Irwin C. Cohen got his start in the insurance industry by selling accident insurance door-to-door for seven months when he was just 20 years old. “It was an absolute miserable way to make a living,” Cohen says. But it also taught him a valuable, if painful, lesson: If he worked harder, he made more money.
Thirty-six years later, Cohen is still in the industry and has worked hard to carve out a tremendously successful career selling disability and long-term care insurance. Cohen is president of Affiliated Financial Specialists, Ltd., in Chicago, where he is one of the most trusted and referable insurance advisors in the area. His company specializes in individual disability income protection and long-term care insurance programs tailored for attorneys and other professionals.
As a five-time speaker at MDRT annual meetings, he is a well-recognized expert who inspires fellow producers. Fellow DI expert Larry Schneider of Disability Insurance Resource Center calls Cohen “a natural, Babe Ruth salesman.”
Early on in his career, Cohen doubted he would last long in the insurance business. He worked for a couple of years at both Prudential and Aetna, and became a sales manager at Pacific Mutual. He was doing “OK,” but felt he was struggling and didn’t really know what he was doing.
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“The business was just miserable, and I thought, ‘I’m not going to do this for the rest of my life,’” Cohen says. He set a goal to get him out: Work really hard and put away $100,000 a year for 10 years, he’d have a cool million put away, “and I could then have enough invested income that I could get out of this miserable business.”
A funny thing happened while trying to execute that plan. His hard work made him really good at what he did, and the dollars – including renewals, naturally – started rolling in. It wasn’t a miserable business anymore.
Another key for Cohen was specialization. He recalls meeting one of the industry’s legends, Peter Mullin, and asking him what the difference was between the two of them. “His answer was, ‘If you look at the most successful people in the industry, they all specialize,’” Cohen says. He was then fortunate enough to find a mentor in Eugene Cohen (no relation), president of Eugene Cohen Agency, who helped him learn the ins and outs of the disability insurance industry (and remains a close friend of Cohen’s today).
A lesson from “The Greatest”
Cohen began selling DI in 1985, selling exclusively to physicians and dentists. Everything went swimmingly for a while, as the policies, underwriting and compensation all continued to improve. And Cohen was improving, as well, and doing it by outworking the competition. Inspiration to do so came from what might be considered an unlikely source: Muhammad Ali.
Cohen remembers when Ali regained his heavyweight boxing title by beating George Foreman in the “Rumble in the Jungle” in 1974. Much was written and filmed about that fight, and what Cohen took from it was Ali’s will to do whatever it took, even though Ali said he hated every bit of the training.
“He decides that if he wants to get his title back, he must be willing to suffer every day by doing more road work, more sparring, more jumping rope,” Cohen recalls. “Suffer now, and you’ll reap the rewards later.”
Cohen took a page from Ali. “I decided if I was willing to suffer every day and take more rejection and make more phone calls than anybody else, that ultimately I could build some renewals. In the willingness to give way to the suffering, I got good and no longer wanted to get out of the disability business.”