Personal Finance

The Comfort of Insurance

Joseph W. Jordan didn't start out life well, owing to a big mistake his father made. In 1952, Jordan's dad cashed in his life insurance policy. But then his father died in an auto accident, leaving the family in near-poverty. This shows how small errors with money can bring huge problems.

Joe, an infant at the time of his father's death, and his three siblings grew up hardscrabble. They lived in a small apartment in New York's Bronx, unable to buy new clothes or a car. His mother took fulltime secretarial work. Joe went to work at 13 in a neighborhood dry cleaner. He worked his way through college at Fordham, where he played football and rugby.

If his father, a lawyer who advised President Harry Truman, hadn't cancelled the $100,000 policy, the family would have been a lot better off. That was big money then, and in current dollars amounts to $900,000.

Through grit and determination, Joe Jordan went onto a successful career in financial services, with top posts at PaineWebber and MetLife. But a large part of his success owes to his belief in what he is selling - insurance, the very thing his family didn't have and needed so very much. That's why he calls financial services "the noblest profession of earth."

Lately, he addresses groups of insurance agents and other finance folk about the crucial nature of their calling. Noted for his dynamic delivery and emotional anecdotes, Jordan says, "People sometimes think I am the industry chaplain."

He wrote a well-received book in 2013 , Living a Life of Significance , which shows how financial products like insurance bring people freedom from want and hope for the future. It quotes savants ranging from Albert Einstein to Winston Churchill to Joseph Campbell to bolster his message. For instance, Campbell, the expert in mythology, contends: "A hero is someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself."

That's exactly what providers of financial security deliver, Jordan says. "Insurance brings people independence and dignity," he declares.

The finance world attracts people with math backgrounds, but not necessarily the people skills to show the public the vital services they provide to improve lives, he argues. That, however, may change.

Jordan points to the desire of many millennials to have careers that are meaningful to humankind. A Wall Street Journalarticle earlier this year noted that a growing number of companies, from retailer Kohl's to accounting firm KPMG, are seeking to inspire employees to view their work as having a higher purpose.

The stories Jordan tells, using clients of insurance agents and other finserv people he knows, are heartwarming, uplifting and cautionary. Listening to and reading Jordan underscores how life can go terribly wrong in an instant, and why insurance and other financial assets are a vital bulwark.

There's a woman named Sally, for example, who took out a $100,000 policy that, when she died, went to her ailing elderly aunt, who very much needed the money. Jordan says he once saw a video of an old lady filled with resentment because she was utterly without resources. She'd say: "You don't want me to move in with you."

Another story concerns a young man named Joseph Steinberg, who was dying from a long illness. But his parents had the foresight years before to take out a life insurance policy with a feature that cancelled premiums for holders who were disabled. So they could afford to keep it in force amid his illness. When Steinberg died, the proceeds went to fund a scholarship at his college, benefiting needy students and giving them a chance.

But perhaps the most telling tale concerns a kindly insurance agent who gives a lift in his car to two cocky young pilots hitchhiking in a Massachusetts snowstorm during World War II. The agent says he'll take them to their destination but must first make stops at policyholders' homes to collect a few dollars each in premiums - a practice common back then.

"That's quite a racket you've got there," one pilot says.

The agent abruptly pulls the car over and tells them: "At the next stop I'm going to make, I won't be collecting a payment - I'll be delivering one." Although it won't bring back the household's beloved father, he says, the money "will make all the difference in the lives of that family."

He finishes by saying to the young officers: "You boys should understand the importance of service. Am I right?"

He was.

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The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

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