Illustrated below is an attempt to bring you through the sales process of buying an insurance and also highlight the considerations (my personal views which you may choose to differ) at each stage of the process.
Stage 0. You wonder if you are adequately insured? What do you do?
You may choose to :-
Approach an agent with a life insurance company (This agent would be able to help you arrange insurance contracts from one life insurance company and up to three general (non-life) insurance companies);
Approach a broker with an insurance brokerage firm (This broker would be able to help you arrange insurance contracts from multiple life and general (non-life) insurance companies); or
Approach a bank relationship manager (This is however limited to the specific tie-ups that the bank has with insurance companies and more often than not, the bank will only select the more “popular” policies to sell).
Do absolutely nothing!
Note 1: The above descriptions are based on norms and exceptions to the above do exist. I will not be focusing on purchases via the bank RMs as their approach is typically transactional in nature and do not typically follow the Sales Advisory process that will be illustrated below.
Note 2: In many of the consumer materials, you will find the term financial adviser. “Financial adviser” defined by MAS refers to the financial institution/firm (i.e. They would be your bank, insurance companies or brokers etc). Representatives of financial advisers are called financial advisers representatives or FA reps for short.
Assuming you decide to meet someone to do your planning, this will then lead you to the Sales Advisory Process. The Life Insurance Association defines this as a 6 step sales process illustrated below:
Stage 1: Establish and define client-representative relationship
If you are meeting your FA rep for the first time, the FA rep will explain the purpose of the meeting and importantly the information that he must share with you would be the company he is with; whether he has an agency relationship with an insurer or he has a brokerage relationship with an FA firm; the types of financial advisory services and the investment products he can provide, whether he is remunerated by commissions or via a fee/charge for the advisory service.
Ask the FA rep to bring you through the sales advisory process so that you have a better idea of what is required at each stage of the process.
Note that you may terminate this process at any of the stages 1 – 5. However if you do so at later stages, you will invariably be wasting both yours and the FA rep’s time. So it is important for you to be comfortable with the FA rep AND the process that you are going through as early as possible.
In looking for a FA rep, I value chemistry and trust in the client-representative relationship highly, as I will be disclosing very confidential and personal information to the FA rep. Thereafter, I will consider his qualifications and track record to ascertain that he/she is committed to his field of work.
Stage 2: Gather data, including goals
This is called the fact-find stage. Any credible FA rep before he makes any recommendation to you must first ascertain amongst others your needs, concerns, financial goals, risk appetite, networth and importantly your cash-flow position, to ascertain if you have surplus funds to set aside a fixed budget before getting into new commitments. Unless you are committed to setting aside a fixed budget regularly to address your financial goals, you should re-consider getting yourself into long-term commitments. This is so that you would not regret on your decision and end up stopping your insurance pre-maturely resulting in a considerable amount of financial loss.
Note that before you start to reveal any confidential information, you have the choice of choosing the type of financial advice that you want the FA rep to provide. Typically they are:
Option/Type 1 Fact Find: Means that you request for full advice. This requires you to complete the full fact-find and provide necessary and accurate information in order for the FA rep to be able to perform a comprehensive assessment of your financial situation.
Option/Type 2 Fact Find: Means that you request for partial advice. This also means that you do not wish to provide full information and conversely, the FA rep would only be able to give you advice based on the limited information that you reveal.
Option/Type 3 Fact Find: Means that you request for product advice only. This means that the FA rep can only provide specific advice on a particular product to meet your specific needs.
Option/Type 4 Fact Find: Means that you do not wish to receive any advice and that you want your FA rep to simply out your request in relation to the type of policies that you want to sign up for.
As much as we do not wish for things to go wrong, you should note that by choosing options other than 1 for full advice, you are in fact helping the FA rep by reducing his liability when things go wrong with your policy. When FAs receive complaints from their customers in relation to their policies, the type of fact-find conducted and correspondingly the level of reliance placed on the FA rep’s advice and recommendations is one of the key areas of consideration on how they will handle your complaint.
Stage 3: Analyse and Evaluate Financial Status
This is where the FA rep after gathering the information in the fact-find form will go back and evaluate your financial situation in relation to your objectives. He/she may check back with you to clarify/ask for information that you have/have not provided during stage 2.
Stage 4: Develop and Present Recommendations
Based on the analysis and evaluation done in Stage 3, the gaps identified will form the basis which the FA rep will use to explore the possible solutions for you to meet your objectives.
Depending on the FA, some FA reps will give you a proper financial analysis report containing the information that you have provided in the fact-find form, their analysis of your financial situation, gaps identified (if any) and recommendations to address the gaps relating to the concerns that you have indicated to your FA rep.
The FA rep should be able to present to you in a logical manner based on the information that you have provided, what he/she has analysed and his/her findings in relation to any gaps that he/she has identified. Thereafter, he/she will present the recommendations to you. Ideally the FA rep should offer you two or more options and then help you to understand the pros and cons of each option. This will give you some comfort that he/she has done a reasonable amount of due diligence in working out the possible solutions for you.
Stage 5: Implement Recommendations
Provided that a need was uncovered when the FA rep presented his findings to you in stage 4, this is where you consider acting on the recommendations.
Do not allow yourself to be pressured into taking up any recommendations. Inform the FA rep if you feel that you need time to deliberate on what the FA rep has shared with you. This is to allow yourself time to consider if the options presented to you would be appropriate for you.
Based on my experience, if the FA rep has done a good job in analyzing your information, identifying possible gaps relating to your high priority needs and thereafter presenting relevant solutions to address your needs. It would be natural for you to initiate the buying process to want to take up the recommendations. A condition that I use for myself is that I must be at peace with the decision to go ahead in taking up the recommendations, if I have the slightest doubt, I will defer making any decisions.
Do note that you have the right to differ or deviate from the FA rep’s recommendations. In which case, if you choose to proceed based on your counter-proposal, the FA rep will make a note that you have chosen to deviate from his/her proposed recommendations.
At the point of applying for your policy/policies, the FA rep should cover some general terms and conditions of the policy with you. Importantly you should note if your policy comes with a “free-look” period that gives you 14 days to review the full terms and conditions of your policy contract. Should the terms of the policy contract differ from that which was explained to you by the FA rep, you may ask to cancel the policy and ask for a refund.
Personally, in identifying if a policy is suitable for me, I would ascertain what are the trigger events that will trigger a payout from the policy and then evaluate if these trigger events correspond to the situations that I want my policy to cover. Alternatively, you may wish to ask your FA rep using your primary concerns as a reference point e.g. In the event that I am stricken with an illness and unable to work due to the illness, how much will the policy payout etc? Once you have gone through your concerns in this manner and identified that your policy/policies will provide the necessary payouts in those situations, you should be able to derive some comfort to know if the policy is the right one for you.
Stage 6: Review with Client Periodically
A FA rep who is committed to his work and his clients will conscientiously keep in touch with you conduct a review of your policy/policies and to monitor changes in your financial circumstance. There is no hard and fast rule, but a norm would be to conduct a review annually. Should there be changes to your financial circumstance, you should also take the initiate the update your FA rep.