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Dealing With Underwriting Glitches

Use these five tips to expedite the underwriting process and get your clients the insurance they need quickly.

By Janet Arrowood

In an ideal world, selling, underwriting and issuing a life insurance policy would be quick and easy. The reality is quite different. Often, selling is the easy part, and the real effort comes during the underwriting process.

Underwriting glitches can arise from many causes. It can start to feel as though you are continually collecting “one more thing” to answer an underwriting request. Sometimes your prospect withholds relevant information. In other cases, there are underlying problems that are discovered during the medical underwriting or exam. Here are five ways you can minimize problems with underwriting:

1. Follow the application checklist to the letter.
It’s important to know what the underwriters want from you and your prospect or client. First and foremost, they want a complete application package. That means crossing every “t” and dotting every “i.” According to Everett Kunzelman, vice president and chief underwriter with Jackson National Life Insurance Co., over half of the applications it receives are incomplete in some way—whether it is a small or large detail.

Tip: If you write for companies that have websites for ordering and tracking requirements and status, use it. This is also a great way to correspond with the underwriter in near real-time without interfering with the process.

Remember, an insurance contract obligates the insurance company, not the insured or owner. That means the insurance company, through its underwriting process, makes every attempt to preclude problems prior to offering the contract. So the insurance company can, and does, expect you and your client to provide all possible information to protect the insurance company from making an inappropriate decision.

2. Send additional information.
There is often documentation you can send that, while not required, can help your case. If you know your client well enough to write a personal letter, do so. Underwriters want as much information—good and bad—as they can get, according to Kunzelman. If your client appears to be overweight, but is actually a squash player and weightlifter, tell the underwriter in a letter. This is not the sort of information that comes across in the traditional application process.

3. Don’t wait to be asked.
Talk to the underwriter. Ask what you can do to expedite the process and improve the insurance offer (from, say, standard to preferred). Also, if you know there will be medical or other requirements, and you have the authority to order information or procedures (records, exams and so forth), do it. Don’t wait for the general agent or home office to ask—that can add several days of delay for each requirement.

4. Don’t illustrate “superpreferred,” and always include a “standard” illustration.
According to Kunzelman, only 70 percent to 75 percent of life insurance policies are offered or issued as “regular-preferred.” Yet that is the rate most advisors show in the illustration process. That means 20 percent to 25 percent of your clients may be very disappointed in the insurance offer they receive.


  • Get to know your underwriter.
  • Dot the “i”s and cross the “t”s.
  • Whenever you can, write an agent’s letter providing essential information that is not obvious from the application packet.
  • Don’t over-illustrate.
  • Use the insurance company website.
  • Order as many requirements as you can rather than waiting for someone else to do it. Have and use checklists.
  • Don’t forget to get the right signatures in the proper places on all the forms.

Very few people are “superpreferred.” One way to avoid problems in underwriting is to match the illustration to your client’s actual physical condition. It is far better to get a pleasant surprise when the policy is issued at a better rate or with fewer restrictions than you led the client to expect than the reverse situation.

5. Do “field” underwriting.
The underwriter counts on you to make the risks with a client as clear as possible. This means you are the initial underwriter. If you know a client has a past history that might impact (positively or negatively) the underwriting process, you need to get that information to the underwriter. Remember you represent the interests of the insurance company as well as those of the client.

It’s also important to get to know your client. If you are writing an application for someone you don’t really know, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to provide the little extra details (such as an agent letter) that can expedite the underwriting process, and are far more likely to encounter glitches and requests for additional information.

Turn a problem into a sale
These simple steps can greatly streamline the underwriting process, often by days or weeks. They also increase the likelihood a policy is issued “as applied for,” and that makes for satisfied clients, more business and lots of referrals.

But remember, a problem with underwriting can also be a sales opportunity in disguise. For example, if the life insurance application process reveals that a number of close relatives had morbidity (health rather than mortality) issues such as diabetes or heart conditions, recommending disability income or long-term care insurance could be an excellent idea. You are in a perfect position to explain to your client that family history could make these policies harder to qualify for with time.

Janet Arrowood is the managing director of The Write Source/Continuing Education Unlimited Inc. She can be reached at

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