Articles

Two Million Dollars On the Dotted Line

IAN McKENZIE September 1 1950
Articles

Two Million Dollars On the Dotted Line

IAN McKENZIE September 1 1950

Two Million Dollars On the Dotted Line

Wiseacres warned life insurance was a lone wolf’s game, but these men pooled their personalities to lift a gilt-edged take from the world’s toughest selling line

Articles

IAN McKENZIE

NO CANADIAN life insurance underwriter has yet bettered the single million-dollar policy which Jack Donovan, now retired, sold during the 20’s to the late Harry Hatch, then president of Hiram Walkers, distillers. But the insurance partnership in Toronto of cordial, resolute S. Hume Crawford and urbane, sagacious W. E. N. (“Bill”) Bell has sold in the last eight years an average of $2 millions worth of life insurance annually. So far, Crawford and Bell’s biggest single policy has been a $350,000 whopper. Ultimately, they hope to pass Donovan’s record. They are encouraged in this by the fact that in 1946, their own record they wrote a thick of fat

amounting to more than $4 millions.

Fewer than 40 Canadians underwrote a million dollars worth of insurance last year. A man who sells $250,000 a year is considered a success, for he nets around $5,000. Crawford and Bell have each paid tax on at least four times that amount since they joined forces. Neither knows of any other partnership in Canada quite like theirs.

This partnership has been a resounding success. Separately they each dealt in thousands of dollars a year; together they have moved into millions. The success of their association lies in the fact that each has qualities the other lacks. Along Bay Street they are called “the Unidentical Twins.”

Crawford at 55 has a glowing personality which

has magnetized around him during the last 30 years a multitude of influential friends and acquaintances. He is essentially a salesman.

Bell at 40 is not as social but has that infinite capacity for taking pains that is akin to genius.

Thus Crawford is the Outside Man and Bell is the Inside Man. Crawford makes the contacts and persuades the clients to buy. Bell prepares the policies best suited to their needs.

Not long ago the two were down at a radio station in Western Ontario working on a group pension plan. A woman radio commentator came up to them and gushed: “I’m just about to interview two beautiful Chinchilla rabbits. Will one of you come and help me?”

Crawford quickly said: “Mr. Bell will attend to that. He’s our Inside Man.”

On the way home in Bell’s car, they stuck in a snowdrift. Laconically Bell said: “This is where you get out and push. You’re the Outside Man.”

Each man has always worked for Manufacturers Life on commission, although occasionally they will put a policy in the hands of another company if a client wishes it.

About 12 years ago, Crawford, working alone in Toronto, noticed that the younger Bell kept nipping over from his St. Catharines office to fork a plump prospect off his plate.

The older man sensed the challenge of a formidable youngster with a new idea. For four years they played cat and mouse but occasionally they would link up to land a sale that neither could make separately.

A Start on the Doorstep

Then, in 1941, during one of these temporary partnerships, they had a sharp lesson. They were sitting in Crawford’s office with a client who was nicely poised to sign for a $50,000 policy. At this moment Crawford should have whipped an application form out of his drawer. But there was none

Bell clucked under his breath at this display of

carelessness.

Crawford hurried out of the office to get a form from his secretary. To keep the conversation going Bell chose the unfortunate subject of the client’s brother, a lawyer whom he knew slightly.

This prompted the client to change his mind. He said he’d better talk the whole thing over with his brother first. On his return with the application form Crawford found $50,000 worth of business had flown out of the window. He cursed Bell inwardly for inability to keep a prospect warm.

From that moment they decided their sporadic collaboration had too many loose ends and agreed to splice permanently. Within two years they had their hesitant client back.

But when they first decided to team up insurance chiefs shook their heads and said the partnership wouldn’t last a year. In any other business a partnership stands a good chance of success. But in life insurance, where so much depends on personal relations between underwriter and prospect, partnerships are notoriously short-lived.

This is largely because it is difficult to split income equitably and agreeably. And any other basis than equal division of earnings is too complex in a field of multifarious and extended commissions.

A friend who advised Crawford against union with Bell said, “Don’t do it. You’re old enough to know it’s a one-man game.” One of Bell’s advisers said: “You’ll never agree. You’re such different types.” But Crawford and Bell have never had a quarrel.

Although both of them started knocking at doors and selling $1,000 policies to clerks, truck drivers and parsons (Crawford 30 years ago and Bell 12 years ago) most of their business is done today in plush boardrooms or the remote corners of austere clubs. A list of their clients reads like a directory of directors. Their three-room office suite in downtown Toronto exhales their confidence through dove-grey walls hung with prints, over-all maroon carpets, polished mahogany and cavernous leather chairs. Continued on page 28

Continued on page 28

Continued from page 14

Selling insurance, as Crawford, the Outside Man, likes to remark is not like selling a car, “where you can talk about its speed and grace.”

“All you’ve got in insurance,” he points out, “are the two dark intangibles of ‘What will happen when you are too old to work?’ and ‘How would your family be fixed if you dropped dead?’ ”

Thus, to be successful insurance men Crawford and Bell must be a mixture of private detective, banker, lawyer and carpetbagger. Indeed, one prospect, who took a long time to convince, used to call them cheerfully “the Shades of Death.”

In their early days they used to seek new prospects in the wedding and birth columns of the newspapers. New husbands and fathers were likely to be pondering their added responsibilities. Death notices led them to the beneficiaries of wills who were probably thinking of buying an annuity. Graduation lists of schools and colleges suggested parents who would probably be receptive to life policies for education of further children.

When the society columns indicated that an existing policyholder had been guest of a likely customer, Crawford and Bell would seek an introduction to the host through the guest.

Today, however, they find most of their clients’ names in financial publications. The man who buys needs protection. The man who sells has cash to invest. They thumb through telephone books, city directories, company reports, professional brochures, house magazines and much other literature for pointers to potential clients or information about their backgrounds. Before they approach a man they build up a detailed dossier on his business life, family background, habits, hobbies, failings and virtues.

But Dodges Sometimes Boomerang

They call one form of prospecting “the Endless Chain.” This means getting passed on from one client to another. They call a second form “Centres of Interest.” This means establishing the good will of an individual prominent in certain business, social or sporting circles and getting him to put the finger on likely types in his orbit.

Next comes the approach. Many underwriters use tricks to get into the offices of men notoriously hard to see. A common subterfuge at one time was to write out a cheque in the name of the man’s wife and send it in via his secretary. Curiosity generally prompted the quarry to admit the hunter. The insurance man would begin the interview by exclaiming: “Fow would you like your wife to get a cheque like that every month when you are gone?”

One underwriter, knowing that a slippery prospect was an inveterate gambler, finally got into his sanctum by filling in the line against “Business” on the visitor’s chit with the word “Betting.” He opened by saying triumphantly: “My company will

bet you $100,000 to $4,000 that you’ll be alive one year from today!” Gleefully the prospect cried: “You’re on!”

Crawford and Bell insist they never use such dodges because they boomerang. They have reached the top by a single formula. Instead of calling themselves insurance salesmen, agents or underwriters, they operate under the tag “Taxation and Insurance Con-

sultants.” Bell, the Inside Man, started it.

What it boils down to is this: Crawford and Bell offer their clients a service of estate analysis and planning. They clarify to the client the difference between what he has when alive and producing and what his estate will be worth when he is dead. The service also shows how, by drawing up a will in certain ways, and modifying it as circumstances change, a man can avoid many death duties.

In the case of affluent men with fluctuating incomes and many and varied investments this is a highly complex task snarled with legal red tape and financial puzzles. But Bell’s keen brain bores down like a diamond drill. Crawford and Bell then produce for their clients a picture of:

WHAT YOU HAVE NOW: income and assets.

WHAT WILL BE TAKEN ON DEATH : succession duties, surrogate court fees, lawyers’ charges, executors’ expenses, funeral costs, etc.

WHAT IS LEFT FOR THE FAMILY: liquid assets with guaranteed values (listed stocks, bonds, cash, insurance),nonliquid assets with guaranteed values (mortgages); nonliquid assets without guaranteed values (real estate, personal effects, furniture, stock in private companies).

Bell and His Brass Tacks

Even in the case of wealthy men a table like this often shows that insufficient cash will be available at time of death to provide a continuing high standard of life for widows and children.

In many cases handled by Crawford and Bell the client ends his perusal of their figures by scratching his head and saying: “Guess I should carry some more life insurance.” On this tl» partners sagely nod their heads and produce an application form.

Crawford the salesman opens up on a new contact with what he calls a “thought - provoking letter.” This, he says, must be appropriate to the man’s character and circumstances. Here is a typical example:—

Dear Mr.-

During the past eight years many changes have taken place in tax legislation in Canada. Some of these have had a tremendous effect on the personal estates of men and women who have accumulated capital.

As taxation and estate consultants we have made surveys of over 500 estates of varying sizes during that time and it has been possible, in the majority of cases, for us to make constructive suggestions which have meant sizeable savings to our clients. A list of our clients includes the names of many whom you will know.

We feel certain that you cannot fail to be interested and in any event we would like to call you by telephone in a few days with the idea of arranging an appointment to discuss this matter with you.

Yours very truly,

S. Hume Crawford'

He follows up with the telephone call. Bell says his partner’s telephone technique is “superb.” He nearly always manages to turn it into an affable chat about mutual business acquaintances or interests.

During the interview which usually follows Crawford gives the prospect a vigorous and telling description of their consultative work. But at the same time he contrives to keep the atmosphere congenial with talk about football, children, or any other topi c

which might hold interest. Crawford calls this “relieving the sales pressure.” Finally he suggests it would be a good idea if Bell, “our legal and financial specialist,” paid a call.

If this is agreed the Inside Man moves in and gets down to brass tacks. He gets the highly confidential details about the man’s estate. Then he draws up the analysis.

Both partners then talk this over and modify it. Crawford says: “Bill is a theorist, a perfectionist. His figures are fine. But these figures are all mixed up with human hopes, prejudices and fears. I like people and understand them and often I suggest adjustments to the proposals Bill has drawn up.”

When the final proposition is prepared the partners see the client together, preferably in their own office where he won’t be distracted. This last interview may take three hours.

Ethics Among Friends

During their social life Crawford’s and Bell’s ears are always pricked for the odd sentence that might lead to a prospect. Bell says, “It is never unethical to raise the subject of business among friends. It is only sometimes inopportune.”

Crawford and Bell have been frowned on by lawyers and accountants as intruders on their professional preserves. They counter by insisting a client shows their analysis to his other advisers. “And anyhow,” says Crawford, “Bill Bell’s a lawyer himself.”

Crawford once missed a sale right under his nose through procrastination. He knew that a man in the same building was a good prospect. For weeks he passed this man’s floor in the elevator, saying, “I’ll tackle him tomorrow.” When he made his approach he found the man had bought a $50,000 policy 24 hours previously, from a rival company.

Frequently they do estate analysis and planning for a man who is uninsurable for health reasons. This often leads them to good business elsewhere in the man’s circle.

Recently they knew from doctors’ reports that a certain man was in good health when they approached him. But it took them six months to get him to tne Manufacturer’s Life doctor. By this time he had developed an incurable disease. If he had taken his medical earlier his widow would be $50,000 better off today.

They Fended For Themselves

Big business once came to them on the turn of a sentence. Through life insurance a man provided his daughter with a legacy of $100,000. When he had signed the application Bell said, “It seems a bit unfair to do this for your daughter and not your son.” The client thought for a moment and said, “You’re right. Make it another $100,000 for the boy.” At that moment Crawford and Bell picked up $3,250 commission.

Most of their clients are in the upperincome brackets but they never scorn smaller busmess. A poor prospect today may be a rich prospect tomorrow. Again insurance turnover among the middle and lower income groups is increasing. Heavy taxation and the high cost of living have made it impossible for the average man to accumulate an estate in any other way. Without life insurance few men earning under $10,000 a year could guarantee a widow and children dignity and comfort.

To perceive the underlying reasons for their success you have to know something about Crawford and Bell’s backgrounds.

Crawford was born in Toronto. His father was also an insurance man. Bell was born in Alliston, Ont. His father was a lawyer. Each lost his father when he needed him most. Each had to fend for himself. But both had privateschool educations and both went on to the University of Toronto where they had brilliant athletic careers. Youthful contacts among the sons of the wealthy have since spelled good busi-

Stocky Crawford has a craggy, freckled face etched with the dour lines of Scottish ancestry and his now

grey hair is still peppered with its original red. His presence in a room is so potent you feel he should be thwacking his calf with a riding crop and blasting some Sikh groom for saddling the wrong charger. But when he speaks he is incisive without noise, erudite and fluent. You switch impressions and feel that he would be more at home in a surgery.

Service as an infantry officer with the 48th Highlanders in World War I and 20 years with the Reserve Army have marked him. But these brands are no deeper than those scored on him

by medical student days cut short in 1914. He played Rugby football for the University of Toronto in the same team as the hallowed trio Laddie Cassells, Pete Campbell and Jack Maynard.

Crawford looks younger than his 55 years and still does setting-up exercises every morning. His motto is “Drive.” He went into insurance on his return from France in 1919 because he wanted to get married and couldn’t support a wife while completing medical studies.

Bell looks a trifle more than his 40 years, is already greyer than Crawford, and in spite of his athletic background

looks pale and ascetic behind rimless glasses.

His speech is so soft you often have to crane your neck to hear and his dress is subdued. It is hard to believe he won his weight at university boxing but the shield is there among old sporting photos in his den to prove it.

More in keeping with his scholastic aspect is his prowess at that obscure geometrical science known as cricket. He captained a Canadian team touring England in 1936. His brother Clark, who was killed with the Hamilton Light Infantry at Dieppe, was one of Canada’s best batsmen ever (Bill Bell himself didn’t serve in the forces).

Granite, Lambton and Albany

Bell has built his career on the words of a friend who once told him: “Down here (lowering his hand kneehigh) competition is fierce. But up here (raising his hand shoulderhigh) competition is almost nonexistent.”

He graduated in law from Osgoode Hall during the depression, failed to get a foothold, taught at Ridley for a year, tried law once more, again failed, and swung into insurance be-

cause he was convinced his legal training would give him an advantage. He was right.

Out of their earnings Crawford and Bell have both established their families in houses worth between $20,000 and $30,000. Crawford has three grownup children and a grandchild; Bell has one daughter, aged 7.

Both curl at the Granite, golf at Lambton, and relax in the Albany Club, all-exclusive reserves where the waiters let out an anxious whinny on sight of suits off the peg. They both do Red Cross and service-club work. Crawford is captain of a Red Cross “special names team,” hand-picked personnel with contacts which enable them tö collect fat sums from the wealthy.

The older partner does not deny that in social service work they make many lucrative business associations. “But,” he insists, “if one did not work hard and sincerely one’s reputation would be ruined at once.”

There’s another way they could suffer a stiff blow—if Crawford should lose Bell or Bell should lose Crawford. So naturally, Crawford has insured Bell and Bell has returned the compliment. ★