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Meet the young agent who is cornering the high risk life insurance market

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Success can come at any career stage. Yet it comes as somewhat of a surprise that Jason Fisher’s success came now, when he’s still in his twenties and just four years into his career. With an eye toward modernizing the life sales process and a focus on an unusual specialization, Fisher has taken his entire business online.

Fisher is owner of BestLifeRates.org and his flagship website, waterwayfinancialgroup.com, both part of a two-year-old business that specializes in high risk and hard-to-place life insurance. It’s quite a surprising niche for Fisher, a millennial with just four years of experience in the life insurance industry.

Still, Fisher has found a way to leverage that experience and his knowledge of how the consumer is buying into a new venture that’s growing by the day. His independent agency works with over 50 A-rated or better companies. And while his fledgling business is still working through its growing pains, Fisher is seeing an increase in organic business: prospects that come to him via his website and not through lists or referrals.

It’s a far cry from his start in insurance, at one of the largest life insurance companies in the country, New York Life. There, Fisher says he was a “classically trained” agent — well educated and given the opportunity to learn and be mentored by some of the top agents in the industry. “I had a fine experience at New York Life. In fact, I would still champion anyone for starting there. It’s where I grew and learned the business.”

Overall, he was happy at the agency. But something was missing. He wanted to scale his business, but he was facing clear limitations. Even some of the top agents, he says, were hitting their limits in terms of commissions. Plus, Fisher felt the marketing he was doing wasn’t quite meeting his needs. There was the ability to create an online presence, he says, but the tools available to him at the time weren’t meshing with his marketing ideas. “The way you market as a captive agent in most insurance companies is your standard meet-and-greets and networking and door-to-door sales and cold calling — just your traditional, old-school style of marketing.”

It was a combination of that fact and what he was seeing in online forums that convinced Fisher to look beyond the traditional insurance business model. Agents online were discussing online business successes outside the typical agency model. Intrigue led to inquiry led to idea and then to Fisher starting his business.

The digital divide

For Fisher, the move was intentional and necessary. While his company did have an online presence and online marketing capabilities, Fisher wanted to do more. In fact, he wanted to do nearly all of his business online or over the phone. “I’m 28 now. At the time I started my business, I was 26. I do all my purchasing online. I make my payments online. The way I looked at it from a marketing and sales standpoint is an online platform is a way where your doors are open 24 hours a day. Someone can reach out to you at any time of day.”

So Fisher and a partner established their business in June 2013. He and his partner, who left the business recently, started marketing locally. Together they created over 150 YouTube videos. “It was kind of fun to have people calling and say ‘I saw you on YouTube, and I’m calling to inquire about X, Y, or Z.’”

That approach worked for a while, but like all marketing strategies, the results started to drop off, he says. Still, business came, but in unexpected ways. “We did okay locally, but we got more calls outside our city than we did inside. So we decided to market farther and farther out. We started going through all of South Carolina.”

Now, Fisher is licensed in 22 states. Not bad for a one-man business. That wider scope, he says, is where the real opportunities lie. “You can do inbound marketing locally through newspaper ads or billboards, but online you can increase your scope. You can go outside the city you live in, outside the state you live in. Suddenly, your market is bigger. Your hours of operation are near constant. From a marketing and sales perspective, your prospect range is now huge.”

His reasoning is simple: “If I’m such a small fish and I’m only going to get two percent of the people I talk to, why not increase that number exponentially?”

Too much too soon

Still, even with the potential in front of him, Fisher says he knew at the outset there were challenges. Not one for the limelight, Fisher responds to questions with “we” because he’s part of an online community for life agents, most of whom run the same business model he does. “We learned pretty early that you can’t fight the big boys online and win. Those companies don’t niche down as far into the life insurance world to get into high risks. It’s not worth it for them on the scale they’re working at.”

That’s where his smaller, narrower niche has paid off. Fisher says agencies like his are answering a market need and reaching the right audience. “We can market ourselves to individual markets much better than we can the entire market.”

Another challenge Fisher had was dealing with the usual workload associated with any startup business while trying to grow a book of business. Cash flow issues, growing too quickly, running out of resources all got in the way at the beginning. “That’s one thing: Our industry has made starting a business a little bit harder. You have to have more cash up front, and the management of cash flow has to be handled correctly.”

The cash flow was something he and his partner hadn’t expected. Because Fisher sells high risk products as well as traditional, the underwriting would take longer, which delayed further any commissions. Plus of the applications he processes in the high risk category, only half are approved.

Right niche, right timing

Fisher says that coming across this market segment has been a success. “Quite honestly, it’s going to be one that changes the industry,” he says. In fact, he has a message for veteran agents: “A lot of the calls we get are their clients who have some kind of term policy with them. Maybe they’ve had it for fifteen years and time is running out, and maybe they’ve developed a health condition, and now their own agent can’t help them. That’s what we do all day. It’s a pretty easy close for us. It’s unfortunate for those agents, but for my business it’s pretty great.”

He also credits finding his online community of life agents as the reason he went ahead with his plan. “Reaching out and talking to some of the people involved there, and getting myself involved through action in this type of emerging market is going to have huge payoff and big dividends somewhere down the road.”

Building and growing

Fisher is confident that his initial hard work and research has positioned his company well. He’s placed a heavy emphasis on education, and it’s evident from the articles he’s provided on his websites. “In the online space, if you don’t educate the person first, they’re one click away from leaving and never seeing you again. They click on and off your site in a second or two. If you don’t engage them in some way, they’re gone.”

His advice for agents starting out in the business? “If I had to tell my own brother, I would tell him to learn the business in a captive environment. You’re going to be well educated and you’re going to have a big brand behind you, plus you’ll have the support you may not have in an independent cycle. At the same time, I’d say you’d be crazy if you didn’t consider an independent, online relationship with your business. Like Wayne Gretzky said ‘You have to go where the puck is going.’

His advice for other agents: “Do yourself a favor and explore the online world. You may not think it’s that big of a deal now, but it’s where everything is going — everything from no-exam policies to guaranteed policies. People are buying insurance as fast as they’re buying something on Amazon.”

Lori Widmer is a Philadelphia-area writer and editor who specializes in risk management and insurance writing.