To thrive in this business, my best advice is to run your own race. Don’t worry about your competitors — in fact, go and befriend them. We love the agents in our inner circle who are our direct competitors and we want just as much success for them as we have achieved for ourselves. The smart ones know that there is plenty of business out there for everyone, so don’t get caught up in what your peers are doing better than you. Concentrate on your own business and plug away at it until you get to where you want to be. However, if we are talking about inspiring just anyone, I’d also love to inspire a movement about reducing ageism in the workforce. In the last ten years, I’ve been seeing a crisis unfold. Most Americans are completely unprepared for the costs of healthcare in retirement. This means that many of them get to age 65 when they expected to retire, and then they learn that Medicare isn’t free and when you use your benefits you also have cost-sharing to pay like deductibles and copays. We see scores of people like this every year that ultimately decide to work for a few more years because they now realize they need more than they originally had intended for their retirement. As a nation, we need to think outside the box on where to develop areas where this age group of workers can add value to the world around us. This failure to save enough for retirement is changing the face of the American workforce, and I’d love to encourage employers to give a fresh look at the baby boomers out there. By far this is one of the hardest working generations you will ever find, and they are certainly healthier and living more active lifestyles than in previous generations. Many people work well into their late seventies and even eighties now and we can do that today because so many jobs don’t require physical labor. Companies that think ahead and are innovative about this can hire people in their 60’s that can easily give those employers another decade or more of reliable productivity. Their longevity can and will contribute to economic growth, and I’d love to see more companies recognize this and create age-friendly jobs and working environments. Retirement is expensive, and we can all work together to help this older generation remain independent and financially sound by investing in older employees and giving them a chance at jobs in which they can excel.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Danielle Kunkle Roberts, founding partner and senior executive at Boomer Benefits, a national top producing agency that specializes in Medicare-related insurance products. Her team helps baby boomers navigate Medicare across 47 states. Danielle writes about Medicare topics frequently for Forbes, where is a member of the Forbes Finance Council, and is a past president of the Fort Worth chapter of the National Association of Health Underwriters.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I had worked for many years in the staffing industry and was burned out from interviewing 50 people a day. We would fill jobs for clients and the workers would no-show and we’d be scrambling to find someone else. Although I really wanted to go into sales and start a business, I didn’t want to sell staffing services because humans are an unreliable commodity.
So, I spent months and months looking for what other industries or business models might work for me. Then a friend of mine got an invite to a meeting about selling health insurance, so I went along with her. I knew right away that I’d found what I was looking for. It’s a field where you can help other people every day while also making a great living. In this field, your product is not perishable and there’s no inventory to track. You sell a promise backed by a guarantee. The more policies you sell, the more people you help, the more money you make. It’s a win-win all around. I got my license, sold my house and used the profits to launch an agency.
Starting off cold as an independent agent is unconventional. Most people make their start in this business working for a carrier, recruiter or field marketing organization where they learn the ropes. It’s harder to go independent right off the bat because you must learn all the products on your own. You need either cash or grit to get started because you need to find prospects.
However, I didn’t want to work for someone else, so I buckled down and spent the first year cold-calling businesses in person. I’d walk in and offer my card to their owner or HR rep and ask them to call me when it came time for their group health and life insurance renewal time came around. It was tough — I earned only $13,000 that year and I could barely afford to eat. However, I look back so fondly now on those early days. Everything was so interesting and exciting to me, and I still walk in here with the same enthusiasm every day 13 years later.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting in the industry? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Perhaps this mistake isn’t funny, but I learned a whole lot from it. In my first year, I partnered up with two other people that I didn’t know very well because I was so green as a new business owner and didn’t trust my own skills to carry me through. I learned that not everyone has the same level of commitment and not everyone wants to live on savings so that you can invest 100% of the profits into more leads to grow the business as I did. Great people, just different perspectives.
Realizing my mistake, I bought them out and then called my brother to ask him to quit his job selling mortgages and come to build a new business with me. We grew up together knocking on doors in our neighborhood to ask if we could wash people’s cars or mow their lawns to earn money. We even collected earthworms after it rained and then sold them to fishermen who were on their way to the lake. All told, we probably had a half a dozen “business ventures” together as kids so I knew he had the same work ethic as my parents and myself. I knew it would work.
What I learned from this is that rash decisions or decisions made from a lack of confidence can delay your success and cost you in the long run. I was so green then and unsure of myself, but I wouldn’t change a thing. Learning that lesson early on has saved me from potential mistakes later on when the stakes were higher. Today, we think everything through before we leap. No quick decisions.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
We are working on innovative ways to educate more people about Medicare in their own environment. We’ve started a Youtube channel and put together an email course that teaches people the basics of Medicare in a series of emails that contain short videos where I explain all the fundamentals.
In our Youtube videos, we usually don’t sell anything or discuss any specific products, but instead, we offer a hassle-free format in which people can learn what they need to know in the privacy of their own home or workplace. We don’t collect phone numbers; we just provide information. This has really appealed to people who are often confused and overwhelmed about Medicare when they are new to it. They are bombarded by so many telemarketers and mailers that they are literally a nervous wreck by the time they find us.
I love the opportunity to welcome them into a “safe space” like a video or webinar where they aren’t getting a hard pitch. Instead, we get to provide that lightbulb moment where everything comes together for them and they begin to understand Medicare instead of fear it. It’s an excellent way to build credibility with potential clients. We also welcome anyone to take part, even people who will never need our services, because it’s the right thing to do. The goodwill coming back out of it toward us is profound and it feels good.
Are you able to identify a “tipping point” in your career when you started to see success? Did you start doing anything different? Is there a takeaway or lessons that others can learn from that?
In 2007, I joined the National Association of Health Underwriters, and this is the year where things really began to change for us. I am a huge introvert and was really stepping out of my comfort zone to go to a monthly association meeting where I knew no one. It was uncomfortable for those first few meetings but then it quickly became the best thing we ever did for our agency. Shortly thereafter, I joined the board and 6 years later became the Fort Worth chapter president before moving on to the state board for a couple of years as their magazine editor and feature writer.
I cannot say enough how much I have learned from my peers in this organization. The number of referrals that our agency has gained from me putting myself out there as a Medicare insurance expert numbers in the hundreds if not thousands. Some of my very best industry friends are in NAHU, and it was worth every penny we spent on dues, which are actually quite affordable. It is a terrific organization.
My takeaway is that networking with other professionals, even the ones who are direct competitors will bring you knowledge that you never thought possible. There is so much to learn from the other agents around you.
What advice would you give to other people in the insurance field to thrive and avoid burnout?
Join your local agent association, or if you can’t afford that or find it too intimidating, then reach out to one or two other agents in your same city. Get to know them, trade contact info, meet up for happy hour. Being able to share your victories and tell your war stories and compare notes is such a relief sometimes.
These people will understand your career and your life like no one else can. When everyone else in your life looks at you with eyes glazed-over when you mention insurance, your industry peers will smile and share your excitement.
We like to say in my circle of friends: “Who said insurance is not glamorous?” We enjoy each other’s company so much.
As an “insurance insider”, you know much more about insurance than most consumers. If your loved one wanted to buy a policy from another person, which 5 things would you advise them to find out about before committing to a policy? Can you give an example or story for each?
1) Check the carriers’ financial ratings and their reserves. You can check A.M. Best or Weiss ratings to find financial information. Companies with a B+ rating or higher are easy to find so there is usually no need to go with a carrier that has less than that. Good financial reserves can indicate a strong company that could pay out a lot of claims all at once if it had to, and that’s what you want.
2) Decide how much coverage YOU need. We see people all the time who enroll in an insurance product because their friend is enrolled in that policy. Your needs are different than the people around. You have different health conditions, different savings accounts, different risk tolerance different timelines and often different goals for the coverage. While it’s okay to check into an insurance company or policy that someone you know told you about, you need to evaluate it from your own perspective and make sure it is suitable for your needs and budget.
For example, the type of life insurance that I purchased right out of college is very different than the life insurance I need now as a business owner. My assets and goals have changed so I need to make that decision from where I am standing today.
Here’s another example:
I once met a woman who had 5 Medicare supplement policies. She had enrolled in one when she turned 65 and then later a friend told her about a different company, so she enrolled in that one too. She worried that she hadn’t bought a good enough policy up front, so she just kept buying them without ever canceling her prior coverage. Fortunately, she mentioned to one of my clients that she was paying over $1000/month for her Medigap coverage. Her friend referred her to me and I was horrified to see how much money she was spending on duplicate coverage. I helped her cancel 4 out of 5 of her existing policies that were auto-drafting premiums from her checking account and keep only the one that provided the most coverage at the lowest cost.
This mistake came from her simply not determining how much coverage she needed personally and choosing policies because her friends had bought them. Don’t buy a policy whose premiums you cannot afford and be aware that you if you replace a policy, you must notify the prior carrier that you need to cancel.
3) Research the product you are buying and find out how that coverage functions. Does this insurance policy cover the things you need it to? Most insurance comes in a variety of product types. For example, in the life insurance world, there is term insurance, whole life, universal life and a few other types of policies. These do different things and you want to buy the type of coverage that meets your goals.
Here in the Medicare insurance market, there are two primary types of coverage — Medigap or Medicare Advantage. These two types of plans work completely differently. Every year we get panicked calls from consumers who bought a product online without the help of an agent. They didn’t do their research and they enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan when they thought they were purchasing a Medigap policy. They go to use their coverage and they learn that their doctor isn’t in the network or their drug plan doesn’t include an important medication.
This is when they finally reach out to an agent for help. In some cases, they may not have an election period to get out of that plan right away. This can all be avoided if people take their time to carefully research their product. Ask an insurance agent to carefully go over all your options, explaining how each type of coverage works.
4) Work with an independent agent. Before you buy a policy from an agent, make sure the agent represents multiple carriers. Some agents are captive and can only sell you one company’s product. This is fine if you do the research on the other companies on your own, but if you work with an independent agent that represents multiple carriers, you can review quotes from a variety of companies and choose one with the most competitive rates in your area.
When you enroll through an agent, you also are getting a person to be your advocate when problems arise. Unless the agent has disclosed to you that he or she is working on a fee basis, the premium that you pay for the policy you buy is the same whether you buy from an agent or direct with the insurance company. We are paid a commission by the company that you ultimately choose. However, your agent is your resource when you run into problems.
For example, here at our agency, we employ a large Client Service Team that is 100% dedicated to helping our existing policyholders which is rare in our industry. That means if Medicare or an insurance company denies a claim, or a doctor miscodes a bill, our policyholders can call our team to help them sort it out. Recently we had a client who had just retired. Medicare’s database still showed that she was actively working because her employer had failed to report that she had retired and left her job there. Medicare rejected a half-dozen bills because it thought the group health plan was still primary. Our client remembered what we had told her about our service team and called here. My team ran with it, notified Medicare of the problem, contacted the employer to fix it on their end so this wouldn’t happen again, and called each of the providers to ask them to resubmit the bills. Can you imagine if you didn’t have an agent and you had to sort that out all on your own?
5) Read the online reviews. You can find online reviews for just about anything these days, and this includes both insurance companies and insurance agents. Visit their websites and look for reviews that tell you how they treat their existing clients. How long have they been in business? How is their customer service?
Insurance agencies or companies are often known to be very creative and innovative marketers. Do you use any clever and innovative marketing strategies that you think large legacy companies should consider adopting?
By far our greatest success in marketing has been to move away from the kitchen table sale. Our strategy is to meet our clients where they are — which is online. When I first got into this business, quite a few older timer agents told me that one would buy health insurance online or by phone, and people want someone to drive out to their homes to sell them insurance. Dave and I disagreed, and we decided to follow our instincts on this. We moved forward with building a website to offer our services and providing quotes by phone.
Thirteen years later, I’m often surprised to see that many large insurance companies still encourage this kitchen table sales format. However, American consumers buy all kinds of other insurance online, auto insurance, homeowner’s insurance, life insurance etc. They absolutely can and do buy health insurance online. This includes today’s baby boomers who are very different from their parents’ generation. They have been using computers for 20+ years and you need to meet them where they are, which is online.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
First and foremost, I would have to mention my brother and business partner, David Kunkle. He left a very high-paying mortgage sales job to come down to Texas and go all in on this business with me. If it had been just me, I might have only grown this outfit to a 5-person small business and been happy with that. Dave, however, is the visionary and he’s the one that convinced me that we could take this agency way farther than that. We wouldn’t have achieved a multi-million-dollar annual revenue without him.
Many people tell me they could never work with their family and ask me how I can work alongside my brother. We have completely different skill sets and we each concentrate on our separate areas of the business. However, we make all big decisions together. While we have disagreements sometimes, at the end of the day he is still my brother, so we just work through them and keep going. We are living our best lives now and we enjoy our careers so much.
Another person who was really important in my learning curve was Eric Johnson, my fellow NAHU member. Eric was president of our local chapter when I joined first joined the agent association, and he is the one that reached out to me to ask me to join the board. He convinced me that it would be a great investment of my time. In retrospect, he showed me how to network and he pushed me to become president of the chapter and that was ultimately a great move for my career.
He’s one of my closest friends in the industry now. We teach continuing education classes together often and we love educating other agents on the important things they need to know. He is also one of the most knowledgeable people in the industry when it comes to the Affordable Care Act and health insurance. His friendship and encouragement in those early years, when discouraging things often happen, helped me to stick it out.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
If we are speaking about inspiring other agents, I’d love to inspire a movement to Run Your Own Race. This is a highly competitive industry and so many agents get too discouraged early on. They quit before they’ve given it a chance because they are so intimidated by everyone else who is succeeding around them.
To thrive in this business, my best advice is to run your own race. Don’t worry about your competitors — in fact, go and befriend them. We love the agents in our inner circle who are our direct competitors and we want just as much success for them as we have achieved for ourselves. The smart ones know that there is plenty of business out there for everyone, so don’t get caught up in what your peers are doing better than you. Concentrate on your own business and plug away at it until you get to where you want to be.
However, if we are talking about inspiring just anyone, I’d also love to inspire a movement about reducing ageism in the workforce. In the last ten years, I’ve been seeing a crisis unfold. Most Americans are completely unprepared for the costs of healthcare in retirement. This means that many of them get to age 65 when they expected to retire, and then they learn that Medicare isn’t free and when you use your benefits you also have cost-sharing to pay like deductibles and copays.
We see scores of people like this every year that ultimately decide to work for a few more years because they now realize they need more than they originally had intended for their retirement. As a nation, we need to think outside the box on where to develop areas where this age group of workers can add value to the world around us.
This failure to save enough for retirement is changing the face of the American workforce, and I’d love to encourage employers to give a fresh look at the baby boomers out there. By far this is one of the hardest working generations you will ever find, and they are certainly healthier and living more active lifestyles than in previous generations.
Many people work well into their late seventies and even eighties now and we can do that today because so many jobs don’t require physical labor. Companies that think ahead and are innovative about this can hire people in their 60’s that can easily give those employers another decade or more of reliable productivity.
Their longevity can and will contribute to economic growth, and I’d love to see more companies recognize this and create age-friendly jobs and working environments. Retirement is expensive, and we can all work together to help this older generation remain independent and financially sound by investing in older employees and giving them a chance at jobs in which they can excel.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.