FULL DISCLOSURE

Clients’ credibility crisis creating concealment costs to coverage.
Not to mention Cannabis.

The title of this piece might simply well have been "Stick to the Truth...Easiest Thing to Remember" and we could all go home. But then it would have been a post not an article, and I would have been deprived the pleasure of writing it. At seventeen years as a Life insurance broker, that which shouldn't still surprise me still surprises me and such stories should be shared.


I have a group client for whom I broker all individual life insurance for their faculty staff, provided to the employees for the duration of their employment. This is a company-funded benefit and these are substantial individual policies vs group coverage; as such, each requires individual underwriting for covered employees.


Eighteen months ago, I met with a new hire and we began the underwriting process. Early thirties, generally good health, height/weight ratio excellent. Tobacco use? None. An application interview occurs via phone, a medical exam is arranged and completed and voila... nicotine is present in system. "There must be some mistake". Pause.


"Oh...three months ago, I was offered a hookah at a family event".


No problem, I tell the employee. However, rates will be increased reflecting tobacco use. The good news is that this particular life insurance company will allow you to reapply as a non-smoker after 12 months free of nicotine products. Policy is issued, employer is funding, everyone is happy.


Six months passes, and husband of the employee emails me - “please give me a call to discuss my wife’s life insurance.” I call, and learn the following ~ he had decided they both needed more life insurance. He was certain he could find the best deal…online. He searches, completes a basic underwriting query and is presented several company choices. One is clearly the lowest premium. It’s A+ rated. They proceed and submit a full blown application for her to the chosen carrier. Early thirties, generally good health, height/weight ratio excellent. Tobacco use? None. And voila… carrier declines the application. 


“Our records show the applicant has used tobacco within the prior 12 months and currently holds a policy rated as a tobacco-user, issued by our company.”


An exact science underwriting is not. It is an adjudication, performed by the insurance equivalent of Columbo, minus the charm, and deploying a dizzying array of investigative tools involving an underwriting manual, a paramedical exam, the physician's statement, MIB report, prescription check, motor vehicle report, mortality table, build table and even a credit check. And that most potentially damning of admissions - one's own application.


The well-meaning spouse, in answering NO to the tobacco question, effectively lied under oath to the insurer. And whether intentional or un, it was the second time in less than eight months with the same insurer. Important note...do NOT lie to the underwriter, it is the cardinal sin of this desk set. And it can affect future attempts at coverage with any insurer.


Buying life insurance online is setting yourself up for the disappointment my client's husband learned the hard way.


Two weeks ago, I had an enlightening conversation with Dave Donchey, president of Leisure Werden & Terry general agency through which I underwrite all my life insurance business. LWT has been in business 90 years and they are exceptional.


My question to Dave ~ "considering all the life apps you underwrite from all the many brokers with whom you work, how many applications get dinged for unreported cannabis use?"


"Tons."


I'm not ashamed to say I was a bit shocked. And a little giddy at the imagined conundrum of clashing stereotypes...stoner meets responsible family provider meets secretive applicant. No full-disclosure here, apparently. So important is this topic within our industry, that Dave and his partner Victor Paz just produced an 18-minute video on the subject of underwriting cannabis consumers.


What in the last five or so years has changed? The laws in multiple states, legalizing recreational cannabis consumption. The good news is there are now insurers underwriting cannabis use, whether medical or recreational. The other news is that applicants are still trying to conceal. Why? Note to prospective life insurance applicants...if you see the words "guarantee issue", it probably isn't. Not for the policy YOU want.


Do you use Cannabis? If so, how frequently? Ingest? Smoke? Vape?


Is it recreational or medical? If medical, please indicate your medical cannabis card number. Please describe the medical condition cannabis is treating. There, that wasn't so bad.


Every underwriter will tell you the same thing ~ "stick to the truth...easiest thing to remember." What they mean is, we will discover every detail of your current, recent and distant health past and if there is a question as to your veracity, it won't go well. Beyond that clarifying position, it basically boils down to money. One's health will determine what coverage one will qualify for and at what premium, and the moment that an applicant's honesty about health is in doubt, the best thing that might happen is that the figure increases. The other thing that frequently happens is the dreaded Decline to Underwrite!


So, enjoy the hookahs. Drink responsibly. Smoke em if you got em, we know you're trying to quit. Ingest, vape, treat the lower back pain with Indica. Between you and the underwriters are myself and Dave and Victor guiding clients in the best direction for actual coverage to be approved and issued.

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FULL DISCLOSURE

What is the Fair Market Value of your Peace of Mind?

I’d like you to try and imagine that your health insurance member ID  card arrives with a surprise in the form of a not-so-subtle warning:  "Any damage to your body that exceeds the actual dimensions of the  outline of this card will not be covered by your policy”. It shouldn’t  be too hard to imagine ... in fact, maybe you should actually check your  coverage.


Years ago I was car-jacked at gunpoint. It's kind of an interesting  story, if you've got a few minutes. The most stunning part of the whole  episode, gun pointed-between-eyes notwithstanding, was what happened  post carjacking.  That’s what this is about.


I had come into possession of a fancy new sports car that was more  car than I could afford at the time. When you're carjacked at gunpoint,  some very interesting and even positive outcomes are possible. Highest  on the list would be surviving the ordeal, not getting shot. The police  can call you in a week and tell you they've made an arrest and they'll  need you to come down to the station to identify the suspect in a photo  line-up, which they call a six-pack. You can pick the guy they  actually arrested, testify against this youthful gang-member in open  court on the exact day the L.A. Times does a cover story on gang crime  witness murder. He can be convicted and go to prison for all of a year.  Oh and you can learn how lucky you were because the lady whose car he  tried to take an hour earlier, as part of his gang initiation, had her  car windows shot out in the process.


On the down side, you can also learn that your leased car, which they  did find stripped, is not salvageable.  Your insurance... will cover  everything except the difference or gap in lease amount owed versus the fair market value of the vehicle. The gap being $7,000.  No car, no lease, you owe $7K, thank you very much.


My career as a health and life insurance broker had not yet begun,  and being younger and infinitely wiser, I never thought I would need gap  insurance. I was certainly not prepared to pay for anything other than  the lease and probably regarded it as a cynical ploy and unwelcome  attempt at up selling. It wasn’t something I’d planned. The possibility my bad and beautiful new ride would ever wind up totaled was unimaginable; I rejected the coverage outright.


Ironic that for more than 14 years now, I’ve specialized in the human  body and soul equivalent of gap insurance for individuals and groups.  While it may seem lofty to equate life insurance, disability insurance  and other permanent cash-benefit asset protection plans with coverage  for the soul, I offer this;  a solitary idiom has defined both the  lowest and highest artistic forms of expressing what the commercial  market for anything, as well as the human soul of us all, aspires to...  providing and being provided peace of mind.


Peace of Mind...it may be the single most overused expression in the history of verbal communication, let alone advertising.  


The  velocity with which it now enters one's ear and exits the opposite  without registering even subliminally can't be measured by contemporary  instrumentation. The only other expression, reserved for and I  believe invented by my esteemed colleagues in the insurance arena is  "God forbid something should ever happen to you."  Yet I have learned that, much like being in love, you will know peace of mind when you find it.


In January of this year, I decided to lease a Hybrid vehicle for  business.  Gas prices were as low as they've been in 10 years, and the  dealers had sharpened their pencils big time.  They were offering me a  great deal, an offer I found difficult to refuse.  I went into the  transaction swearing I wouldn't make the same lousy deal I'd made 25  years ago when last I leased a car. During that strange rite of passage  called meeting with the finance manager, 25 years melted away when the  subject of gap insurance entered the discussion. Only this time I said  "yes".  Three times, in fact, to three types of coverage, which I  haven't regretted for a one second since. 


I walked out of that office  knowing peace of mind...and it feels great.  


It is the  same feeling derived from knowing I have two kinds of critical illness  coverage, two types of Life insurance and a long term care insurance  policy; a peace of mind that, more even than protecting personal  finances, comes from knowing my loved ones won't bear the burden of  learning they either cannot afford, or physically manage, caring for me  in the event of.


There is a passion I must keep in check with clients for fear it will  translate as pressure. It is a product of hearing, and thus knowing,  that 90% of working men and women I've spoken to throughout the years,  usually when presenting such benefits to them at the workplace, report  their sole family life insurance product is the small to moderate policy  provided by their employer.  Life policies, which, for a statistical  number of people equivalent to everyone, will not be in force when they die.


Two-thirds of working Americans say they could not cover normal  living expenses even for a year if their employment income was lost.   About the same number within the private sector have no long term  disability coverage. Most of us will require some form of long term care  prior to our death. Our death is inevitable and it will cost someone  something.


What is the fair market value of your peace of mind?  


This is where I  cease with the statistics; they tend to mean nothing given they are not your  story. Your story is, do I need life insurance and if so, what type? Do  I have some disability coverage at work that I should supplement? Am I  married with kids and how many incomes should we be protecting - one or  two? How old am I, how is my health, what might I qualify for, and am I  getting any younger? The last question is the reason we should not be  putting off these decisions.


Gary S. Nellis is president of Nellis &  Co. Insurance Agency,  a group health and benefits broker located in  Southern California. Their mission is keeping clients and their families  as independent and healthy as possible, for as long as possible, in the  best financial environment possible.


First published May 27, 2016 ~ LinkedIn

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FULL DISCLOSURE

Shameless Self Promotion - The power of helping others connect

There are few things I can think of that are more rewarding than providing the route by which people's lives are changed for the better. Changed in ways that made unforeseen opportunities possible. Changed in ways they needed at the moment they needed most. Isn't much of the activity on this very site all about affecting such change for ourselves and our colleagues within our professional worlds? Well, perhaps usually for ourselves. We could call all of it simple networking; there are times, or more precisely chances, though, that transcend that ad hoc activity for me.


"My ego disappears in the act of ...connecting people that should be connected".

My ego disappears in the act of taking such an opportunity, which has nothing to do with me, or advancing my own needs or the needs of my business, and connecting people that should be connected. I recognize these moments because there is no thought of ROI or WIIFM or any of the business-owner's reflexive calculations that figure into a hundred daily interactions. These moments have incredible power and a feeling almost that one's life trajectory has led to that very instant and a vision of what naturally must follow; the possibility to fulfill a compelling act of connection accompanied by a joyful element of surprise.


The odd companion to these rarest of scenarios is that at times they seem to be leveraged by an act of shameless self-promotion - who I know, what I've done, who my clients are, etc. Perhaps it’s the product of growing up in the heart of six degrees of separation Hollywood. Perhaps it’s the inescapable link to working in a profession that depends on daily acts of self-promotion, however delivered. That said, it is sometimes difficult to get through a gag reflex, triggered by my own requisite spiel, when trying to get to the whole helping-my-fellow-man-or-woman part. Because many of these interactions, no matter how-made-for-each-other the players may seem to be, involve a certain amount of, ahem...selling.


Years ago I attended the opening week of The House of Blues on Sunset Blvd at the invitation of my companion, who in turn was invited by her good friend, musician/producer Ry Cooder. Introductions were made, a great time was had by all, and the next day she calls me with an odd request. 


Ry Cooder is scoring a new film about to go in production with Jeff Bridges. They need an opera singer of a very particular look and age and talent and do I know of anyone? I call my neighbor, a principal with the LA Opera Los Angeles and by Friday of that week she is meeting with director Walter Hill. She gets the part. The selling came in between; me to the Ry Cooder people, promoting the bona fides of my neighbor and her perfect fit for the part and then me to my neighbor, selling her on this opportunity. None of it would've happened without the kind of interaction that comes from talking about our own lives, the people in our lives and the experiences we've had. My friend knew about my neighbor because I talked about her impressive talent and achievement within the rarefied arena of world-class opera.


"An act of shameless self-promotion of a life connected to such interesting characters made possible their connection to each other.

The reality is that it is the promoter’s reputation that is ultimately on the line, but also the promoter’s thrill in facilitating the connection. There is no feeling quite like it. An act of shameless self-promotion of a life connected to such interesting characters makes possible their connection to each other.


Fast forward to this week and an equally strange and harmonic convergence – a close friend and successful corporate entertainment attorney who's just launched his own practice, informs me he's in Beijing for 8 days to teach the U.S. perspective on film and copyright law to students who are post-graduate entertainment industry CEOs. He has no idea I have a contact in Beijing that may be invaluable to his new practice. I was able to drop everything and send an email introducing my friend to a key contact with whom I’d done business in 2015 – the CEO of one of China’s top television and film syndication companies based in Beijing. I promoted my relationship with each to the other, ending with a simple message to both: “If it were possible for you two to meet in Beijing, I think you would benefit both personally and professionally from such a meeting. I’ve included both your LinkedIn profile links and hope you have a chance to connect with each other.” By the end of the day, enthusiastic emails had exchanged between them and a meeting planned.


Two months ago, another such carpe diem moment materialized. My long-time friend and former colleague from our days @ CPK corporate were having a conversation and a germ of a possibility emerged. A Veep of HR for a large restaurant chain was in the market to hire two key SoCal based HR executives. The company was relocating their headquarters to L.A. from up north and their HR team could not make the move. Could I help him connect with local candidates? Again, I drop everything, call him and essentially sell him on the idea of flying down to L.A. to attend our monthly PIHRA Burbank/Glendale meeting. “It’s only two days away but I think I can provide some very qualified candidates”.


Because I have made a habit of knowing which of our members and colleagues may be in-transition, I already know that several of them will be in attendance. There is no time to pre-arrange any of what is about to happen, but it plays out precisely as envisioned. He flies to L.A., shows up at our meeting, and one by one I introduce him to those in-transition members who have no idea he’s coming. By the next morning, four interviews have occurred, including one on-site following our PIHRA meeting. Two candidates are offered positions, accept and are hired; and all four highly qualified members of our PIHRA group are reminded yet again of the value of their membership.


My mother always told my sister and me that, in life timing is everything. I have come to view these vignettes as a kind of magical pause within which my professional agenda is suspended in favor of service to the professional needs of others. In each case, career goals or aspirations or urgent needs are given opportunity because, somewhere in the distant past or recent present, I was shamelessly promoting something to someone. So if we meet and I start telling you a story, I'll be asking you to tell me yours. Because apparently the universe is listening to us both.


Gary S. Nellis is president of Nellis & Co. Insurance Agency, a group health and benefits broker located in Southern California 


Gary is usually shamelessly promoting PIHRA Burbank/Glendale in his role as District Chair.

Originally published May 18, 2016 ~ LinkedIn

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FULL DISCLOSURE

The Aha Moment

Last week was full of surprises. For some 12 years, I've been a Board  member of, and current Vice Chair at the district level in Los Angeles  for the largest chapter of SHRM (Society for Human Resource Management).   As in most such professional orgs, we hold social events in addition  to monthly business meetings, and last week we had such a mixer.  A very  smart person once told me "never volunteer for anything", and so  several weeks ago I promptly volunteered to put together this event  because, I mean, how hard could it be?


Last week's second surprise was that the event was a big success.   Huge by our own district' reckoning, in that we doubled our expected  turnout.  More importantly, a good time was had by all; socializing  replaced networking, connections were made, offers to join our Board  were proffered, new members welcomed and prospective members engaged.   The first surprise was that organizing it was, indeed, a lot of work.


Full disclosure... I am a health and benefits broker.   

A funny thing happened at the mixer. Full disclosure ...I am a health  and benefits broker. Associations such as our SHRM Chapter (locally we  are PIHRA) are broadly comprised of two types of professionals - Human  Resources Professionals (including Benefits Directors) and service  providers.  Service Providers such as myself bring our products and  services, such as health insurance and other employee benefits, to our  client HR professionals and a wonderful balance of mutual business goals  are met in the middle.


That I am in "competition" with my fellow benefit broker is perhaps technically true.


Happily, though, we seem as a group to be convivial and for the most  part respectful of each others' space in the ecology of the benefits  marketplace. 


So back to the funny thing.  During the course of the evening, two  brokers whom I have known for some time and have respect for had  separate catch-up conversations with me about business - how's it  going, what are you focusing on these days, congratulations on launching  your agency way back when, how are you leveraging technology with your  groups (hot issue!), etc, etc.


What stood out about the conversations was the distracting  topic of Long Term Care insurance, a type of benefit I specialize in,  particularly for employer groups. And while my business is also serving  my group health clients of under 100 employees, Long Term Care insurance  is my passion within this profession.


That passion can prevail in the business of insurance is  usually the result of a life-altering experience related to needing and  either having or not having such coverage.  


Perhaps healthcare reform is the source of the distraction, in that  most brokers have little to zero bandwidth for anything but competing in  that evolving space. One of the two brokers I spoke to specifically  referenced both the ACA, technology challenges and related costs as a  business focus, to the seeming exclusion of other benefits concerns.   The message was delivered with a literal shrug.


It is no wonder broker/producers and their agencies have focused on  costs, compliance and technology - it is what the majority of their  competitors are doing because its what the media and the marketplace  are telling them is important. What they are decidedly not focusing on  is Long Term Care insurance, arguably one of the most important lifetime  benefits a person can obtain.


Indeed, the chart above paints the literal picture of a  thousand words.  Or more precisely, the needs of a thousand employees, a  thousand lives, a thousand people. 


Based on about forty years of experience and current rates of  morbidity, we know that 600 of every 1000 people over the age of 65 will  require some form of long term care. Only 5 will file a claim due to  house fire under their homeowner's or renters policy and 70 people out  of 1000 will find themselves filing an auto insurance claim. The 600 souls needing long term care? Today  they are looking at expenses of between $40,000 to $75,000 annually for  the duration - in 20 years that number will be double.


The irony is that about 4 years ago, the LTCi carriers started  vacating the group market due to the numbers - 97% of the policyholders  they had sold to were keeping and using their plans. Unheard of  retention rates in the Life insurance market and the carriers were  losing money.


And so it was about 4 years ago that those LTCi experts and group carriers were, in effect, no longer available to your broker.


Or so it seemed. So when a health insurance broker talks  strategy with a client, LTCi is not at the top of the list. Frankly, its  rarely on their list at all, and that is a shame.  That broker knows he  or she has no real expertise with it and will have to outsource to a  specialist. When they read the industry trades, they wonder if employee  participation will support their own sales goals. They read that true  group plans have largely been displaced by multi-life plans or hybrid  plans, another level of complication. And commissions? They realize they  may have to share  commissions with an LTCi specialist such as myself  and so the topic becomes quietly moot.  Maybe next year.


And yet the need for Long Term Care insurance has never been greater.


LTCi carriers continue to adjust to the marketplace disruption in  truly innovative ways. In this, my 14th year specializing in asset  protection-based benefits, I have rarely seen such positive innovation  regarding access to coverage. That stated, I am sympathetic to my broker  colleagues who may not have adjusted because they could not and they  didn't have to.  Their priorities these last few years understandably  lay elsewhere. Aha.


So when a broker delays the LTCi discussion, the group client may  never hear about the state of the art technology in pre-enrollment and  enrollment platforms available. The client may never learn about the  LTCi carriers offering simplified-issue plans, or the future purchase  options that can keep monthly premiums under $50. The client may never  know about the direct employee billing options that remove the employer  from the hassle of payroll deducting these vital plan premiums.


Aha Moments are enlightening.  The reasons my broker colleagues  remain so focused on technology and compliance is that healthcare reform  has simplified and narrowed the plan designs themselves.  There are at  least two technology startups that purport to deliver those very  services without a human being ever meeting with the client company or  their employees - and the health insurance plans are a virtual  afterthought (pun intended).


Long Term Care insurance has not yet become a hands-off  proposition.  It is decidedly a life-changing decision that warrants the  kind of attention only a specialist can bring to an individual client  or group.


For information on the 10 newest innovations delivering LTCi access to small and large groups, email us ~ gnellis@nellisco.com


Gary S. Nellis is president of Nellis &  Co. Insurance Agency, Inc,  a group health and benefits broker located  in Southern California.  The agency specializes in group health insurance as well as asset protection  plans including Long Term Care insurance, Life & Disability  insurance for groups, individuals and voluntary multi-life enrollment  opportunities.


First published July 16, 2015 ~ LinkedIn

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FULL DISCLOSURE

Solution for the Niche within a Niche

Recently, I had a conversation with a broker colleague I greatly respect.  He can look back on a nearly 50-year career as a successful life insurance, disability and long-term care insurance broker, primarily to high net worth individuals and business owners. 


The topic of discussion was "averages", as in the tendency of independent agents to rely heavily upon them when presenting to prospects.  "Did you know that, on average, one in two men are at lifetime risk for cancer?” etc. etc. My colleague says he learned never to use averaging, because it never applies. 


"Gary, when I sell a client a Disability plan, he or she will never remember the "average" amount of coverage we discussed they might need if they actually become disabled.  Because it’s never enough. What they will do is forget everything other than 'why didn't you sell me more?  How can I possibly live on $10,000 a month?'"  And while many would say such clients seem to have quality problems, my colleague's aversion to the on-average discussion has some validity.


If we move out of the high net worth client arena, and look at the vast middle-income client space, I believe the "averaging" calculation is more product-specific. Of all the clients who've ever purchased a cancer plan from me, and there are hundreds, most were able to relate to the need because they had experienced it with someone in their own lives. Put another way, why would a person see the need for such a plan if literally everyone within the generations of his or her own biological family never once experienced a cancer diagnosis? Averaging the world's cancer rates might appear meaningless. 


Except when it comes to the need for Long Term Care insurance.


Long Term Care insurance is the niche product within the insurance marketplace. 


It shouldn't be, but it is. The reasons for this are varied, changing, and have created a bit of a conundrum.


The very relevant factor the insurance carriers underestimated was the need.  They planned for 60% of policyholders to retain and utilize their plans...turns out that 97% have retained their coverage, which they currently are, or will, be utilizing to full advantage.


To begin with, LTCi was historically marketed to couples in their mid-50s or older, with high enough incomes to justify some very benefit-rich plans. Fast forward to today, when carriers who "averaged" incorrectly had to radically adjust their plan designs, premiums and even market presence to accommodate the trending 97% of policyholders holding on to their plans. 


What never changed, however, was the need for long term care insurance. If anything, it’s likely to increase. And hence the conundrum.


So, if the need is pronounced, if it is true that some 70% of people aged 65 or older will require some form of long term care, why is it still a niche plan? 


Perhaps the question should really be...why haven't you purchased LTCi for yourself or your spouse or both of you?  Indeed, if LTCi is the most lifetime-retained asset protection insurance in our lifetimes, what are you waiting for?


"We're too young"~ if you're 40 yrs or older, you're not too young; "Premiums are too high"~ you'd be surprised how low they can be; "Reluctant to buy a plan neither of us may use" ~ Bingo!


If every one of the above reasons resonates with you and your spouse, congratulations. 


You are the niche within the niche.  And there is a solution designed just for you. 


The advent of hybrid Life insurance plans has introduced some interesting choices to address the above concerns.  Consider the advantages of a Survivorship policy. First of all, its life insurance.  Permanent life insurance. As the saying goes, there are two certainties in life and if there were ever a plan designed to cover both, it's the Survivorship policy.


Also referred to as second-to-die life, this policy insures two lives - usually both spousal partners. The death benefit, however, isn't paid out until the second spouse dies.


The death benefit, therefore, would be available to pay federal estate taxes and other related costs upon the death of the surviving spouse.


Now here's where the niche solution come in. 


Imagine such a plan that also covers Long Term Care costs for both spouses.  You have the certainty of covering death and taxes with the flexibility of having coverage for the costs of long term care. Imagine that plan also has a guaranteed cash accumulation value, enabling you to accrue your premiums as an emergency loan source.  That same plan would have minimum waiting periods to access at-home care and facility care, and would represent over 4 years of care for each spouse.


All the advantages of true, comprehensive long term care insurance plus the peace of mind knowing if you never need long term care, the survivorship life insurance will do its job.  And perhaps the greatest benefit addresses one of the primary concerns in the LTCi marketplace...


Your premium will never increase for the lifetime of the plan


If you'd like more information, including a plan and rate proposal, please email me via gnellis@nellisco.com


Gary S. Nellis is president of Nellis & Co. Insurance Agency, Inc,  a group health and benefits broker located in Southern California.  The agency specializes in group health insurance, as well as asset protection plans including Long Term Care insurance, Life & Disability insurance for groups, individuals and voluntary multi-life enrollment opportunities.


First published May 27, 2015 ~ LinkedIn

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FULL DISCLOSURE

The Price of Tea in China

I was a 19 year-old aspiring photojournalist on a trip abroad, the intention of which was to, well, photograph the world.  My girlfriend and I had been classmates in high school, and reconnected with each other in the months following graduation. We shared a dream of traveling and set about making elaborate plans to make it happen.  College could wait, the world could not.


Travel required money; we’d have to work for as long as it took to pay for flights to Europe and living expenses for at least a few months.  Our elaborate plan consisted of the following… fly to London, buy an old van, and take it from there.


So in July, one year after high school, we flew to London and bought the van. It got us as far as Paris.  The best of intentions gave way to abandoning the wretched thing, and hitting the road avec our thumbs. (Spoiler alert – we never boarded a plane again until we boarded a plane in London for the return trip to Los Angeles, a year later.)


Over the next six months, we traversed thirteen countries via hitchhiking, train, boat, ship, bus, rickshaw, mini-van, carriage, and finally dump truck, arriving in Kathmandu, Nepal. Our entire journey mapped out on a single steno page in an ad hoc itinerary, compliments of some worldly nomadic friends.


It was possible to travel this way for a year, rent rooms and even houses along the way, and spend the sum total of $5K between two people, all in.  However when you reach the apogee of your geographical journey and are running out of anything close to enough money to go on, let alone return home, you must be resourceful. Wishing to not alarm parents, from whom we’d already borrowed a small sum via wire transfer, we were determined to find a solution.


Yes, we had gotten this far on sheer, undaunted determination and a somewhat naïve willingness to accept advice from more seasoned nomadic expatriates.  Indeed, our entire journey from Europe to Nepal had been so plotted on a single sheet of steno paper (both sides); everything from buses to boats, vaccinations to visas, hippie hotels to student card discounts, to the location of Buddha’s enlightenment.


But now we were talking finance, as in the need to invest with very respectable returns and as quickly as possible.  We were talking business. We needed a game plan and that meant consulting experts – people with experience, people we could trust with the solution to our dilemma. We were strangers in a strange land with a problem to solve.


The fact is we were surrounded by all the experts we needed – a wide and growing collection of fellow travelers who had, in effect, become accidental merchants based on the same need, driven by similar circumstances. They had gained expertise from experience and the advice we received was simple and effective.  Since we were based in countries with an affordable and ample supply of exotic clothing and jewelry in high demand in Europe, we should invest every dollar possible and stock up on these goods for the journey west.  Great idea – now all we needed to know was what to buy, what to pay, whom to buy from, and how to engage our potential customers.


In May, some 10 months after our travels began, we arrived on a small Greek island with duffels full of merchandise… and US $25 left in our pockets.  The Greek friends we had made the year before let us stay with them and they helped us get the message out to the local tourists and ex-pats – two Yanks had returned from India and Nepal and were opening shop, as it were.  Within 2 weeks we had sold every last Benarsi scarf, silver anklet, Nepalese bracelet and Rajasthani toe-ring; every coral necklace and hand made garment we’d had hand-made.  In fact, we made enough to carry us nicely over the next few months, through Europe, back to London and home to the U.S.


The financial necessity that arose within the first 6 months of our travels became the source of much of our education and joy in our day-to-day life over the next 6 months.  We learned more about the foreign countries we were in, the history of their artifacts and ornaments, the value of the goods we were procuring and selling, and discovered within ourselves a penchant for entrepreneurial endeavors.  That we made many a new friend among the locals was a bonus.


The lessons learned then seem universal and any success within the trajectory of my own career and business is easy to link back to them. 


I’ve developed countless friendly professional relationships and we help each other every day. I’ve grown my business within a niche of the asset-protection marketplace allowing me to focus, to learn from experts, to know my market and to develop expertise within that space.  I was willing to bet on my experience, launching my own agency practice after 12 years representing others.  And every day, I stay attuned to the marketplace, enabling me to know what products and services to recommend to my clients, what they should cost, and what carriers to source.


Gary S. Nellis is president of Nellis & Co. Insurance Agency,  a group health and benefits broker located in Southern California.  The agency also specializes in asset protection plans including Hybrid Life & Long Term Care insurance, Life & Disability insurance for groups, individuals and voluntary benefits enrollment opportunities.  Email: gnellis@nellisco.com


The Price of Tea in China - First published Aug. 20, 2014 in The Policy Tree

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