Being told no spawned a small rebellion that created a unique business focus for Matt Schmidt. (Photo: David Albanese)

Matt Schmidt’s life wasn’t supposed to be in life insurance. Schmidt, a 35-year-old independent insurance agent working from the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, suburbs said his career took a left turn when he was on the fast track to a financial services career.

Not that the career he ended up with is all that far removed from where he saw himself in high school. “In high school, I knew I wanted to get into this industry,” he says. “So I went to Kansas State University and graduated from the college of business with a degree in financial services.”

After an internship in the financial management firm where his father worked as an advisor, Schmidt interviewed with ten different financial firms in ten different cities. He landed a job at MetLife in northern Virginia, where he was trained well, he says.

Four years later, Schmidt, born and raised in the Midwest, returned to Kansas to work alongside his father. “The original plan was for me to transition and take over his book of business.”

Yet before that happened, his father was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. It was when Schmidt tried helping his father with estate planning that Schmidt realized his father’s options for life insurance were limited. The brokers the firm worked with said that with his father’s health profile, there were no life insurance options available to him.

That’s when Schmidt took up the search himself. After an exhaustive search, he found his father a policy. That should have been the end of the story. But for Schmidt, something was still bothering him about the situation. “We took our personal situation, multiplied it by the millions out there — people with diabetes — who are being told they can’t get it or they’re getting misinformation. That’s when this company took off.”

His company is Diabetes Life Solutions, an online-based agency that specializes in life insurance for people with diabetes. He formed it in direct response to his father’s experience, and he hopes to raise awareness among the diabetes community of the options that are available to them.

He himself is pre-diabetic. “I feel like I am part of this diabetes community, so I’m learning a lot about it. I’m only going on year five of really knowing what diabetes is. It’s an ever-changing thing. The technology, research and new medications out there is huge.”

He says one of the challenges of his job is simply staying on top of all the changes, particularly coming from the life insurance carriers. “Insurance companies are changing underwriting guidelines, which are more favorable to people in the diabetes community, so I have to keep up with these different companies and what these guidelines are.” He says at least once a month an insurer will change its guidelines.

Creating the market

What’s also worked for Schmidt is his effort to raise awareness, not just within the diabetes community, but with insurers. He spends a good deal of time working with insurance companies and underwriters, providing them information, statistics, and even meeting with them to discuss insurance options for diabetics. His efforts resulted in one insurer agreeing to create a product exclusively for his agency and specific to people with diabetes. “We’re making some headway, and we’re hoping to have one more insurance company by the end of the year to agree to a specific product exclusive to our agency.”

Maybe it’s because Schmidt has built relationships with close to 100 insurers that are offering life insurance options for diabetics. Maybe insurers listen because Schmidt’s company operates in all 50 states, D.C. and Puerto Rico, with headquarters in Pittsburgh, where his wife is from, and Wichita. He has 12 employees and does 90 percent of his work virtually. “You can do this job anywhere,” he says.

He’s even sold policies mid-air. On a recent, flight Schmidt spent five bucks for the in-flight Wi-Fi and had a conversation with his client, who decided to buy. “I was doing that at 30,000 feet. We are a fast-paced society. That’s the kind of world we live in.”

Another of Schmidt’s initiatives is to work with the American Diabetes Association to raise awareness within the community about the availability of life insurance for diabetics. One of the toughest challenges he faces, he says, is dispelling the rumors that suggest people with diabetes cannot get life insurance. “There’s so much misinformation that discourages people from even wanting to try. When I get a phone call or a chat through our website, the first thing people say is ‘I know I have diabetes and I probably can’t get insurance.’ We’re spreading the message. Of course, when you’re trying to reach a group of 30 million, it’s tough.”

The change agent

Tough, but not impossible. That tends to be a theme in Schmidt’s life, particularly when looking at the changes in the life insurance industry and knowing that Schmidt is a fairly significant reason that more coverage options now exist for diabetics. Yet he says it’s because the insurers are willing to listen, and partly because people with diabetes don’t fit the stereotype anymore. “People with diabetes are no longer, and really never were, the stereotype of being unemployed and on disability. Now we have athletes, NFL quarterbacks, race car drivers, Miss USA pageant contestants. If you have diabetes, you can live not only a normal life, but can outlive some of these other people who are making poor lifestyle choices.”

Even so, Schmidt continues to champion the cause for his clients. He says he’s proud of creating something that’s helping others. “Especially knowing what my father, my family and I went through, I tell people we’ve been there. I was told point blank by a reputable person that I couldn’t get insurance. I’m one of those people, if you tell me I can’t do something, I’m going to work a little bit harder.”

That tenacity is changing the life insurance industry, one insurer at a time. 

Know a great young advisor who is making a difference in the industry? Nominate them to be featured in The Succession Initative or LifeHealthPro’s 30 under 30 feature by emailing kbeckman@alm.com.

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