The power of super-specialization

By Steve Kobrin

The Firm of Steven H. Kobrin, LUTCF

My father, Leon J. Kobrin, is now enjoying the fruits of a career spanning several decades in the life insurance business. Ahead of his time, in the 1950s, '60s and '70s he ran a general agency specializing in impaired risk.

His business model was very simple. He became appointed with several carriers that manufactured simplified-issued products. He then solicited career agents for their outside business. If they were unable to place their client with their parent company, he had an outlet for them.

I have taken this basic approach to placing impaired-risk business and have broadened it to better serve more potential applicants. My objective is to get the vast majority of my candidates fully underwritten for an immediate benefit of whatever size they need and qualify for. I have taken the "family business" of specialization in impaired risk life insurance into the 21st century -- the era of super-specialization.

The financial services industry is now a blend of the life insurance business, retirement planning and the vast array of other insurance, investment- and planning-related services. A dominant trend has been for financial service professionals to become a "Jack-of-all trades" and make all these products and services available. Some professionals have banded together to form a service team operating through a boutique format. Others have joined large corporate environments in which multiple specialists are accessed. Still others have maintained a practice supporting only one or two products or services, and have affiliated with large distributors to outsource the remaining needs of their clients.

Ironically, another trend has emerged which runs counter to the multi-line and multi-service approach. The super-specialist has emerged as a superior problem-solver in a very specific niche.

The impaired-risk area of specialization is one of several in the life insurance industry. Low-cost term and estate planning are others. The impaired risk marketplace is enormously challenging, yet it can be tremendously rewarding for the broker. Chief among those sources of satisfaction is the ability to help people get life insurance who otherwise had severe trouble getting it -- or could not get it at all.

The consuming public recognizes the need to work with a specialist broker on cases that represent a higher risk. People with a serious medical condition, history of illness, dangerous vocation or hobby, criminal record or other higher-risk factor all realize that the average life insurance broker probably could not help them. Many other industries are comprised of specialists -- why shouldn't this be the case in the life insurance business? People know to go to an ophthalmologist for an eye problem and to a podiatrist for a foot problem. They go to their estate attorney to make their will, and to their real estate lawyer to close on their house. They call the plumber for a leaky faucet, and a carpenter to fix their porch.

In a similar vein, people understand that they will need special handling when they apply for life insurance. Sometimes this is because they have become frustrated and disappointed with working with brokers who are generalists. In other cases, they have not yet tested the waters by submitting an application, but recognize that their particular risk profile represents tough underwriting challenges.

Consumers need to be comfortable and confident when sharing their personal information with a professional. They need to feel that the broker understands and appreciates their situation. People can be sensitive about alcoholism, financial problems, depression, colitis and many other underwriting concerns. A broker who is unfamiliar with these conditions will not give a potential applicant the comfort level needed for full disclosure.

On the other hand, a broker who handles such cases on a regular basis can encourage the applicant to provide both the factual and personal data needed. Field underwriting is both an art and a science. A broker who specializes in impaired risk can manage both.

It is this thorough and accurate data collection that enables consumers that represent higher risks to shop for offers with the same degree of success as people who represent standard and preferred risks. The super-specialists broker can actually empower the potential applicant.

*For further information, or to contact this author, please leave a comment and your e-mail address in the forum below.