`Getting fish [the elderly] to chase the boat'

April 25, 2006|By JOSH FRIEDMAN

Niju Vaswani calls them the "seven G's of senior interests."

He tells sales agents peddling investments to the elderly to focus on seniors' supposed soft spots - gambling, gardening, golf, gourmet food, grandchildren, groups and Greyhound bus trips.

Hitting one of the G's is good, says Vaswani, a San Francisco Bay Area marketing executive, and a twofer is even better.

A Greyhound excursion to a gambling house, for example, creates a captive audience for a sales pitch, Vaswani told a workshop at a Selling to Seniors Conference in suburban Chicago.

"When was the last time you saw a senior jumping off a bus going 75 miles per hour?" he asked.

The annual conference is part of a booming behind-the-scenes business of coaching salespeople in how to break down the defenses of the nation's 36 million seniors.

Just as the elderly are inundated with pitches for annuities, brokers, agents and financial advisers are flooded with come-ons from sales gurus. Though often benign, the advice can blur the line between sophisticated marketing and unseemly manipulation.

"It adds to the perception that it's about commissions to agents, versus benefits to consumers," said North Dakota insurance regulator Jim Poolman, annuities chairman for the National Association of Insurance Commissioners.

Consultant Edwin Lichtig of GSL Advisory Services in Walnut Creek, Calif., acts as host to teleconferences with such titles as "How to Turn Seniors Into a Buying Frenzy."

At one of these, Lichtig advised salespeople to get a copy of a prospect's financial statement, circle each stock, bond or mutual fund investment in red, and say: "Gee, everything you have is at risk." He even offered acting tips: "Good time to look startled."

Restaurant seminars are a time-tested way to sell annuities, but Lichtig says some seniors just come for the free meal.

"Sick and tired of the plate lickers? So am I," he said, urging agents to try fresh approaches such as renting booths at a recreational vehicle show.

Dean Cipriano recommends advertisements with attention-grabbing headlines. He read a sample during a recent teleconference of his own: "Local Senior Sobs, Loses Half His Retirement Income in the Market - Free Report Reveals How to Avoid the Same Mistakes."

Cipriano, head of Turn-Key Annuity Systems in New Jersey, said such ads had brought his clients a torrent of calls from anxious seniors - and tens of thousands of dollars a month in sales commissions. "I call this getting the fish to chase the boat," he said.

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