The “Yes” Man: placing impossible cases for frustrated agents.

Every producer comes across a hopeless case once in awhile. The client’s too old, too unhealthy, too risky for any carrier to take on — at least, not at a rate that’s in any way affordable. When agents encounter these cases, they can pass up the business, shrug their shoulders and move on…

Using his detail-focused staff, his company’s solid relationships with carriers and a knowledge of the industry that’s been fine-tuned over decades, Gersten can take the toughest of tough cases and sniff out nuances that mean the difference between rejection and acceptance.

“That’s our job: to be able to figure out how to get to ‘okay,’” Gersten says. “We’re solving problems and putting money in producers’ pockets when they were giving up hope. It’s really gratifying.”

From mentee to mentor
A lot of that gratification probably stems from the fact that, for a few decades, Gersten was an active producer himself. He graduated from Duquesne University in 1968 with a business degree in finance and went to work as an accountant for a large company. It didn’t last long — craving something a little more entrepreneurial, he eventually left for a job in insurance sales at John Hancock.

“Part of the fabric of who I am is just being competitive and persistent, and insurance seemed like a good fit,” Gersten says. Gersten found a mentor in his firm’s general agent, who took him under his wing.
“He was a really good motivational, educational person who set the tenets for what you needed to do to be successful, and I just kind of followed his advice,” Gersten says. “That education and mentoring was very formative and helped me to see a path to success.”

Gersten stayed with John Hancock for 12 years and consistently ranked among the company’s top producers. Eventually, though, that path to success led him to start his own company — Gersten Financial Services — in 1980.

“For years, I had attended seminars where they talked about managing yourself like a business, and as an independent, I was finally able to apply those skills,” he said. “That change — becoming an independent—was just really gratifying.”

The company specialized in financial planning, investing and insurance, serving a broad spectrum of the marketplace. Gersten set to work developing relationships with carriers and recruiting producers.
“It was really my first experience in mentoring and setting up systems,” he says. “We had younger producers, some who had a little experience, others who had no experience at all. It was a really rewarding experience watching them grow, more than I could have ever anticipated.”

Gersten’s company grew in unexpected ways, too. The company developed a broker’s relationship with CNA, which led to the recruitment of lots of producers. It started shifting its focus to the brokerage side of things and became First American Insurance Underwriters in 2000.

Today, the company is focused on building and maintaining carrier relationships, coaching and mentoring brokers, providing resources and assisting with advanced case work.

“A large amount of the work we do is supporting successful brokers, some of the most successful brokers in the country,” Gersten says. “We’re just trying to get them to be the best they can be and support them at the highest level possible.”

Getting to “yes”
Some of the best support First American provides is in getting those difficult cases placed.
When one comes through the company’s doors, “we perform a sort of triage,” Gersten says. In most cases, the policy has been rejected or the carrier has offered a bad rate, so Gersten’s first job is to pinpoint why.

“We’ll gather information wherever it might be available and probe for information that might not be readily available,” he says. “Then we try to look at the case from all perspectives.” The staff will also interview the broker to determine objectives in the case and monitor both the broker’s and the client’s expectations.

Gersten says the best advice he can give agents is to stay positive about the difficult cases. Oftentimes, something that’s an issue for one carrier is absolutely nothing for another. “It really can be that subjective, which makes it challenging,” he says.

The key lies in knowing carrier specialties and quirks, something he says his company excels at after building decades-long relationships with many of the industry’s major players. “We really know in advance what they’re capable of, what they like and don’t like,” Gersten say. “Each one has its strengths and weaknesses, nuances and niches.”

Medical tests, screenings and treatment options are often the biggest stumbling blocks on the road to approval, according to Gersten. Ailments like coronary disease and prostate cancer, which can vary dramatically in severity, diagnoses and treatment, are especially tricky. Cases like these require agents to go above and beyond the usual processes.

“You really need to cover all the bases. You need to personally and methodically look at everything,” Gersten says. “Offers will be all over the board depending on the situation.” Persistence doesn’t hurt, either. “We are very thorough, and, in many cases, we’ll go back multiple times with carriers and try to come back with a good end result,” Gersten says. “Carriers want to say ‘yes,’ and we’re making that possible.”

Those happy endings are what keep Gersten in the business. At 65, the married father of two and grandpa of five already has a business continuation plan in place. But he doesn’t plan on going anywhere just yet.

“I look forward to continuing my work indefinitely, as long as I can make a difference for producers, associates and the company,” he says. “I enjoy working with producers and their cases, and I leave the administrative function for others. I’m doing the part that I enjoy most.”

Written by Corey Dahl, managing editor of Life Insurance Selling.

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