Insurance producers may be missing out on an opportunity if they are not actively engaging with disability income insurance carriers to secure an important source of replacement income for employees in the event they cannot continue working due to a disability.

In these tough economic times, it is even more critical for those who are holding a job to protect their income. With the stock market decline, many people’s savings accounts have dwindled, and they have less of a cushion to fall back on. Should there then be an event that jeopardizes their ability to work, a financial safety net is needed.

Disability income insurance is the one product in the insurance market that guarantees that a portion of a worker’s income will be replaced, no matter what accident or illness comes their way. DI insurance doesn’t just fill a financial gap; it is the bedrock of families’ financial security.

This presents a huge sales opportunity for insurance professionals. Only 39% of Americans have some form of DI insurance, with only one-quarter of this group having portable supplemental disability income insurance, according to a study by Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Co., Springfield, Mass.

Even for many who do have some long-term disability insurance, coverage may be inadequate.

No one expects to have a catastrophic event in their life, but it happens. I know this from personal experience. While riding my bicycle on June 13, 1998, I was suddenly crushed by a falling 3-1/2-ton tree and paralyzed from the waist down. My income came to a complete stop. I was very fortunate to have a DI insurance policy in effect and have received benefits checks ever since my injury. My life would have taken a different direction had I not had this insurance. Not only would this have affected my life but also the life of my husband, who was suddenly the sole wage earner in the family.

People like me, lucky enough to be alive after such an accident, need a source of income to pay their bills. For me, that included bills from my hospital stay, surgeon, attending physicians, medications, medical equipment (wheelchair, walker, canes, crutches), personal care assistant, and physical and occupational therapy. On top of these injury- related expenses were my daily living expenses, such as home mortgage, taxes, insurance, gasoline, food and utilities. Disability income insurance is “living insurance.”

Often, insurance professionals find that a potential client resists having a conversation to discuss income protection. People often think, “It won’t happen to me.” As an advisor, it is your role to talk to prospects about the likelihood of a disability so that they can make an informed judgment based on the facts.

For example, the likelihood of being disabled for more than 3 months is greater than dying in any given year, the Society of Actuaries has found. And figures from the Social Security Administration show that before retirement age, 33% of workers will be disabled for a week or more.

A misconception prevalent in American workers’ minds is that most disabilities occur by way of an accident. However, the majority of long-term absences are due to back injuries and illnesses such as cancer and heart disease, according to the Council for Disability Awareness.

The reality is that most people with disabilities have acquired them due to a disease, either suddenly or gradually. This includes many illnesses that are inherited through parental genes. As your sales prospect describes what diseases are common in their family history, point out that acquiring such ailments only becomes more likely as they age.

One penetrating question that can lead to a fruitful discussion with a potential client is, “How long can you go without a paycheck?” Take note of the nonverbal clues the client may show. Then begin a discussion about the solution that you offer to a problem that you hope never presents itself. As the conversation continues, you will be able to determine how quickly income protection would be needed if a disability did occur, to help you to determine appropriate products to recommend.

An experienced salesperson is likely to have had past clients who have collected on their DI insurance policy. These insurance claims have given that producer first-hand lessons about the importance of the policy not only for clients who have gone on claim, but also to their family members. I find that prospects are far more likely to remember accounts of clients whom you have served rather than explanations of features of the DI insurance policy you are trying to sell them.

Be sure, too, to ask each prospect you deal with whether they know a friend or family member who had a disability and was unable to work for a significant period of time. Ask how that family was affected and whether they had a DI policy in effect. As a prospect shares such stories, they will increase their understanding of the hardship involved with a disability and the dilemma they would face without a benefits check from a DI policy.

DI insurance professionals have every reason to take great pride in the work that they do. In the darkest hours after a disability is suffered by one of their clients, it is gratifying to help the client collect on the benefits of their wise investment in DI insurance. The power of this investment is hard to reckon. There is no tool available that calculates the power of helping a person to take back their life and adjust to their disability.

Rosemarie Rossetti, head of Rossetti Enterprises Inc., Columbus, Ohio, is a sales trainer and speaker on DI insurance. Her e-mail address is Rosemarie@RosemarieSpeaks.com