Life insurance—whether term or permanent—comes with a promise. Barring certain contractual restrictions, it promises to deliver to the beneficiary at least the face amount of the policy upon the death of the insured.
There is another part of this promise that’s tacit in nature and carries the potential for dynamic human interactions. This part of the promise refers to the delivery of monetary benefits by an advisor in a compassionate, knowledgeable and purposeful way.
Bereaved individuals and families often find themselves in a no-man’s land filled with confusing details, conflicting information and counterproductive advice in the aftermath of the death of a loved one. An advisor who recognizes these realities has the opportunity to establish or strengthen personal connections with the beneficiary at one of the most crucial times in his life.
A compassionate, knowledgeable and purposeful delivery of death benefits can give the beneficiary with a renewed sense of balance in life, feelings of connectedness to available support networks in his community and a positive story to tell others about the advisor. Such a delivery of death benefits can provide the advisor with potential clients for life, an instant referral network and continued opportunities.
Working with countless life insurance professionals and beneficiaries, I have discovered a simple formula for accomplishing a purposeful delivery of death benefits.
Statistics show that in the absence of a formal financial plan, approximately 70 percent of any paid benefit will be gone within nine months of disbursement. A closer inspection of some of the contributing factors points to a disconnect between potentially supportive entities and the beneficiaries themselves. In the presence of that disconnect, other entities that are only motivated by self interest find ways to connect with the beneficiary in potentially destructive ways.
The formula for success
So the advisor’s promise to deliver the benefit with integrity and dignity demands proactive involvement. The formula that addresses the challenges associated with death-benefit delivery finds expression in the following:
Information. Information is power—especially where death-benefit delivery is concerned. An advisor needs to have information about the general nature of the grief experience and the kinds of challenges the bereaved faces during the first year of the process. An advisor who possesses even a cursory understanding of the grief process enters the picture better prepared to work with the beneficiary. He can gain this information through additional training on the subject and by reading books that explain the process in terms that are readily transferrable to their responsibilities as advisors.
Awareness. Apart from personal issues related to loss and grief that may influence an advisor’s ability to proactively engage with the beneficiary, certain professional issues can also inhibit meaningful interaction. An advisor needs to become aware of and address areas that can potentially keep him from providing the ultimate service to his clients. These issues focus on:
Training and experience. Many advisors are ill equipped for any involvement beyond the claims process outlined by their company’s policy and protocol. A vast number of agents and advisors I have worked with say that training in this area was either nonexistent or sketchy at best, causing them to approach death-benefit delivery warily.
Resources. The availability of appropriate resources focusing on the challenges associated with death-benefit delivery is another issue. Since grief is an intensely personal experience, advisors often approach the initial post-death contact with the beneficiary feeling intrusive and voyeuristic. Advisors have expressed a need for a resource—a book, brochure, pamphlet or CD—to give to the beneficiary that provides structure and meaning for his grief experience.
Perceptions. Concerns over how the advisor may be perceived by the family or others is yet another issue. Many advisors have expressed reluctance to move beyond cursory claims process protocol due to the possibilities that others will perceive their involvement as self-serving in some way. The fear of being labeled as opportunistic often keeps them at arm’s length in the delivery process.
Efficiency. Advisors and companies often contemplate whether there are more effective and efficient ways to use time or resources than spending them on a more involved death-benefit delivery process. Many mask the discomfort of dealing with death and grief issues by calling into question the relevance of more direct involvement with the beneficiary in the claims process. I have often heard the argument that if involvement does not translate into profit, time spent in that activity could be better used.
Equipping. Additions to existing training programs can transform the tentative death-benefit delivery process into one of the most powerful client service opportunities ever.
First, advisors must receive training specifically designed to address the issues listed above. Second, they must have at their disposal a resource designed to provide beneficiaries with information, guidance and support related to the journey ahead as they learn to live in the aftermath of the loss of a loved one. This resource—a brochure, book or CD—can serve as a tangible bridge to the emotional gap that exists between advisor and beneficiaries. Advisors should give this resource to the beneficiary at the initial meeting, thereby opening the door for the crucial conversations that follow.
Next month, read how you can deliver death benefits effectively.
Mark Hundley, author of Awaken to Good Mourning—a personal guide through the journey of grief, is cofounder of Plano, Texas-based Journey of Hope Grief Support Center. This nonprofit agency provides free group grief support to people as they learn to mourn the death or impending death of a loved one. Visit www.johgriefsupport.org.