Ebony Ruffin was back home after graduating from Auburn University when she discovered a piece of mail that eventually led to her life’s passion.
“I found an envelope addressed to me, and I thought, ‘OK, I can open this,’” she said. “And then I saw it was a life insurance statement. But I saw there was cash value in the account, and I didn’t know what it meant. I told my mom I didn’t know I had money in my name, and she explained she had taken out life insurance for me when I went to college. And she went on to explain the different types of life insurance, and she explained why the money was there. But she also told me the importance of letting it sit there because I might need it later in life.”
It wasn’t Ruffin’s first experience with life insurance. She remembered how “the insurance man” visited her grandmother’s house in Montgomery, Ala., every week to collect her life insurance premium. Ruffin also recalled how her grandmother placed her life insurance policy in her bedroom with all her important papers for safekeeping.
Ruffin eventually became the director of finance for a law firm in Reston, Va., where she saw how the partners used key-person life insurance. And a spark was lit.
“I said to myself, ‘Childhood, college, mom, my career — there has to be something about life insurance for me to know more about,’” she said.
That desire to know more about life insurance led Ruffin to obtain her license and become appointed with a carrier. Now she is the founder and managing member of Ruffin Consulting Services in Atlanta.
Ruffin uses social media, podcasting and other virtual tools to connect with what she calls her “warm market” of young Black professionals and families.
“These are the people I already knew. And they trusted me because they knew my professional background,” she said. “They already knew I have a bachelor’s degree in finance and I have a master’s degree in international business. They just didn’t know my experience in life insurance, but they allowed me to present the different types of life insurance and allowed me to explain illustrations.”
As Ruffin serves her clients through the changes in their lives, she aims “to create a sense of community within my market.”
“I’m not a churn-and-burn agent. I focus on relationships. I want my clients to feel comfortable calling me directly.”
She is moving beyond her warm market as referrals keep coming in. She is studying for her Series 65 license, as she plans to expand her practice from a business-to-consumer model to work with law firms and private-practice medical firms, creating financial plans and incorporating life insurance into those plans.
Insurance As Part Of A Lifestyle
Ruffin uses social media to market herself and share her knowledge of life insurance. She started with Instagram, then moved into LinkedIn and Facebook. In her social media posts, she attempts to present life insurance as part of a lifestyle instead of as a commodity.
“On social media, you have to be able to connect with people’s emotions,” she said. “So on my Instagram, you will see posts about life insurance being a luxury lifestyle. This allows me to incorporate my lifestyle into the branding of life insurance. So I show you things like healthy meals. Or if I’m dining out, I’ll show what that looks like. And I want it to seem like there is a luxury around life insurance, because people want to be associated with something that feels good, that is of high value and doesn’t feel like death.”
Ruffin said she also wants her social media posts to position life insurance as “a wealth benefit and not a death benefit.”
“The topic of generational wealth always has been big,” she said. “People want to be associated with wealth. People want to create, sustain and carry wealth from one generation to the next.”
She also wants to brand herself on social media as “the woman who, as crazy as it sounds, really does love life insurance and makes it fun.”
“From there, people will follow you and begin to trust you.”
But even though Ruffin depends heavily on social media to showcase her practice, she believes “you want to make sure your clients’ offline experience is as great as their online experience.”
“When someone goes from your Instagram or Facebook or LinkedIn to your booking system, it should be flawless; it should be professional,” she said. “And then when you have your appointment, you want to show professionalism but also show the personality that clients connect with online. From there, I feel you can totally seal the deal. And then that person can refer more clients to you, and you’re creating your ecosystem and community of life insurance.”
A Process For Success
Ruffin created a practice and a system that was completely remote and online years before COVID-19 made in-person sales a challenge. She incorporated Zoom into her appointment system. Prospects can book an appointment and complete an intake form online. From there, the appointment gets placed on the online calendar, and Ruffin will meet with the prospect on Zoom.
During that initial call, Ruffin will assess the prospect’s life insurance needs, explain different types of coverage and complete an analysis.
Also during that call, Ruffin will focus on what she calls the DIME — debt, income, mortgage, education — method of helping a prospect determine how much coverage they need.
After the call, prospects receive a follow-up email that includes resources to help the prospect learn more about life insurance. Meanwhile, Ruffin said, she works behind the scenes on the life insurance illustrations, based on the information she gathered from the consultation.
When the illustrations are ready, Ruffin will review them with the prospect in another Zoom call. After tweaking the illustrations if necessary, Ruffin will complete the e-application for the coverage. The e-app is secured on the insurance carrier’s website. Once the application is approved. The prospect gets an email notifying them to review and sign the application. After Ruffin signs it as well, the application goes to the carrier’s underwriting department.
“I have mechanisms in my workflow where I’m giving my clients updates so they can stay connected to the process and not feel like there’s this period of silence,” she said. “And then once the application is approved, they get an email notification congratulating them on this amazing moment. We’ll review the policy with them, sign the documents electronically and send everything back to the insurance company. At the end, they get an email asking them to share their feedback or give a testimonial, asking where I can improve and asking if I can share their experience. And those testimonials also help grow my business.”
Ruffin said she mapped out her process in 2018 or 2019. “As you grow in business, you cannot continue to do a manual process for everything, and you cannot continue to do it all by yourself,” she said. “I want this to work no matter where I am in the world, because I want to have an insurance empire.”
Social Media Spreads The Word
Social media plays a big part in the growth of Ruffin’s business. She uses Facebook and LinkedIn to promote topics ranging from how children can support their aging Black parents to debunking the myths about life insurance as well as how to protect a family’s legacy with life insurance.
She even sells a line of life insurance-themed apparel on her website.
Ruffin is especially interested in reaching out to women — those who are life insurance prospects as well as those who are in the insurance business. She is the author of the Gurl Get Your Life guide, in which she gives advice to women on how to buy life insurance. She also provides training to life insurance agents who want advice on how to expand their practices.
She is a frequent guest on podcasts such as The Clever Girls Know, BeRich and Live Financially Savvy, where she discusses life insurance and its importance to women. She has appeared on the Black Press USA National Newspaper Publishers Association’s YouTube channel to discuss creating generational wealth using life insurance.
She also developed an e-course on life insurance to educate consumers on the product. “It incorporates quizzes — it’s audio, it’s visual. And it’s a great way to learn and test your knowledge along the way. Because my goal is to make sure people feel confident. And then when they speak with an agent, I don’t want them to feel embarrassed if they do not have life insurance or if they don’t have enough life insurance. I also want people to know there’s no judgment, it’s confidential, it’s professional. The goal is to get you adequately insured with the type of life insurance that best meets your needs.”
Sheronda White is a nursing professor who has known Ruffin since their days at Auburn. When White needed to buy life insurance to protect her growing family, she turned to Ruffin to help her get the right coverage.
“I love her passion for what she does,” White said of Ruffin. “She gives off this energy, and she has found her purpose.”
The life insurance industry has come a long way from the days when the agent (nearly always a man) went from door to door, selling policies and collecting premiums, Ruffin said.
“Now we have more women involved in the industry, and we don’t have to go door to door; we can leverage social media and our networks and all of the businesswomen’s organizations that we’re a part of.”