Up close: ‘Embrace technology’ to grow

During the months Congress debated overhauling health care, Darrick Wilkins watched many hours of C-SPAN.

Wilkins was keenly interested because he has built his online insurance agency, LTC Tree, on just one product: long-term care insurance, which was an aspect of the federal health care law.

Wilkins is not a fan of the law, which he says won’t provide affordable long-term care insurance for most Americans. But he is glad that it fostered discussion about long-term care coverage.

Q: Is there a target age at which people should buy long-term care insurance?

A: You want to start getting familiar with it in the mid-40s, and the average age people buy it is around 55. The younger you are, typically the better health you have. ... If you wait too long, the private insurance might decline your case. Generally, when people are in their 50s, they are still in relatively good health — working, still active. Also, the insurance companies price it more cheaply the younger you are.

Q: Then why not buy it at 45?

A: What I hear from people is there's always a chance that you buy this insurance and never even use it. Like any insurance, you have to find the balance between too much and too little, and the timing has to be right, as well. A lot of people who are 45 years old have kids in high school, maybe going to college, and they have their mortgage to pay off. Once their kids become self-sufficient, and they've paid down their mortgage, they have more income to pay for this. Ideally, if you can afford it, you definitely want to buy it at 45.

Q: So the younger the better, as far as cost goes?

A: Well, not exactly. The premium for a 40-year-old is the same as for a 30-year-old. It changes after 40.

Q: How is your business organized?

A: We have 13 agents on contract across the country, as well as myself and my cousin, who is co-owner of the company. We provide the agents with leads that come in through our website, a blueprint for selling long-term care insurance and managerial support. We take a percentage of their sales.

Q: Are you a broker for many different insurance companies?

A: There are probably 25 companies that sell this [long-term care insurance]. We stick to the A-rated companies or better. ... Generally, the lower the financial rating of a company, the more likely they are to have large-percentage rate increases.

Q: How much of your business comes to you via the Internet?

A: Probably 90 percent.

Q: How does that affect the way you interact with customers?

A: It's a lot of phone calls or e-mails. We do video conferences with customers.

Q: Do you have a younger customer base because so many of your sales are done online?

A: I don't think so, not anymore. ... I would say that we get a more financially savvy customer base because these are people who understand the product. They don't really need a sales presentation at their kitchen table.

Q: What's the advantage of doing business online vs. a face-to-face sale?

A: Face-to-face, I would typically see three people on a good day. ... You're in the car all of the time. It's just not efficient.

Q: How many customers do you interact with in a day using your virtual business model?

A: It's very common that I will interact with 40 to 45 people in a day.

Q: What's the biggest lesson you've learned about building a business?

A: Embrace technology. When you embrace technology, you become more efficient. And when you become more efficient, you can do more work.

Q: How many hours do you work a day?

A: Maybe eight, nine hours in the office. Then I always go to the gym. I'm a big believer in that. Then maybe I will work another couple of hours at home. I try not to work more than 10 hours a day.

Q: Is that the downside to building your business online — that people expect you to be connected 24/7?

A: I guess you could look at it as a downside, but I really don't. I look at it as a positive. I can work from anywhere in the country. My wife is from Boston, and we have a little baby. We can go let her see her grandparents, and I can work from there. The tradeoff is I do have to take e-mails and calls from time to time, but I wouldn't have it any other way.