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Beware of Insurance Advisors Who Make Good First Impressions

Why buy life insurance from an advisor you don’t like when you have many other choices? What about an advisor who makes a good first impression? You may want to “trust your gut” based on Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink. If you buy life insurance regularly, your skills would improve but few have much practice.


Successful advisors become masters in creating good first impressions with:

  • What they drive
  • What they wear
  • How they talk
  • The quality of their handouts
  • The designations they hold

They’ve practiced with hundreds or thousands of prospects over years or decades. They’re much more experienced at selling than you are at buying.

The study

The Wall Street Journal reported on recent research that confirms the perils of buying on first impressions. The study is called First Impressions Matter: An Experimental Investigation of Online Financial Advice. It’s not specifically about life insurance advisors, but financial advisors are similar.

The findings

Participants could separate good advice from bad for simple topics such as paying off credit card debt. They had difficulty with more complex topics. Life insurance is more complex (eg. temporary vs. permanent, whole life vs. universal life). An advisor can manipulate clients by giving good advice on an easy topic. This creates a positive first impression and helps build trust. Later, the advisor can give bad advice without losing trust. Could you be fooled?

Tip: Interview several advisors before selecting one. You’ll become more aware of the similarities and differences among them.


Professional designations or credentials help advisors create good first impressions. However, study participants had difficulty telling real credentials from fake ones. In real life, some designations are easy-to-get and have little value for you.

For life insurance advisors, the common credentials with value are CFP (Certified Financial Planner) and CLU (Chartered Life Underwriter). Some advisors have harder-to-get advanced professional designations such as a CFA (Chartered Financial Analyst), CPA (Certified Professional Accountant), FCIA (Fellow of the Canadian Institute of Actuaries), FEA (Family Enterprise Advisor), LLB (Bachelor of Laws) or MBA (Masters of Business Administration).

Credentials don’t guarantee competence but show signs of intelligence.

Tip: Beware of advisors with numerous designations you don’t recognize. Some can be earned in days and only require passing a multiple-choice exam (and paying a fee). Ask about the annual requirements for Continuing Education. How many hours? Who verifies that the advisor complied? What’s the discipline process?

Your strategy

If your needs are simple, you may be able to buy life insurance online with reasonable success. As your needs become more complex, you’ll find that you can’t easily get price and product comparisons. You may need an advisor—and more than your first impressions.

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