuine appreciation and empathy for his clients hasn’t hurt matters. Stuart is a strong believer in doing plenty of up-front research, getting to know his potential clients’ needs and health history, and making presentations with those considerations in mind. Add it all together and there’s a lot of legwork involved.

What’s more surprising is that the 63-year-old Los Angeles native only launched his career in the insurance industry in 1993, having spent the previous two decades as a manufacturer’s representative in the wholesale diamond and jewelry business.

A little too much time on the road (not to mention the stress of having a million dollars or so worth of gems in his car at all times) prompted Stuart to explore new options that would allow him more time at home with his then teen-aged son Andrew. LTCI sales seemed like an honorable profession — a trait he says struck a chord after his many years in the equally honor-bound jewelry world — and he’s subsequently worked to create a profitable practice.

Nowadays, Stuart balances his schedule with plenty of time spent pursuing a hobby as something of an urban horseman: He keeps horses at a friend’s ranch in Acton, located on the north side of the San Bernardino Mountains, and has dedicated his Saturdays to trail riding and showing his prized animals.

“I get accused of working too hard, but that’s a relative thing,” Stuart says. “I frequently have to see people on evenings, but whenever I can, I check my schedule and enjoy spending time with my son, who’s now 29 and working as a manager in the music business. I also manage to spend as much time with my girlfriend as my schedule will allow — she’ll kill me if I don’t mention that.”

Jesse Slome, AALTCI’s executive director, says Stuart is a “classy, very intelligent guy,” a perennial leader and a dedicated specialist whose measured, detailed approach helped put him far ahead of the nation’s other 40,000 or so LTCI agents and brokers.

Senior Market Advisor: What contributed to your very big year last year?
Alan Stuart: Meeting with a lot of people. It comes down to having a lot of appointments to discuss long-term care with clients and, fortunately, having a lot of those people agreeing that they needed financial protection. It was really nothing special, just a lot of hard work. I work hard every year and I’ve probably been within the top 10 in any given year, but this year’s success was definitely a nice feeling.

SMA: Tell me about your start in the insurance world.
AS: Well, many years ago, when I left the diamond jewelry industry to be in Los Angeles instead of always traveling on the road, I was looking for new career opportunities and when I discussed with a few friends the concept of long-term care insurance, it felt like a good, needed product. One had gotten into LTCI and really liked it, so I did some research myself and decided to get my license.

SMA: What was it about the product that appealed to you?
AS: It was a gut feeling. It really just seemed like the product was clean and honorable and I wanted to try it. As I went out on my first appointments and discussed it with clients, I liked it. It was a fit. I always liked representing a product I believed in and this is something that has worked well for both my clients and myself.

SMA: How do you prospect new leads?
AS: My leads come through a combination of direct mail and referrals. I’ve been doing this a long time now, so I continually ask for referrals from those people I’m working with. I am in the process of looking for more financial planners so I can work with them and their clients.

SMA: How do you overcome objections? When people are being reluctant, what do you do?
AS: Overcoming objections is always an issue. Some of the main objections we get are affordability and denial — even when people don’t even know it’s denial. It all goes back to what I really try to discuss when I get my client to talk to me. When I hear what they want to accomplish, I’m also hearing what they are not saying. Psychologically, it’s bringing it back to them so they hear what they are saying. I deal with objections straight on, at the beginning of that conversation, because I will talk to them and ask them and listen to them. There’s a big word. Listen.

SMA: How difficult was it to make the transition from the jewelry business to the insurance field?
AS: It was very different because I was dealing with and working with the wholesaler vs. the ultimate consumer. I wasn’t sure how that was going to work myself. As I went, I meet with people on a one-on-one basis; I found that instead of trying to sell them something, I had conversations with them. That transition just happened naturally in that way. On my first few appointments, I didn’t really know a lot about the long-term care product. So when I sat with several clients, I handed them a brochure and I took one and we read that brochure together. Several people made the comment that they had discussed long-term care before, but that was the best presentation about it that they had. What I discovered was that they weren’t being informed.

SMA: So you helped them by learning yourself and educating them at the same time, and that instilled confidence in them.
AS:
Exactly. And in myself.

SMA: What comparisons would you make between your previous field and the LTCI business?
AS: Well, in the jewelry industry, there was a saying about having your word. You needed to keep your word because your word is what you had. Many years ago in that business, your handshake was your bond. I think in any field, when it comes down to all of us, our word is all about being honorable and having integrity. When you are really working in that way, I think most of us know if a person is being honorable with us. You want to do the best you can for your client in any business you work in.

SMA: What are your current feelings on the long-term care insurance industry?
AS: I think the long-term care insurance industry seems to be getting stronger and stronger. It’s also a greater need for all of us because since it is true that we’re all living longer. The family structure has changed and a greater majority of us will need some care at some point in our lives. I think our field and our product is just becoming more needed and well-received.

SMA: What motivates you in general?
AS: I love being busy, so I actually enjoy my work. I enjoy going on appointments and meeting with clients. There’s adrenaline that you get when you’re out working hard and doing a good job. I think succeeding is fun. It really is a pleasure to help people protect their estates and make a living at the same time. It feels good.

SMA: What’s your general business approach?
AS:
I have two appointment setters who help me in arranging time with my referrals. And before I meet with potential clients, I develop a full history on the person and their medical needs and I study that. I probably spend 30 to 40 minutes analyzing each client’s needs.

SMA: What kind of research do you do?
AS: I have some information about each client, including some health and age information. I look at the top companies in the long term care field, the top carriers, and I do a comparison after I’ve decided that one may be better health oriented towards that client, or the underwriting may be different. I may be looking for that. Once I’ve made a determination that a client is healthy enough for any of those top companies, I devise a plan and I compare each of the companies to find where my client is going to fall out best. I try to get some of that feeling about that client and the company and their fit before I meet with them. When I get to that client, I am more prepared to discuss what their needs are. This is a very emotional product and people have to look deeply at their lives, so it’s good to be prepared.

SMA: Many other producers don’t spend very much time with their clients. How did you determine this was the best way to help yours?
AS: Learning product knowledge was one step. People told me that I was informing them better than they had ever been informed before. I never want to present a plan to a client, then come back later and find out that another agent can do better than I can. Things change in this industry on a regular basis — new rates come out — and I want to stay on top of who’s doing what. I don’t want to lose my client and I don’t want to lose referrals, so it works for both of us. But I learned that people weren’t being informed enough. I feel my client should continue to research after I leave; sometimes it will be up to two months before I can come back and complete the deal, so the more they study, the better off they’ll be. I want them to find out I put them in the best place possible.

SMA: Success for you is still a lot of hours and a lot of hard work.
AS: Yes. In the long-term care field today, our clientele is becoming younger and younger, so we’re dealing a lot with working people, and as a result, you have to work a lot of evenings and weekends. Therefore, I try to be productive during the day. I get bored just sitting around during the day. I would rather try to be productive, otherwise you could really end up working a good 12- to 14-hour day. Luckily, there are breaks in between where you don’t have appointments, and that’s when I spend a lot of time at my desk. You never know when a phone call comes in. A big part of the job also comes when clients have been getting declined. You need to get the underwriting around and see if there’s any errors in medical records, something that might cause the problems. You’ve also got to make time to go out and deliver policies. It really does take a lot of time.

SMA: How do you spend your free time?
AS: Most of us spend time with family. My true free time, of which I don’t have much, is spent with my horses — they’re my personal passion. Not only do I spend time Saturday at my friend’s ranch in Acton, but these are show horses. I just lost my mare, and I’d shown her a lot, both locally and at out-of-state horse shows. I’ve won many amateur championships with her. I don’t take many personal vacations. But travel to horse shows and especially our yearly national show, I make time for.