It wasn’t the prospect of fame and fortune that sparked the idea for Howard Sharfman’s new lifestyle insurance company, FinFit Life (he already had a bit of both). It was his weight.
Tipping the scales at more than 315 pounds, the veteran insurance executive at the urging of his daughter began attending spin classes and, he says, “about 800 classes and 100 pounds later … I was thinking you can’t have true wellness without having financial fitness and physical fitness.”
After bouncing his idea for an insurance company that stressed physical fitness with financial wellbeing off several associates and colleagues, FinFit Life was born, signing its first licensed agent In February of 2020, just before Covid hit. Maybe the pandemic slowed the company’s growth rate, but you can’t really tell. Now the company has contracted with more than 950 licensed agents with 700 more in the licensing pipeline. Total licensed and non-licensed company associates has grown to more than 1,400.
Sharfman says FinFit Life brings a level of financial services usually reserved for high-net-worth individuals to a mid-market of people earning between $60,000 and $260,000 annually.
“The financial service industry has abandoned the middle market,” he said. “And every time I see someone enter the middle market, they enter with a crappy product. So, the first thought we had is that we needed to build a new product. I said, ‘No, I want the same product that I'm going to sell to John Doe billionaire.’ And I want to sell it to everyone.”
“We see financial fitness as a key aspect of health and wellness. Their relationship is unquestioned: better fiscal health means lower stress levels. — Brooks Tingle, president and CEO of John Hancock Insurance
Jumping on the fitness and health movements, Sharfman also wanted to pair his products with science and technology-based wellness programs that incentivizes and rewards healthy habits. Thus, the company partnered with John Hancock’s Vitality products in which clients can receive premium discounts, savings on fruits and vegetables, travel and hotel benefits, and even Apple Watches and FitBits.
“We see financial fitness as a key aspect of health and wellness,” said Brooks Tingle, president and CEO of John Hancock Insurance. “Their relationship is unquestioned: better fiscal health means lower stress levels, which directly correlate with physical health and better physical health means lower lifetime healthcare costs.”
Sharfman says the key in developing good fiscal and physical fitness is close engagement with the customer.
“We will gather facts, we will analyze your financial situation; we will talk to you about your retirement goals; we will talk to you about your needs for insurance, including long term care and life insurance,” Sharfman says. “Then you engage with our Vitality app and the more you do the more points you get for working out, and walking, visiting a gym and even resting. The success of our clients is much greater than just financial security.”
But FinFit Life is also a marketing company that attracts and recruits agents. FinFit Life trains its producers, called "Financial Fitness Associates," in a system designed to build independent sales offices in order to serve a wide customer demographic. FinFit Life Associates have the opportunity to build their own independent FinFit Life businesses and sell on behalf of the company. FinFit Life is perhaps comparable to Family First, and PHP Life Insurance in this respect, but Sharfman bristles at the notion that his company might be a multi-level marketing firm.
“We have an economic compensation plan that pays people to sell things and pays people to recruit people,” he said. “They're not required to buy anything beyond licensing requirements. And because the products are more fun, and they work better, they are the easiest businesses to grow because people are concerned about their health and their wealth.”
Sharfman was emboldened right from the beginning when he was developing his business plan. One of Sharfman’s associates pitched the business idea to a “fishbowl” of several hundred people and 39% wanted to immediately buy the product and another 36% said they wanted to join the company and represent the product.
“So, we had over 50% of the people saying they immediately wanted in. Then we had another 30% of people that said they need more information,” he said. “I've never been able to entice half the people that I talked to to do something that I wanted. So, this looked good, and we were really excited.”
The good reviews have kept coming, he says. FinFit Life’s Net Promoter Score, a measure of how likely a customer is to refer a company to an acquaintance, is an outlier he says.
“Apple’s and Tesla’s NPS is off the charts,” Sharfman says. “But the insurance industry on average is very low [+35]. We’re in the high 60s. It’s a complete outlier because we don’t just send people a bill in a statement. We send them and Apple Watch or a Fitbit and engage with them all the time through the app.”
Hancock’s Tingle sees continued growth in FinFit Life’s market.
“As FinFit Life works to help customers achieve financial security and wellness, we see the clear synergies in our shared visions and support their ambition to helping customers with both their fiscal and physical health,” he said.
Doug Bailey is a journalist and freelance writer who lives outside of Boston. He can be reached at [email protected].