James Christie | The Art of the Cover Letter

Having a well thought out cover letter can have a drastic impact on the outcomes of the underwriting process. In the decade I spent at one of the largest life insurers, I had the opportunity to hear our underwriters speak at numerous conferences. A constant over that time was the importance of a cover letter.  As much as underwriting is about morbidity and mortality, it is really about trust. Even with all the data, information, and education available to those underwriting policies, it is still a judgment call in a lot of cases.  That is a lot of pressure on an underwriter, especially for the larger cases that come across their desk.  Essentially, can they trust the information, and more importantly can they trust the producer sending in the case?

Having a long-standing relationship with an underwriter is the best way to build trust, but this requires time.  I am an advocate for finding a few carriers you like to work with and sticking with them because aside from product, people and processes are very important.  But this isn’t always an option depending on products changes, case specifics and the like. So, if the relationship isn’t there, a cover letter is a great way to bridge the gap.

I have had the opportunity to review a lot of cover letters over the years and put them into practice running my own business and I have some best practices to share with you.

A proper cover letter should not be a dissertation, it also shouldn’t be a tweet. Details are important, but no one wants 20 pages of information. Conversely, don’t waste their time by putting together something not worth reading. There is a balance to a good cover letter.  Enough details and narrative to paint a picture of you and the client, but not a complete life story.

Cover letters should include the following:

  • A brief history of you:
    • How long have you been in business?
    • How do you go to market?
    • What types of clients do you typically work with?
    • Any specific areas of expertise especially if applicable to the current sale.
    • Your philosophy and values
    • Finally, any positive interactions you have had in the past with the carrier working on similar cases. Remind them they can trust you.
  • How you met the client:
    • Do you have a long-standing relationship?
    • How long have you known them?
    • How were you introduced?
    • Anything that shows how you became the producer on the case. Essentially, how well do you know the client.
  • Background of the case:
    • How did you come up with the solution that is being presented?
    • Financial background for the individual or the business
    • What was the process to determine the insurance need?
    • What need are you solving for?
    • Any pertinent details that show the underwriter how the illustration and case was put together.
  • Lifestyle information for the client:
    • What type of lifestyle do they live?
    • Are they active?
    • Are they philanthropic?
    • Are they big in their church?
    • Really anything that speaks to the life they live and the type of person they are.
    • Think of this like a character witness at a trial.  Be truthful, but you want to paint the best picture possible of your client as a real person in their daily lives.
  • Any field underwriting you have done:
    • Don’t give away the house, but have you or any of your business partners involved in the case done field underwriting
    • Are there things that you know will come up during the underwriting process, if so address them, don’t hide them.  Being upfront will build trust.
    • Give enough detail to be educated on it the topic, but you don’t need to do the underwriting for them.
  • Any offers or quick quotes from carriers:
    • If you received any offers or quick quotes, include them in the notes. Especially if they were from the carrier you are asking to underwrite the case.
    • If you plan to shop the case, be honest. 
    • There is nothing an underwriter hates more than when they give a solid offer, and someone shops it anyways.
      • Trust me, they remember people who do that.  But if they know ahead of time, it is less of an issue.
  • Finally, a call to action:
    • Let the underwriter know that you are available to answer any questions they may have.
    • This is a partnership you want to build with the underwriter, better yet a relationship.

The letter should be two pages, maybe three at most.  Think about your reader, don’t just type a two-page single paragraph brain dump.  Make it easy to read and follow, with only the important information that will help your client get the best offer possible and build trust in the information and more importantly, in you.