July 7, 2014


1,000,000 cheque
Life insurance offers solid protection and powerful tax advantages when properly implemented. If buying puts you in a better position, why does the amount of money your advisor gets matter? Logically it shouldn’t. Emotionally, it does.

We Balk At The Unfair

We have an innate sense of fairness from birth. Give a child a cookie and they’re happy … until they see another kid got two.

Let’s say a stranger and you can share $10. The stranger decides on the split. If you’re not satisfied, both get nothing. If you were offered $1, you’re still ahead but would you let the stranger keep $9 (a 10/90 split)? Maybe you think a 50/50 split is fair but would accept 30/70. If you don’t get enough, maybe you’d cancel the arrangement leaving each with nothing. That’s what happens in the Ultimatum Game.
The Insurance Dilemma
Now suppose you don’t know how much money is available. You might might reject $7 if you think the stranger has more than $10 to share. Perhaps the stranger has $20 or even $100 to split.

With insurance, the products have margins built in. Advisors and buyers don’t know how much. Insurers decide on the split in value between the advisor and you. As the advisor gets more, you get less. Insurers who sell through independent advisors must pay compensation similar to their competitors. Otherwise, advisors are tempted to sell products from other companies (even if inferior).

You can’t tell if you’re getting an optimal deal since you don’t know what’s possible. There are different types of products (e.g., term, whole life or universal life), different companies varying in corporate governance and different ways to structure strategies. You only know what the advisor chooses to show you. You don’t know what factors influenced the selection.


If you paid your insurance advisor directly, you could compare what you’re spending with the value you’re getting. The industry fears you wouldn’t pay as much as advisors want. Their solution is to hide the compensation inside the products.

The lack of transparency has a side effect. You may think your advisor gets paid too much.

You probably don’t know what your peers earn and advisors don’t know what other advisors get paid. Compensation can vary by distribution channel (captive agents vs independent advisors vs national chains). While commissions are standardized within a channel, insurers pay varying bonuses (called “overrides”) to intermediaries called Managing General Agents (MGAs). In turn, these MGAs keep a small portion and pay the rest to the advisors contracted through them. Since top MGAs and top advisors get more, the rest get less. That seems fair — pay for performance.

Perceived Value

Becoming an insurance advisor requires little more than passing a multiple-choice exam. People who invested heavily in their careers — say by going to university, getting a professional designation or achieving financial success — may resent advisors making lots on a sale.

Sales success comes more from prospecting than technical skills.

Advisors who’ve been in business for 10+ years know how to sell. They look and act trustworthy. Appearances aren’t evidence of product knowledge or signs that you’ll get ongoing service. Advisors might keep selling what they’re used to selling rather than mastering better options.

When you have doubts about value and fairness, maybe you need more information?


PS When you fill out an insurance application, your advisor finds out what you're paid and what you're worth.

No comments: