Alan Benedict – The Star of Final Expense
On April 12, 2016
Alan Benedict spends his days talking about funerals, burial plots and the cost of dying — and loves doing it — so you’d be forgiven for thinking his after-work hobbies might also run grim. Taxidermy, maybe.
But once the sun goes down, you’ll actually find Benedict out on the town, mastering the cha-cha, the tango and the salsa on the dance floors of Los Angeles. Or he could be on a cruise ship somewhere, serving as a gentleman dance host to lonely, vacationing widows.
Seem like a bizarre contrast? Not to Benedict. He’s living the dream — easily balancing a career he enjoys and a passion for ballroom dance. And he believes it’s mostly because he opted to exclusively sell Final Expense, a product that provides him ample income and plenty of free time.
Finding his rhythm
If you ask Benedict what he likes about selling Final Expense, he’ll start ticking off a list. He’s his own boss. He can make an annual income in the low six figures. He has lots of free time to spend on dancing and cruising.
But he hasn’t always been a Final Expense devotee. In 1986, when he started selling insurance, he offered a full range of products to his clients. After a few years, though, he got tired of dealing with underwriting hassles and started to find the product variety a bit daunting.
“In those days, you had to be all things to all people, and it was just getting complicated,” he says. “I thought, there has to be a simpler method.”
Benedict started looking for a specialty, and that’s when he found Final Expense. The small policies — typically $7,000 to $10,000 a person — have few underwriting requirements, and Benedict liked the idea of helping lower- and middle-income clients. “I grew up in Ohio and Indiana, with low-income parents,” he says. “I knew the value of this little policy.”
Benedict started selling Final Expense in 1996 and hasn’t looked back. Today, he writes about 250 to 300 policies a year and is widely considered a foremost expert in the field, regularly writing on the subject for print and online publications — including Life Insurance Selling.
But the most rewarding part of the job, Benedict says, is the satisfaction that comes from knowing he’s helping families.
“You’re sitting across the kitchen table from them, giving them peace of mind, so they know they won’t be a burden to their family,” he says. “And these people really, really appreciate you being there for them. They call me to say, ‘Thank you.’ Sometimes the family invites me to the funeral. They just so appreciate it. Nothing compares to Final Expense.”
Perfecting his steps
Over the years, Benedict has developed and fine-tuned a standard method for finding and selling to those grateful Final Expense prospects.
He uses turnkey direct mail houses to send out prospecting letters, targeting households with annual incomes of $50,000 or less between the ages of 55 and 80 years old. About 1% to 2% of those who receive the letter will send back a response card, indicating they’re interested in hearing more.
Benedict, an advocate of the “see the people” method of selling, doesn’t bother to call these prospects back. He hops in his car every morning, with the cards tucked into a clipboard, and starts ringing their doorbells.
“You’ve heard of drive-by shootings? This is drive-by selling,” Benedict says.
He aims to make 10 stops a day, and finds that about two-thirds of the homes he visits are happy to let him in.
Benedict always brings two important selling tools with him: price lists from local funeral homes and burial cost estimates from area cemeteries.
By federal law, the funeral price lists — called GPLs, or general price lists — are available to anyone who requests them, and many homes will have them sitting out near the entry way. Benedict makes a point of swinging by a few local funeral homes every so often to get updated pricing information.
The burial cost estimates are more difficult to come by, since cemeteries are not obligated to provide the information. Some are willing to give it out anyway, as long as you ask, Benedict says. For the less-willing cemeteries, Benedict just asks around and is usually able to come up with an estimated price range.
He shows these lists to prospects to give them an idea of the cost of dying. Most aren’t aware, Benedict says, that the average funeral costs $7,500. If you include cemetery plots, the tab rises to $10,000 to $12,000.
“Once they see what these prices are, they’re usually taken aback,” Benedict says. “The people in this kind of economic segment, they don’t have that kind of money just sitting around.”
And after that, selling Final Expense becomes pretty easy. Most of the policies are under $10,000 with an average premium of $50 a month, per person. Anything higher than that is unaffordable for most Final
Expense prospects, Benedict says. The money is guaranteed, the underwriting process is simple — usually requiring nothing more than a phone call made during the selling appointment — and any of the funds that aren’t used for the funeral go to designated beneficiaries.
It’s a simple policy that makes a big difference, says Benedict, who is also a licensed funeral director and has helped many families go through the funeral and burial planning process. “When families have it, you can just see there’s so much relief,” he says. “There’s little to no tension among the family members. No one’s arguing about who’s going to pay for what.”
Waltzing around the world
Benedict’s clients aren’t the only ones who like the ease of Final Expense. The product’s simplicity gives Benedict lots of free time to work on his dance moves and see the world.
He took up ballroom dance 21 years ago, after his marriage ended. “I’ve always been intrigued with dancing, and my spouse never wanted to,” he says. “When we got divorced, I started taking lessons.”
A couple years later, he heard about a position as a gentleman dance host on Crystal Cruises and jumped at the opportunity to travel for free while entertaining single, older women. Just 38 at the time and the youngest dance host on the boat, he got rave reviews from the ladies and offers to work on more ships.
These days, at 58 years old, Benedict takes off a couple months out of every year to work as a dance host, traveling everywhere from Africa to the Black Sea to Panama. “I’ve been around the world more than twice already, just dancing my way around,” he says.
Benedict wouldn’t be able to do it, he says, if he didn’t sell Final Expense. His customers are one-stop shoppers, so he doesn’t have to worry about policy reviews or selling them on extra, time-intensive products. There’s also little servicing involved with Final Expense — when clients call, they usually just want to change a beneficiary or checking account. Benedict used to hire a secretary to take those calls when he was gone; nowadays, he just changes his voicemail and tells clients to call the insurance company’s customer service number.
“I’ll get maybe five service calls in a month,” he says. “I can leave for weeks, and I don’t have to worry about my business.”
And when he’s home, Benedict doesn’t have to spend his nights returning phone calls or answering emails. Instead, he’s out dancing about four nights a week, usually with a date on his arm. Los Angeles is full of places to ballroom dance, he says, and for about $10, you get admission, snacks and, if you’re lucky, some boxed wine. “It’s healthy, and it’s very inexpensive,” he says. “I feel guilty if I’m not out dancing.”
Dancing at night makes him better at his day job, Benedict says. “Any successful producer needs to have a hobby, whatever it might be,” he says. “All day, talking about burials, cemeteries and funerals, this is a nice break, to go out dancing. When you’re out on the dance floor, you forget about everything else. It takes away all the stress.”
Selling to the masses
As much as he raves about it, Benedict admits that Final Expense might not be for everyone. Anyone looking to sell a wide variety of products will be disappointed; Final Expense clients don’t have a lot of discretionary income to put into other forms of insurance and investments. And producers need to know how to speak in layman’s terms. “When it comes to all your knowledge about insurance, when you’re talking to average Joe and Mary, you need to put that all aside,” Benedict advises.
Most importantly, Benedict says, agents must be comfortable selling to clients who aren’t affluent. “In Final Expense, we sell to the masses, not the classes,” Benedict likes to say.
But the producer who is willing to accept all of those potential drawbacks will likely do just fine. Benedict says.
“It’s hard to go wrong with Final Expense,” he says. “I can have a bad day, maybe a bad week, but not a bad month and never a bad year. If I’m working the numbers, it never fails.”