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The Difficult Kind

Here’s how one advisor got through three of his toughest days.

By Peter Bates

Sometimes we all wish we had a time machine in our office. It needn’t be a very elaborate one, an early model that could go forward or backward one day would suffice—just enough to avoid the day of that particularly tough case. The day we had to mix professional rules with moral judgment; the morning we had to recover our footing after being blindsided by the unexpected; or the hour we had to decide what to do about a particularly cranky client.

Ned Ricks, CLU, is the managing member of Guidon Consulting, LLC in the Chicago area and the author of Principles of Principled Life Insurance Selling. A seasoned professional and 29-year member of NAIFA-Lake County (Il.) Ricks has had to deal with all three of these situations in his career.

Get rid of them
“When I was starting out many years ago, my manager accompanied me on an office call. I had an appointment with someone who was not in my market niche as a young, new agent: an old cranky businessman,” says Ricks. The prospect was sarcastic, stubborn, and uncooperative, someone who did not answer questions in the smooth and direct manner that Ricks had come to expect from classroom cases. Halfway through the interview, his manager looked at his watch, said they were late for the next interview and they left.

When they got back into the car, Ricks asked why the manager had concluded the interview so quickly. To his astonishment, the manager took the client contact card and tore it in half, saying, “One of the beauties of this business is that we don’t have to do business with people we don’t like.” Ricks learned that as a professional insurance agent, he had earned the right to strike the man off his prospect list and never call him again.

“That was very liberating,” he recalls. “Unlike working in a retail store, our job lets us choose our clientele. We don't have to grit our teeth and pop our tendons to work with such people. At the same time, agents should realize that not everyone is a prospect for them, today.” There are people who may be prospects for you at a future time, Ricks adds, and there are those who might grow into the type of services you provide.

The harbinger of bad news
Not long after Ricks submitted an application on another client, he found out that the underwriter requested additional medical information beyond the basic requirements. The man was an impaired risk, and Ricks knew that the premium rate he had so painstakingly discussed with the prospect would probably go up.

“After I heard from the underwriter, I showed up at the prospect’s house. The first words out of my mouth were, ‘They are asking for more money.’ I then braced myself for the worst, expecting him to say, ‘What are you trying to pull? Is this a classic bait and switch?’ The man’s wife reached across the table and said, ‘Maybe this means that you need the insurance more and not less.’ I could have kissed her. ... I later found out that the paramedical who did his exam had implied to him that his condition was not ideal.”

Ricks had been fostering a professional relationship with the examiner, who had then laid the groundwork for the bad news he was about to communicate. It also helped that Ricks was direct with the client and didn’t beat around the bush.

Do the right thing today and don’t worry about tomorrow
Sometimes a tough case can arise that involves colleagues, when you are called upon to think on your feet in a situation that could determine the outcome of your entire career. “I was an internal consultant in a company and worked with an agent who decided to take me into his home territory,” Ricks remembers. “I didn’t know this at the time, but the people in his culture used bargaining as a technique in dealing with business people. We went to the store of a prospect whose first question was, ‘What kind of a deal are you going to cut me?’” Ricks was flabbergasted at first. If he were a used-car salesmen or a flea–market barker, that would not be a problem for him. Yet in the state of Illinois, rebating was against the law.

“I told him that it was a crime for him to offer it and for the agent to accept it,” he says. The situation became heated when the man said he knew three other agents who would gladly give him a break on the insurance rate. Ricks picked up his briefcase and told the agent that he could not be party to bargaining, with its possibility of license loss and criminal charges.

“When we got outside, the agent angrily told me that I had embarrassed him in his community. My response was, ‘If you make this deal, you’ve got more than embarrassment to face.’” Ricks knew he had to think in terms of the long haul, and that he would not be working with this agent forever. But if he violated the law, he would have to live with that consequence for the rest of his career.

Peter Bates is a frequent contributor to Advisor Today. He can be reached at

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