The financial services industry is about to experience a perfect storm: A wave of retiring baby boomers will encounter an increasingly young pool of millennial advisors at the same time that a record number of insurance agents also are reaching retirement age.
A new book, “How to Qualify, Present & Sell Final Expense and Medicare Supplements to Seniors,” aims to fill that training gap by combining the advice of 35 insurance agents to help teach young agents how to sell life insurance and Medicare supplements to seniors. The book provides guidance along the entire insurance sales process, from prospecting for final expense life insurance needs to building an online brand.
Authors Glen Shelton and Justin Bilyj recently sat down with LifeHealthPro to talk about the book, why they decided to write it, their views on the current challenges facing seniors, and the opportunities young agents have to serve their needs. Shelton is president and owner of Lead Heroes and Bilyj is owner of Buckeye Senior Benefits and director of Digital Marketing at Bantamedia, both in Cleveland, Ohio.
LifeHealthPro: What is your background in the insurance industry?
Glen Shelton (seen at right): I’ve been in retail sales ever since I was 18 years old. I started selling insurance about four years ago, when I decided I wanted to get out of the corporate grind of retail sales and start my own sales-focused business, where I could have a little more control over my schedule and my work environment. I found an opening at an insurance agency nearby to sell mortgage protection life insurance, and that was how I got my start.
After about a year, I started to sell Final Expense life insurance in conjunction with mortgage protection life insurance. It was essentially the same product in two different markets, and as I honed my sales process, I really felt like the insurance industry was a better fit for my skills and personality.
After being an independent agent for a few years, I wanted to supplement my own marketing needs beyond the direct mail leads that I was getting, so I started to look into telemarketing. I noticed a lack of quality and service among other telemarketed lead providers in the industry, so I saw an opportunity to scale my process using telemarketers I trained to my own standards. When I found more agents who were looking for the same thing, I decided to launch Lead Heroes in 2015 to provide agents with quality leads and great service, specializing in telemarketed Final Expense and Medicare Supplement leads. Though we specialize in lead generation, we’re expanding to assist agents with other aspects of marketing, as well, so we’re not just a lead provider, but a strategic marketing partner for independent agents and agencies.
Justin Bilyj (seen out right): I have been in the insurance industry since 2006, but it seems like I have always been in the industry, ever since helping out my family’s P&C insurance agency when I was younger by doing administrative work. My grandfather, grandmother, mother, father, uncle and brother have all been insurance agents, so it was only natural that I followed in their footsteps as a third-generation independent insurance agent.
In 2006 I joined the surety side of my family’s agency, and was an agent until 2010 when I decided to switch to Medicare, following my uncle’s lucrative experience selling Medicare plans. After passing the health and life exam and moving back to Cleveland from San Diego, I first pursued under 65 health insurance by buying internet leads and cold calling small business owners for their health and life insurance needs.
After Obamacare changed the health insurance market, I decided to refocus on the initial reason I decided to switch to a health and life insurance license: to help seniors with their Medicare and long-term care needs. After helping care for my mother’s mother, seeing my mother succumb to cancer at an early age, and seeing my other grandmother go on Medicaid due to Alzheimer’s, that cemented my direction to help retirees and seniors with their insurance needs. The demographic change was just a confirmation for my personal reasons.
LHP: Why did you decide to write this book?
Shelton: As I was helping other agents, inevitably I would get questions like, “What’s the best way to work these telemarketed leads? What are other agents doing?” I would see one agent take our leads and have immense success with them, and then I would see other agents fall on their faces. It was repeated predicament that I kept seeing.
After brainstorming with Justin, we decided to start surveying agents to find out, “What are the successful agents doing differently?” Initially, we just wanted to create a resource that could answer some of these common questions. I figured if I could turn someone from failing on the first order to having success, that would be repeat business for me, and hopefully grow someone else’s business at the same time.
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We wanted to separate our book from any other sales training books out there, that say, “I’m the expert, and this is how to do it the right way.” I don’t believe there’s just one right way to do anything, especially when it comes to selling insurance, so our book showcases examples from a diversity of actual agents who shared their advice and verbatim scripts with us. I think that collaboration is what makes this book so unique, and why I think even a seasoned agent could read this book and learn a new tip or pick up a talk track that another agent is having success with.
What works for me might not work for other agents. Everybody’s different and everybody’s selling style is a little different. That’s what’s really neat about this book, is you have input from different agents selling these products a little bit differently, and that’s what makes this book appealing because you can take your own selling process and pull from what other people are doing, see what works and what doesn’t work, and make it unique to yourself.
I also wrote about the reasons that prompted the book on our blog.
With 10,000 baby boomers retiring every day, record numbers of seniors need help with their life insurance and Medicare Supplement decisions. (Photo: iStock)
Why did you decide to write this book? (Continued…)
Bilyj: I met Glen on the insurance forums, and then we got to know each other as I ordered leads from him. After being his customer for a while, I helped him beta-test a new type of lead he wanted to start offering, because of my background hiring and training my own telemarketers to generate leads. We started brainstorming questions that agents might ask about approaching these leads, and Glen explained how often he answered the same questions over and over from agents wondering how to effectively convert telemarketed leads into clients.
I understood the struggle, not just as an insurance broker, but also as a digital marketing specialist for Bantamedia, where I help companies answer their customers’ burning questions. We came up with an idea to write a manual to walk agents through the insurance sales process, addressing their most common questions and concerns along the way.
That led to the idea of getting other experienced agents involved to share their best practices, because we knew there were a multitude of ways to prospect and sell successfully, and that not one method always worked or worked for everyone. So, after creating some surveys and coming up with a contest for those who collaborated, we collected responses from over 50 agents, which we filtered down to 35.
After seeing the amazingly different ways agents approached leads, the manual blossomed into this book for new and experienced agents. We wanted to answer common questions with very targeted training information about selling these products. Unlike most other training options in the industry, we didn’t want to require agents to give up their contracts or commissions (or maybe even their independence), pay thousands for it, or rummage through hundreds of scattered online forum threads to find answers.
As we were writing the book, we became more concerned about the demographics change coming to this country. With 10,000 baby boomers retiring every day and the Medicare Trustees report from 2015 warning multiple times that the assets are at dangerously low funding levels, we saw serious changes coming down the pike. We knew seniors needed help navigating their choices in retirement, and we realized that agents needed help finding the training resources they needed to guide these seniors, as older agents retired from the field and left a gap in the market. By dedicating this book to the agents serving those seniors, we wanted to address the enormous implications of this unprecedented tsunami of retirement.
You figure at any given time there are over 100 choices for a Medicare plan, when you add up all the Medicare Advantage, Part D Plans, and all the different Medicare Supplement options for a given zip code. The vast complexity of those options can mean thousands of dollars in overpayment, either because seniors don’t know about similar plans with lower premiums, or because they choose plans with co-pays that cost them more throughout the year.
Our thought was: If the baby boomer generation is the wealthiest, and they are retiring en masse, let’s help them keep some of that wealth to give to their inheritors instead of lining the pockets of these insurance companies.
LHP: What other industry-wide problems were you trying to address or solve with this book?
Shelton: Beyond the questions that I was receiving from agents, I knew that in the industry as a whole, and from my own personal experience as an agent, training is hard to come by. I had very little training before entering this industry. Essentially I shadowed an agent briefly for two or three days. That was really the extent of my training, and then it was like, “Alright, go sell insurance.”
So that lack of training leaves a lot of agents with questions about how to sell these products. There’s going to be fewer and fewer agents as more insurance agents retire, so you’ve got a lack of training for new agents, and fewer agents out there to help these seniors, as there are more and more seniors entering retirement every day, and that’s going to continue to balloon for the next 10 to 20 years.
I wanted the book to level the playing field for agents by teaching them how to sell specific insurance products to seniors. I saw this resource as a win/win/win, because it would help my business, help insurance agents, and help seniors get the coverage they need.
LHP: What trends in the insurance industry make this book relevant right now?
Bilyj: I see this book addressing two trends, one national and the other industry related. The national issue is the demographic issue of more than 10,000 baby boomers retiring every day. The industry trend is that while many experienced agents are retiring, we’re seeing a high dropout of new insurance agents within their first year — exacerbated by a disenfranchised millennial youth that don’t like insurance, face-to-face sales, or working for commission only.
This book is aimed at killing two birds with one stone: helping seniors save money by educating new, young agents with processes and strategies that will empower them to take their business to the next level with tips and scripts they learn from the book.
LHP: What is the current situation with baby boomers, especially with respect to insurance? What types of products will they need as they get further into retirement, and where are they underinsured?
Shelton: A lot of times they are reliant on limited information, whether it’s from a local captive agent who’s only peddling a single product from a single company, or maybe they’re just going off of a friend or what they’re getting in the mail. So there’s a lack of information about what’s available, and I noticed that as a broker sitting down with seniors trying to explain different products. I’ve definitely seen a lack of information that they’re receiving, and insurance is constantly changing, so even if they got a really great explanation a few years ago, it’s not going to be exactly the same now. Medicare’s constantly changing, the rules and the laws are changing, so they need to continue to stay up-to-date.
As they get into retirement, Medicare’s going to be the most common product seniors seek, whether they decide on an Advantage plan or a Medicare Supplement plan. The whole idea with Medicare is that it doesn’t cover 100 percent of your medical expenses, so what are you going to do to cover that gap? Are you going to do a Medicare Supplement plan above and beyond that? There could be short-term care, long-term care, other retirement plans, and then there’s also the financial side of retirement and social security.
Bilyj: Baby boomers will have a tough time ahead of them, in my opinion. The financial obstacles that baby boomers will have to overcome include:
- Not saving enough for retirement
- Underfunded pensions
- Exorbitant health care expenses
- Needing more long-term care
- Medicare Part A and B assets are running out
- Social Security is running out as well
Some of the products that are paramount for seniors are a Medicare Supplement Plan G, a long-term care insurance plan with a 3% inflation rider, and some permanent life insurance to take care of their final expenses, as well as any drop-in pension or social security benefits for the other spouse when they pass away.
Not everyone can afford a Medicare Supplement plan, so they roll the dice with a Medicare Advantage plan that can have large out-of-pocket maximums and network requirements. Qualifying for long-term care insurance is increasingly difficult for aging seniors by the time it starts become a priority — let alone funding it in this era of unknown rate increases. Add on top of that a general lack of life insurance for people of all ages, and the situation looks rather dire for seniors.
I think baby boomers are in a pinch mostly because the Federal Reserve’s reckless monetary policy of keeping interest rates artificially low, which is eroding the purchasing power of seniors’ savings and the earning power of their pensions, while retirement plans are severely underfunded or axed altogether due to the economic conditions that these loose-money policies have brought. Plus, social security benefits are tied to an index that doesn’t accurately measure inflation, so boomers are getting hit on all sides of what they’re saving, earning, and spending. So you have the pickle we’re in today, where seniors are trying to figure out where they can cut corners to keep up with rising costs, sometimes deciding which days they will skip taking their overpriced medications so they can make ends meet on a fixed income.
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LHP: Where are retiring seniors often underinsured?
Shelton: On both sides, health and life. On the health side, Medicare Advantage has become hugely popular with the $0 premium and they think, “Oh, it’s free; I have health insurance and I don’t have to pay for it,” so there’s a big underinsured gap there on the health side. If they do have a “free” plan, there’s always the Catch-22 where if you end up using that insurance, you might have to pay a lot out-of-pocket.
One-fourth of the insurance workforce will retire by 2018. In the meantime, 90 percent of new agents burn out before a full year in insurance sales, according to these authors. (Photo: iStock)
(Author Glen Shelton continued…)
When it comes to life insurance, across the board whether we’re talking about younger folks or seniors entering retirement, very few people are properly insured for what they need, so that’s a huge gap. LIMRA’s 2016 Insurance Barometer Study showed that three out of five Americans (60 percent) report having some amount of life insurance, but it estimated that 48 percent of households (60 million) have an average life insurance coverage gap of $200,000, which comes out to more than $12 trillion in total market need.
Only 27 percent of baby boomers surveyed last year by the Insured Retirement Institute expressed confidence in their retirement savings, which is a 5-year low; 40 percent didn’t have any retirement savings at all. Plus, baby boomers are dealing with more health issues and a greater need for costly long-term care, compared to the same age group 10 years ago, according to the CDC. These statistics emphasize the huge underinsured opportunity there is in the senior insurance market, especially as baby boomers retire at record volumes.
LHP: The book focuses on Medicare Supplements and Final Expense products. Why are these products important and how can they protect retirees and their families?
Shelton: The fastest growing insurance market is the senior market for the reasons we just talked about. We have fewer agents servicing them while more and more people — 10,000 people, actually, are turning 65 every single day — and a large majority of those boomers are retiring.
I explained above why Medicare Supplements are important to cover the gaps that aren’t covered by Medicare, so if I was turning 65 today, being as educated as I am on the different parts of Medicare, I would want a supplement myself, because if you’re going onto a fixed income, like social security, a huge out-of-pocket medical expense could be detrimental. If you end up in the hospital and then realize you have to fork over $2-3,000 and you’re only pulling $3-4,000 a month for retirement, you’re going to have to dip into savings, or if you don’t have those savings, you could be financially stranded, and that could be very damaging.
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When it comes to final expenses, you don’t want to burden your family or your children with any possible debts or funeral costs, or force them to “pass the hat around” to cover the expenses you leave behind. Their last moments with you shouldn’t be spent thinking about having to pay out of their own pocket for your funeral because you didn’t have a plan in place for it. That’s the last thing I would think anybody would want for their funeral.
The agency that brought me on focused exclusively on life insurance; they didn’t believe in talking about or offering any health insurance. A neat part about this book is just that it’s all tied together, so you really can’t learn about one product without learning about the other. So a seasoned agent who has been selling life insurance for 20 years, maybe they don’t learn a lot about life insurance reading the book, but they had no idea how health commissions worked or the different products available, and now that’s something that they can help seniors with. So this book is positioned to help educate agents at all levels — whether they’re mildly experienced or brand new to the industry, or even if they’re veteran agents crossing over to a new product line.
Bilyj: We already covered a little bit about why I think Medicare Supplements are more attractive for seniors than Medicare Advantage plans, namely because there are no networks and lower out-of-pocket costs.
Final Expense life insurance is a good solution for seniors because they often lose their coverage for one of the three reasons we talk about in the book: they didn’t set aside cash to pay for their final expenses, they didn’t get a life insurance plan when they were younger and healthier (when premiums would have been lower), or they relied on a policy they had through their employer, and after they retired, they saw higher premiums, lower death benefits, or lost the plan altogether.