How do you sell to high-net-worth individuals?


The answer is simpler than you might believe. (Photo: iStock)
The answer is simpler than you might believe. (Photo: iStock)

When NU Editor-in-Chief Shawn Moynihan suggested I write about how to sell insurance to high-net-worth (HNW) individuals, my immediate response was that it would be a two-word article: “You don't.”

That doesn't mean that you cannot acquire HNW individuals as insurance clients; you just don't sell directly to them.

Our agency's wealthiest clients included a famous American composer, a federal judge, a successful IT and software pioneer, heads of two large and powerful investment banking and brokerage firms, the owners of construction companies building millions of square feet of commercial real estate, heads of large New York law firms, members of the boards of public companies, and several CEOs and executive directors from various industries.

How did we acquire these customers? Looking back, it's very clear how they became customers and how almost all had similar insurance needs and wants. They became customers of the agency the same way: not by networking, marketing, direct mail, social media, cold calls or advertising. Those activities don't work with very wealthy people. These activities do:

  • Referrals from their own professional advisors, attorneys, CPAs or investment advisors that I had cultivated as insurance customers first, then as centers of influence. Wealthy people turn to these advisors for a recommendation when they have an insurance need or problem and whose recommendation they totally accept. I focused much of my sales effort selling the advisor/professionals so I could access their clients.

  • Direct referrals from wealthy clients themselves to their own relatives and circles of friends, as they were often asked, “Who's your insurance broker? I need to change brokers because (insert your reason here).” As a result, first the wealthy client calls, referring a friend, family or business associate, who I then meet and, if successful, gain a new customer.

  • Get personally involved with major not-for-profits and charitable organizations. When I believed in their mission or cause, I became active with an organization at entry level, became engaged and guess what? If you don't try to sell anything and continue to make a meaningful contribution financially or otherwise, sooner or later — usually sooner — the organization will have an insurance issue. The board or CEO will seek you out to help.

  • Historical preservation societies are non-profits that deal with the brick-and-mortar of high-value properties, buildings, landmarks and collections. If you can gain the trust and confidence of the CEO, executive director or a board member, you will have a flow of new business whenever a new property is acquired or a landmark or historical property needs renovations. They’ll call you to take care of it. What's more, the retention of this type of business is almost infinite. I had a relationship with one society that lasted 37 years!

  • Private public boards of directors are an incredible source of new HNW individuals — if you can get appointed or elected to the board of a large organization. Not only do you have the opportunity to meet other board members, but over time all of the officers, accountants, attorneys, and many of the vendors they deal with.

Over my years in business I’ve been fortunate to serve on the board of a public company, a bank and a large museum, both for over 20 years, and several smaller boards and advisory committees. The characteristics of HNW individuals concerning their insurance are similar in that they:

  • Become very loyal longtime customers,

  • Do not shop,

  • Rarely, if ever, are concerned about price,

  • Care very much about identifying their exposures to personal financial loss and appreciate the occasional risk management discussion, and

  • Enjoy referring their own professional advisors to others when they feel they “have the best” person, especially as it pertains to their insurance broker.

So, don't try to sell wealthy people — go out and acquire them. Good Luck!

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