Robert Stevens

I am a 20+ year vet of the insurance and financial industry. I have recently taken a step back (some call it retirement) although I still do some consulting for agency marketing, strategy and M&A activities. Island of Freedom is an outlet for me to share things I've learned to both the professional and consumer audience. more

Insurance Leads – Where To Buy Them

Today I want to cover a polarizing issue among agents — shared insurance leads.

In recent years I’ve worked with many providers and have gotten a pretty good system in place to help my clients pull in a positive return with shared leads.

I mentioned the topic is polarizing because finding a combination of decent sources and working them in the right manner is the key to making them work.

Most comments you’ll find online about lead companies is pretty harsh.  This is understandable.  If you spend your marketing dollars and don’t have success few will actually blame themselves for failure even though that is the case more often than not.

You’ll be hard pressed to find a lot of positive reviews out there because…well….agents having success don’t really want to have any more competition.

So, this weekend I was talking to a buddy I’ve worked with in recent years that lives just a bit north of me in The Woodlands.

His name is Kevin Howard and it pains me to say that he can run circles around me when it comes to Internet leads.  He is absolutely fanatical about testing and measuring everything he does and it really pays off.

He told me about a website he’s been working on that I think is a great resource at InsuranceLeadReviews.com.  The site features over 16 real insurance lead review profile pages and he said he’s got more coming.

I really like what he also did with the comparison chart on the front page.  He has things broken down by line and also throws in some tips and promos.

It’s a really cool implementation and I think every agent should check it out.  There is nothing to buy and no sign up required so it’s free as it gets.  If you have a moment, please let me know what you think.

Robert

The Stock Market Today [An Op-Ed]

Bouncing Ball Stock Market

Update – September 2018

The roll continues. When will it end? When the markets turn do you expect these giants to crumble or feed on the weak and swallow up market share? Assuming anti-trust actions aren’t in force, I’m siding on the latter. Oh, did you hear the news? Amazon is getting into the healthcare space. No surprise. I should be concerned, but things are so bad now that I’m hoping they can force some market efficiencies by ramping up the competition and innovation.

As of September 25, 2018:

AMZ is at $1915

GOOGL is at $1172


Update – May 2018

I’m surprised the traction this post has gotten.  I continue to get reader requests asking what currently I think of these plays.  Short answer is that I still continue to ride both with AMZ weighted 2:1 to GOOG.  I don’t really see anything stopping Amazon at this point because they just flat out do a better job at serving the customer than anyone else.

I’ve given up on trying to predict any market movement based on the Trump administration.  Waaay too erratic to predict, which is probably what the President prefers.  Even though the economy still appears to be pushing forward, I believe this wave is going to have to pull back sooner than later.  I’ve moved to a stronger position in commodities and other alternative channels to diversify and hedge against stock market volatility.

As of the May 7, 2018 close:

AMZ is at $1600 😲

GOOGL is at $1059


Update – December 2017

While my launch vision plans to run a regularly updated professional insurance and finance blog haven’t come to fruition (curse you outdoors and offline social activity), I felt compelled to circle back on this post. It’s been over three years since it was originally published and I wanted to hit on where things have come regarding the 3 main points.

ACA and US Healthcare

It appears the ACA was bailed out just in time. With the health care company marketplace pullouts of 2016, the non-subsidized citizen is realizing fewer options and and skyrocketing premiums.

The exodus of providers effectively crated the market balance and the platform as a whole. Regardless of what Obama says, the ACA was a disaster. Either incoming party would have had to overhaul the ACA with major legislation updates.

As I write this, Trump is now President and politics has prevented any significant changes to the ACA. Instead, a back door was used via a sweeping tax cut.  Most notably, a clause was included in the tax bill that removes the individual mandate to carry health insurance.

I am confident any changes will be an improvement over the ACA (it has to be).

Google

Google stock (GOOGL) is at $1052 as I write this update, up from $600 when the original post was published.

A lot had changed in three years, including a stock class split and a restructuring with a new parent company, Alphabet. Overall, I don’t think Google is as dominant of a player as it was in 2014, but I do think they made the right moves.

They have aggressively entered new markets and diversified the overall business away from such a heavy dependence on search ads. Search ads are still the driving component of Google revenue.

I’m impressed with their progress in the areas of cloud computing, home automation, video (YouTube) and especially their business app division. Google has done an incredible job of penetrating the elementary, secondary and college education markets with their G Suite offering. Kids are learning the interface and growing up with the product.

That might not have a huge impact on the bottom line now, but you better believe it will over time (Microsoft, you’re also doing well, but you go on the education front. Google is officially drinking your milkshake).

Google will continue to win and so will the stock (if you’re waiting for a dividend, don’t hold your breath)

Amazon

Amazon stock (AMZ) is at $1,185 today, up from $373 when the original post was published.

In my opinion, Amazon has taken the reigns as the most dominant company in the world. Jeff Bezos stuck to a long-term vision and it is hitting, hard. The non-stop reinvestment of revenues is now turning a profit and the snowball is picking up speed. Bezos continues to spend heavily in new markets which has been fruitful with Prime Video and the Echo / Alexa personal assistant combo.

In spite of rising fears of AI and privacy erosion we can’t get enough of Amazon making everything faster, easier and cheaper. Expect Amazon to continue to push the boundaries with new tech, AWS, grocery, fashion, foreign markets (mainly India and China) and supply chain. Amazon will eventually capture and own the shipping component and attain end to end control of their supply chain.

This will only make competition more difficult for traditional retailers. Major brick and mortar chains will fold, the survivors will become exclusively e commerce brands that also happen to sell on Amazon’s marketplace.

Amazon will continue to crush all competition and so will the stock.


Originally published March 7, 2014

Many years ago I was heavily involved in stock market analysis and financial advice. While I am far removed from that today I do still get asked about the market and for stock recommendations several times a week.

Since it is such a popular topic I figured I would share my thoughts and let this post act as a disclaimer for any of my opinions.

So, you should all know that anything I mention here is my own opinion and that it should not be used solely for investment advice.

Always perform your own research and/or consult an active professional before investing in the stock market.

With that out of the way, let’s proceed.

My Thoughts on the Stock Market

Changing Times

Depending on what day you visit this page the stock market may have hit an all-time one day high or low…. and that would not be uncommon!

All kidding aside, today’s “bouncing ball” market is much different than it was just 15 years ago. As the Internet and technology have evolved, the pace of everything has moved to warp speed. Communication is instant and investors have complex algorithms that trigger automatic trades all day long.

Today we have “right now” sentiment and automated trade reactions heavily weighted in stock prices. The net result is a market on steroids.

Sometimes a picture says a lot more than words. Any guesses when technology really started having an impact?

The bottom line here is that the market moves much faster today than my Father’s market.

If you are in it for the long haul then you should be fine with the caveats that it is more important to diversify a retirement plan out of the market sooner than years past and that more emphasis should be put on when to get out.

I know way too many people that had to put off that 2008/2009 retirement because their retirement fund was too heavy in the stock market, or even worse, individual stocks.

On the flip side, the market now is awesome for short term investors and day traders. If you have the skills, luck and enjoy a good gamble more power to you.

Yes, I realize there are some really sophisticated trading tools out there. I cannot predict the future so I have nothing to offer here.

The Market Right Now – 2014 (ACA)

For those that ask me what I think about the market right now I typically don’t have much to say.

The reason is that I do not really get what has happened over the past year and especially the last 6 months. The DOW had a record run in 2013 and although we have had a few dips along the way the market continues to move higher.

What I do not understand about this run of late is what appears to be a blind eye to the forward looking impact the Affordable Care Act (ACA) will have on consumer spend. We have major stocks with P/E ratios hovering around 1000 (LNKD) but we cannot see the potential economic disaster of a sweeping hit on consumer spend?

Perhaps I am missing something but the numbers for the premium hikes with the ACA are startling. I ask A LOT of people about their health insurance situation and I have yet to talk to one here in the South that is spending less than last year.

Most of those I have talked to are spending at least $100 more a month and/or have a worse plan. This goes for people at Fortune 50 companies, small businesses and the self employed.

I personally am self employed and have an individual Aetna family plan which I kept. While I was not forced into the marketplace I did recently get a $300/month increase which is by far the most I have ever incurred.

As for the folks that work lower wage jobs, the ones that were supposed get help, I have seen most either not take the insurance option or have their employer cut their hours to avoid the cost burden. The result for many is less hours (pay), adding another job and still no health insurance.

Even though I have yet to meet this person let’s say I myself did move to a marketplace plan. I could have gotten similar coverage with a similar premium now that my rates have gone up. That might seem OK on the surface but the MAJOR difference is my deductible would have gone from an out of pocket max of $6,000 to $12,000 year. No thank you!

The sole focus on the “affordable” premium with the ACA promotions drives me absolutely insane! It is like advertising a new car with a super low monthly payment and ignoring the 12% interest rate. What this effectively does is get people insurance but it does nothing about actually insuring them from financial disaster.

Most people making $25,000 to $50,000 can not incur a $12,000 out of pocket expense. Something that could easily result from a broken bone or minor surgery.

While my major concern is the impact on consumer spend the impact on SMBs is not far behind. The ACA dramatically impacts the ability of small business to grow and scale. The health coverage burden put on companies with 50 or more employees is nothing short of insane. It is not that these companies did not want to provide health coverage for their employees before.

They simply could not! Nothing has changed. Forcing coverage will only have an adverse effect on the employees unless the company charges higher prices for their products and services to cover the extra cost burden. How do you think that will help them compete?

Before I get off of my soap box, let’s take one more look at that consumer spend thing. I mentioned that small and medium businesses may have to raise prices to keep the doors open. This can be hard to quantify due to various market factors but I have already seen it directly with restaurants charging an ACA fee so it is clearly taking place.

Maybe I have it all wrong but this is what I am seeing:

  • Higher Monthly Premiums
  • Higher Deductibles (More Financial Risk Exposure)
  • Less Work Hours / Adding Jobs (For Many Working for SMBs)
  • Higher Prices From SMBs (From Those That Opt To Offer Coverage)

How is this not going to impact consumer spend, and thus the economy and stock markets?

Needless to say I have a bearish short-term outlook.

So What About Stocks?

Regardless of the current environment I am a firm believer in long-term stock market investing.

With all of the uncertainty and variables to consider I typically only mention liking two companies. They both have the same thing in common and that is a position of massive scale to the point of having few real competitors – Google and Amazon.

GOOG

You can think of Google as a “tech” company if you like but you would be wrong. They are the biggest data company we have ever seen and they are rapidly entering consumer markets and doubling up with product sales and user data. While this data has allowed them to become the best source for advertising on the Internet, the possibilities are endless in terms of uses.

They have brilliant people, piles of cash and really smart leadership. They have so much new innovation going at all times that they really need only a few to stick to keep the snowball going. Even if they have setbacks they have enough of a lead and cash buffer to get back on track. The company has entered all of our lives with awesome free or low cost products.

They have quietly integrated deeper and deeper and we are past the point of breaking ties as a society. Fear of the “Big Brother” is really the only thing that could slow them down so it would be wise for them to focus on that “Do No Evil” slogan.

Google will win and so will the stock.

AMZ

See above without the cash stockpile. Amazon has a goal of being the single source of everything you buy. They have sucked it up for years now reinvesting everything into new infrastructure and markets. The earnings might not always be stellar but that is perfect for what they are doing. They are reinvesting in market share and have also reached that point where they do not have any serious competition.

They are smarter than everyone else and they have so much room to grow. The company owns almost all of its consumer product supply chain with the exception of shipping. Guess who should be worried (hint: UPS, USPS, FedEx)? Amazon will own shipping before long and it will also be innovative. Hello drones!

I expect we will soon see most of Amazon’s eCommerce competition submit and promote on the Amazon marketplace.
Oh, did I mention Amazon is also a major player in the super lucrative and critical web hosting market? Yeah, that too.

Amazon will win and so will the stock.

There you have it folks. Like it, or not, I feel better.

I will attempt to be a bit less emotional and leave my soap box at home moving forward.

Thank you if you made it this far!

A Health Insurance Leads Action Plan

keys to health insurance leads

Over the past year or so I have had an uptick in questions with regards to marketing and leads for health.  Confusion is still very high among consumers when it comes to the Affordable Care Act.  Add to that that there are a lot more people looking at their options and you have opportunity.

I have given my thoughts enough times that I figured it was time to put it down in writing so I could offer up a link.  This is a very general framework and you can add any ancillary techniques you like but these are the cornerstones I see working.

Please also note that most people asking are newer to the game and have more time available than marketing budget.  If you already have a strong book mailers are clearly going to be a better option than cold calls and door knocking.

My Health Insurance Lead Plan

I have found that a combo of marketing and lead buying in addition to great service and follow up (for referrals) is the best bet.  That said, there is no one size fits all magic formula to attack health insurance leads. Please consider these suggestions starting blocks rather than absolutes.

The combo that is right for you really depends on your available time and budget. My suggestions are based on personal experience and a number of folks I know that take different angles based on their target market. Clearly the audience is key and the same methods might not be as effective for Medicare sales as a 30 something SMB owner.

Low Cost / High Time – Marketing

Public data and data lists for mailers and cold calls have been good options for lead gen. The key is having a tight market and a proven mailer.  Once you have a list be sure to spend a lot of time on the mailer.  Take a look at mailers see from carriers, ask agents what is working at place like Insurance-Forums.net or hire a copywriter if you are not sure.  Also be sure to test different versions over time (both message and format) and stick with the best responder.

With direct mail the response will be slower than online ads but you can definitely get consistent and reliable results.

Obviously mailers are going to be more costly than calling or door knocking.  The trade-off is that they scale.  If you try your hand at calling you will want to scrub any lists against the do not call registry if you are working the consumer market.

Sources:
https://telemarketing.donotcall.gov/faq/faqbusiness.aspx
https://insuranceleadsguide.com/insurance-leads/insurance-agency-marketing-tools/ – See Direct Mail and List Services
https://www.island-of-freedom.com/senior-insurance-sales-list-guide/

Higher Cost / Less Time – Lead Buying

I have found shared internet leads to be the best bet for the time invested. Exclusive can be great if you have a good source but I they are often fleeting and much lower volume.

The caveat with shared health leads is that you have to test the market and find lead vendors that deliver well in your territory. Every vendor has strengths and weaknesses and they vary greatly by location / ZIP.  You have to put the time in and set reasonable expectations.  This is critical.

When factoring your ROI don’t base everything solely on the instant results. Also consider expected conversion with follow up, cross-sell opportunities, renewals and expected rate of referral from new clients.

Sources:
http://www.healthinsuranceleads.com/
https://www.insuranceleadreviews.com/leads/health/
http://www.insuranceleads101.com/health-insurance-leads/

Online Ad Automation

Regardless of where and how you market or advertise always be sure to include your website or agency profile page.

Hopefully you have some backend control that will allow you to place Facebook and Google Analytics or Adwords retargeting tags. This will allow you to create those ads that follow you around based on sites you visit. Yes, they can be creepy but they are crazy effective.

Anyone that hits your site will be added to the retargeting list which you can then create ads for users that have already shown some level of interest in your services.  You can target audiences by specific page visited so be sure to funnel visitors where you want them to go in your email or mailer.

These ads end up being very cheap compared to all other sources and help to automate the follow up process with more passive points of contact.

The return is as good as it gets, especially with traffic from paid leads.

Sources:
inboundascension.com/facebook-fishing-formula/
ppchero.com/ultimate-guide-to-adwords-remarketing/

The Key

There are a lot of turn and burn approaches in health.  I implore you to resist these tactics and focus on building something real and defensible.
Exceptional and helpful service is the key to everything in health. The masses are more confused and need advice. Given the high level of confusion you will find plenty of folks that will not ready to make a decision.  Give great advice, help solve problems, follow up and be sure to ask for referrals.

Before long you will see your marketing and lead buying expenses decrease because your funnel will be filling up with word of mouth referrals.