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I met up recently for coffee with a financial adviser I used to work with. I noticed that he wasn’t his usual happy self. I asked him what was wrong and this was his story:

“James, who was in his early thirties, called me a couple of months ago wanting pensions advice. He had to decide about an ex employer’s pension or risk losing his fund. During the meeting, I discovered that he had two young children and a wife who worked part time as a dance teacher. She wasn’t earning much.

“He had a significant mortgage and a small personal loan but no life insurance. Nothing to cover the mortgage and nothing to cover any shortfall in income for his family on his death. It was clear that if he died, his family would be in big financial trouble. He was healthy and young, and therefore unlikely to die, yet I knew from my training that his need for insurance was urgent.

“I mentioned this to him, but his focus was to sort out his pension. He did however agree that I could send him a quote in the post. I sent him two life insurance illustrations. One joint policy to cover his mortgage of £330,000 and another to leave the family with an income of £40,000 a year on either death until the children were aged 21.

“At the next meeting, we had a lengthy meeting to sort out his pension.  At the end of it, I asked him whether he had received the life insurance quote. He said yes he had, but hadn’t had a chance to look at it properly or discuss it with his wife. He did say that he would do so and come back to me. A better adviser would have gone through it with him there and then and persuaded him to sign the paperwork first. Then go home and discuss with wife. But I didn’t. We’d had a lengthy meeting already and he looked tired. I therefore weakly allowed him to go home uninsured.

“A better adviser would have called him after that and badgered him into taking out the life insurance. But I didn’t. It was coming up to tax-year end and I had many clients who wanted to sort out their ISA’s and pensions. I was busy. If I’m honest, I wasn’t too busy to call him but I hoped that he would call me. He never did.

“Instead, I received a call from his wife Sally. She said that fit and healthy James had collapsed and died three weeks previously whilst playing his usual weekend five a side football. My whole body turned cold and I felt the ground shift as I realised where this was conversation was heading. Sally had found my business card and the life insurance quotes whilst sorting out his papers. She just wanted to make sure that he had set up the cover and needed to know what she needed to do to claim. She sounded confident at first. When I was silent, she asked, “He is covered, isn’t he?” That’s when I had to say the most disappointing two letter word ever. “No.” She hung up on me. The echo of the phone dying in my hand will stay with me forever. I imagined her sobs of anguish. Call her back? And say what?

“I can only imagine what Sally and her kids are going through now. A better adviser would have used all the tricks in the book to make sure he got insured. This would have made all the difference to their lives. But didn’t. Instead, I failed them. Initially, I was so distraught that I considered leaving the business, giving up on my profession.  Instead, I let this tragedy motivate me. I have a different attitude now. When it comes to life insurance, I am like a Rottweiler. If you have a family or dependants, you’re just not going home without it, simple as that.”

Article by Akwasi Duodu. Special thanks to Warren Powell for letting me tell his story.

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