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LIFE POLICIES GETTING MORE RESPECT THESE DAYS

There are a lot fewer doors being slammed in the faces of insurance agents these days.

Take a bear market economy, add the killing of an estimated 5,000 Americans in the worst act of terrorism in national history, and suddenly consumers are a lot more willing to plan for the future.

Insurance sales are up nationally since Sept. 11, according to a Federal Reserve report released this week. Statistics on insurance sales in Western New York are not officially tracked, but many local insurance agents and financial planners say they are getting a warm reception from clients.

The typical excuses used when an agent calls to set up an annual portfolio review come up a lot less often now, said Michael J. McDermid, general agent for Mass Mutual Financial Group in Buffalo.

"We're definitely seeing a lot more interest from our clients to review their programs to make sure they are on track with their financial objectives," McDermid said. "Most of the time there's always something else to do (when we call). But the response rate has definitely been higher with our clients in the last month."

While the Sept. 11 terrorist attack chilled sales for most products and services, further depressing the soft U.S. economy, a few industries have seen rising consumer demand.

Defense contractors will likely benefit from increased Pentagon spending in coming years. Sales of groceries, bottled water and security devices rose in the last month, according to the Federal Reserve. And consumer interest in financial planning products will at least ride a short term upswing.

Tim Hegarty, a spokesman for the Society of Financial Service Professionals, said he does not believe companies will attempt to play off consumer fears with more aggressive marketing.

"You have to walk carefully around this. Certainly at a time like this, nobody wants to be seen as opportunistic. Our accent has been on what can we do to help people affected by this," Hegarty said.

The association set up a free financial advice line to help people who lost loved ones in the attack. James Tyrpak, a chartered life underwriter in Williamsville, recently provided free help to a New York City area resident as a hotline volunteer.

Millions of Americans who did not suffer a direct loss at the hands of terrorism have still been affected because their view of the world is different, said Anthony Blasting, president of the Buffalo chapter of the Society of Financial Service Professionals.

"Every day we're out there talking to people about preparing for the unexpected. Now, I'm getting a different feeling from the other side of the table," said Blasting, a chartered life underwriter and certified financial planner for Northwestern Mutual Financial Network in Buffalo.

People want to know if they have enough insurance and they want to know how much longer it will take for the stock market to recover, Blasting said.

Jim Waggoner, a 44-year-old father of three from Kenmore, changed his investment allocation in recent weeks.

"I talked about it with my wife and we sat down to look at our overall investment mix," said Waggoner, an accountant with Brock, Schechter & Polakoff.

Waggoner also has a renewed appreciation for his whole life insurance contract. Unlike the less expensive term life insurance, whole life is a permanent insurance contract that builds cash value every year.

While most of Waggoner's investments have declined with the stock market, his 10-year-old life insurance contract is still building cash.

Consumers are no longer laughing at agents who recommend stodgy investments such as insurance contracts and bonds. The Internet-intoxicated years of expecting to make 40 percent a year on investments are long gone.

"My life insurance has been the one bright spot of my portfolio. When statements come in the mail, that's the only one I like looking at," said Stan Wyner of Getzville, a 49-year-old account executive with WB-49.

Many agents said they are seeing consumers interested in a return to basic principles, such as living within their means, saving consistently, and diversifying their investments.

John Moshides, who operates Moshides Financial Services in Williamsville, said he is cautioning clients not to make any snap decisions.

"We've received many phone calls from our clients since Sept. 11. Most of them want to review their financial investments. Many of us have a tendency to react emotionally to events. I try to help people make decisions intelligently rather than emotionally," Moshides said. "This is certainly been the most interesting period of time in my 20 years in this business."

e-mail: cbridger@buffnews.com

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