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The expert

Lawrence Ian Geller

Lawrence Ian Geller, president of L.I. Geller Insurance Agencies Ltd. in Campbellville, Ont.

Client profile

In-Kyung Choi, 48, is an anchor for a local news station in Halifax. Retirement’s almost 20 years away, but she’s recently changed advisors because she felt her assets weren’t producing adequate returns. Her new advisor asks her to do an asset inventory as part of the planning process.

The exercise jogs her memory. Her late father had mentioned a life insurance policy he took out on her when she was born. Problem is, she doesn’t know which company issued it, how much it’s worth or if it’s still active. The policy could have significant cash value, so In-Kyung’s determined to track it down.

The problem

Insurance regulation in Canada is highly decentralized, so there’s no single database of policies and policyholders, notes Lawrence Ian Geller, president of L.I. Geller Insurance Agencies.

In-Kyung’s first step, he says, is to search her father’s files for the original paperwork. Unfortunately, her efforts yield nothing.

Next, she should look for bank records that show premium payments. She finds the records, but they’re sparse and there’s no sign of payments.

6

Degree of difficulty

6 out of 10. A lot of the difficulty falls on In-Kyung since she’s the one who has to scour her father’s files. But the advisor’s response to her problem is critical because it can set the tone for the new relationship. If he simply tells her to get help from someone who specializes in insurance, he sends the message that he’s not taking a genuine interest in her financial affairs. By finding a broker himself and getting the information she needs, he demonstrates his ability to solve tricky problems, and to be there when she needs him.

In-Kyung’s sure she combed through everything her dad kept in a safe deposit box, but she gives it another try. Sure enough, tucked away in a file folder is a handwritten note that says, “Policy for daughter, WXY Mutual— $5,000.”

In-Kyung’s never heard of the company and a Google search reveals it closed its doors about 30 years ago. With no evidence of premium payments, it could mean the policy’s lapsed; but if it was a dividend-paying policy, her father could’ve elected to have them automatically cover premiums.

The solution

Geller says CompuOffice’s LifeGuide software is the best way to find the company holding In-Kyung’s policy. The program includes M&A data on more than 400 life insurers, reinsurers and fraternal benefit societies in Canada, dating back to the early 1800s.

But In-Kyung’s advisor is an IIROC-only rep, so he doesn’t have a subscription. And it doesn’t make sense to buy one because he doesn’t plan to get an insurance licence. Now what?

Ami Maishlish, president and CEO of CompuOffice Software Inc., says his firm does free traces for consumers and their lawyers. The firm would contact the insurer that now has carriage of the client’s policy. “If a contract is in force, they’re obligated to make proper disclosure.”

Take-Away

Don’t simply refer a client to another expert who can help. Instead, be hands-on by providing advice
and locating insurance information. This strengthens the client-advisor relationship.

If an IIROC dealer makes the same request, Maishlish has a different way to help.

“I would never tell him his client should call us,” he says, because it would compromise his neutrality. “We would suggest he find a subscriber and ask [him or her] to do the trace.”

The client’s name and other information isn’t needed for this, so breaching privacy isn’t an issue. All In-Kyung’s advisor needs to ask is which firm has carriage of the policies issued by WXY Mutual. If he doesn’t know a subscriber personally, he can find one on winquote.net. All the brokers generated by that search function have LifeGuide.

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