The Most Arrogant Man in the World

When you’re right, you’re right.

Bill Boersma

A recent book, The Death of Expertise: The Campaign Against Established Knowledge and Why it Matters, is from one writer among a number discussing the American public’s growing hostility to expertise.  I see it in my industry.

It’s been about 20 years that I’ve been doing life insurance policy analyses to show policy owners and their advisors what’s happening to their contracts, and how a shifting economic market is affecting performance.  This isn’t rocket science, it’s just not understood and it’s in conflict with conventional wisdom.  The premise is that if your life insurance performance is based on interest rates and these rates are dropping, your policy won’t do what you think it will.  How complicated is that?

Some people listened, but many didn’t.  Why?  A number of reasons.  As mentioned, convention wisdom is a strong force.  An innate distrust of a guy talking about life insurance?  Likely in many cases.  Since the policy owner has not likely heard about what I’ve related and it didn’t really make sense, they may have felt I was trying to sell them something.  I get it.  My industry doesn’t have the best reputation.  Maybe the original agent poo-pooed what I was saying for ulterior motives or maybe they just didn’t know what was going on.

I recently heard through the grapevine about an organization that I worked with a number of years ago to analyze their entire life insurance portfolio.  At the time, I identified multiple policies that weren’t projecting to do well.  I highlighted this, explained why it was so, suggested a change in policy management… and was ignored.  Now I hear the policies are failing and they’re wondering why.  Despite the fact that I feel bad for the ultimate beneficiaries of the foundation that will not experience the largess those death benefits would have provided, I don’t feel bad for the foundation managers.  There were political factors at play and that’s what you get when you play games.

I was right.  Moreover, I’m almost always right when it comes to this life insurance stuff.  Because… I’m an expert.  No one is infallible, but when someone spends a lot of time and focus on a narrow niche, maybe the person should be listened to.

In many situations over the years, I’ve been brought in to vet proposals and my advice was ignored.  I’ve often seen these deals fall apart afterwards.  Why?  Because I was right.  I know what I’m doing.

I’m not guessing when I say what I say.  I base my work and advice on provable data.  I can do the key strokes on my HP12C in front of your eyes.  I haven’t programmed Excel to perform unique math.  Some of the analysis is based on what I have ordered and received directly from the insurance carrier.  I can literally hand it across the table to you.  The rest is based on contract language, financial truisms, experience, independent modeling, historical market behavior and so on.  I enjoy “debates” because most of what I say isn’t opinion, it’s fact.  When it can’t be known for sure, I say so.  Reasonable minds can disagree on a number of issues and what might be the best solution for a client, but sometimes there is a right and wrong.

I live in a community dominated by a mutual insurance carrier and I’ve been in a long term, slow burning fight against what they are too often telling the consumer and advisor market.  Over the years I would tell anyone who would listen that the dividend rate so many of the agents were stating was at the bottom, would continue to fall.  My comment was something akin to “They say it’s at the bottom and I’m telling you it will keep going down.  You know what?  I keep being right.  And I’ll keep being right until the day I’m not and that day hasn’t come yet.  So who you gonna believe?”  A lot of times they don’t believe me and you can imagine what happened.  Sometimes I’m told I’m arrogant.  What am I supposed to do?  Lie?  I’m professional and courteous, but would you couch the statement “two pus two equals four”?

Being right doesn’t make me particularly smart.  It shows either how little some others know or that they know better but won’t admit it because it’ll show them in a poor light or hamper a sale.  How sad is that?  Anyone who understands the fundamentals of the financial markets and how life insurance products and the investment portfolios of insurance carriers work should have known what was in store.  Some didn’t know while others did and didn’t say anything.

Recently I was brought into an existing premium financed deal.  Though the advisors were completely on board, the client wouldn’t pony up the modest fee to analyze his situation.  What made it more surprising is that the client was already disappointed with the transaction.  Since I was intrigued by this case and wanted to prove to the advisors what was going on, I decided to move forward with the analysis without a signed engagement agreement.  The end result of my work was that things were a disaster and would not and could not ever work out.

Even when I had an opportunity to prove this to the client, he still refused to formally engage.  It wasn’t that he thought I was wrong, he just didn’t want to pay.  It’s important to understand that he was many millions into loans, paid interest and committed collateral and it was all in jeopardy.  So what did he do?  He let a referral from another advisor do a “free review”.  (Insert  GIF of me shaking my head in disbelief.)  He didn’t pay for advice on the front end, things aren’t going well, and he won’t pay for advice now.

Why do I share this?  Because I’m right and he’s acting like an idiot.  When he ends up losing millions, I hope I get a chance to remind him that I was right and he should have listened.  Is that wrong?

Case after case, situation after situation, I’m right and there’s no indication that I won’t continue to be.  I don’t opine on things I don’t know about, and the niche that I do know is incredibly narrow but it goes real deep.  All I can suggest is to not bet against me when it comes to what I know about.

No one has a crystal ball and everyone, me included, will make mistakes or miss something.  The comments above are somewhat satirical (my compliance guy told me I should ad that) but they are fundamentally true.

Ask yourself, are you more interested in talking to an (apparently) arrogant expert or a nice guy who’ll make you feel good but might not be willing to tell you what you don’t want to hear?

Your call.

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