The following response was sent to all A2Z Annuity Marketing affiliated agents on April 14, 2008 in response to Dateline NBC’s investigation of the sale of annuities to seniors. If you have any questions about these comments, please direct them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Our response to the Dateline NBC ‘Trick of the Trade’ show This is an editorial and solely the opinion of A2Z Annuity Marketing President, Kevin Wedmore.
The Dateline NBC presentation of ‘Tricks of the Trade’ on Sunday, April 13 was at best an unfair representation of senior marketing and at worst, sabotage and entrapment. While trying to catch insurance representatives misrepresenting products, Chris Hansen and his crew were, in fact, guilty of misrepresenting themselves. If the show had wanted an honest look at the products being offered to seniors, they could have interviewed any number of executives, actuaries, product development personnel, or independent agents and asked direct questions to find out if the products were suitable for seniors. Instead, Mr. Hansen was only interested in finding out how the products are presented to seniors, not whether the use of annuities as part of an estate planning and preservation tactic is appropriate.
That said, we should address some of the points of the show.
First, there did seem to be reluctance on the part of the agents shown to discuss the withdrawal and surrender charges that annuities contain. The show points out the reason for failing to do so is because of the large commissions the products pay. I, on the other hand, think many of the agents are reluctant because they are selling products that are heavily weighted with surrender charges. If you are afraid to discuss the surrender charges, then change what you are selling! The fees associated with taking out the funds early MUST be discussed. In the cases shown on the show, there was a medical necessity for the withdrawals. Are you selling products that contain terminal illness, home healthcare, and nursing home benefits?
Liquidity in general was another point addressed in the show. While Hansen made a point of the 16 year surrender schedule, he mistakenly said that the client’s money was not available to her for 16 years. That is obviously not correct, but the answers to his point were weak. Some of her money is available now, some next year, etc. However, nowhere did I hear any of the agents discuss annuitization or lifetime income riders. Two more points on this: First, why are we still selling 16 year surrender schedules with 20% surrender charges? Shame on you!! Second, I cannot agree with Tyrone Clark’s assertion that annuities are the most liquid investment for a senior. We have to stop making such outrageous claims. We have a great product that has done a lot of good for people for centuries. We don’t have to exaggerate in order to make sales. Learn the products, learn the flexibility of the products you sell, and learn to represent them truthfully. I always say that you get rewarded for doing the right things. And, I believe it.
Another point of the show was to show how agents misrepresented their credentials and misstated facts about competitive investments. On the credential front, we have too many fringe companies that want to make you look better by throwing your name on a book, your picture on a magazine cover, or some initials after your name. These items are what I call ‘ego’ items. The articles included are generally well written and informative. Why must you say that you wrote them, when in fact all you did was pay the company to print your name or picture on their ready-made copy? Give the client the information and quit taking credit. If you can write, then write your own brochures and articles and use those. If not, pay for copy but don’t take credit. Just let your client know that there is plenty of good information out there for them. And on the factual front, misstating the rating of the FDIC (there is no rating) or what their reserves are or what that means (yes, they are low, but so is the bank failure rate) is not appropriate. Marketing companies need to provide factual, useful information about why annuities are superior to other types of investment when risk, growth, liquidity, taxes, estate planning, and other considerations need to be made. Once again, we have good products. It’s like I tell my kids, “If you have to put someone else down in order to look like you are standing tall, then you probably aren’t standing very tall in the first place.”
And finally, although Dateline showed very little positive in the show (after all, they are trying to get ratings, right?), they did mention that annuities, and in particular fixed indexed annuities, can be a good alternative to other investments for the right people. Some independent financial representatives are under the impression, however, that annuities are a panacea for all that is ailing our economy. That is why we have new suitability guidelines. Annuities are great products and we can help a lot of people, but if our industry is only perceived as a bunch of salespeople trying to push products at the expense of the consumer, we will all lose. Let’s use this show to help educate our clients why we do what we do, how our products work, and what products we have, if any, that are suitable for their particular situation. As a representative of our industry, you need to take into account liquidity, growth, preservation, and asset transfer. You need to discuss the goals and dreams of your client as well as the tax and estate planning issues they face. And, you need to do so in a truthful and professional manner.
Yes, I agree that the show was put out there to show us in a bad light. And it did for the most part. I have to imagine that they found some agents that discussed things properly, that talked about the surrender charges and how and why they apply, and that were truly representing us in a professional manner. Unfortunately, I’m sure that footage ended up on the editing room floor. If there is no conflict, it doesn’t make for good ratings. Thank you Bill Denny for being the brightest light in the show. Even though Chris tried to make you look bad, you represented us fairly well. The others, not so good.
As far as how I would handle this if it comes up with your clients . . .discuss it openly. Let them know that you are disappointed anytime someone in your industry misrepresents the products and services we provide. I can assure my clients that I have been in this industry for over 33 years and that I could not have survived if I did not treat my clients fairly and truthfully. I can tell them to check with the department of insurance and the Better Business Bureau. I can tell them they can call references. I hope you can do those things, too.
If you have any questions or comments, please reply to this email and let me know you thoughts. And, if you are looking for a marketing organization that believes products need to be good for both the agent and client, that character matters, and that relationships are the most important part of our business, then give us a call. We’d love to hear from you.
Kevin WedmorePresidentA2Z Annuity Marketing, Inc.11805 N. Pennsylvania StreetCarmel, IN 46032Toll Free 877-752-0055Fax 317-706-6763www.a2zannuity.com Great Products . . .from Great Companies . . .for Great Agents A2Z Annuity Marketing is an independent marketing organization representing some of the finest annuity, life, and long-term care insurance companies in the country. We are recognized leaders in the marketing and sales of products for the Medicaid Planning, VA Aid and Attendance, and Senior markets.