The Place of the Seen, the Unseen, and Clarity in Finance
I explain the consequences of neglecting “the unseen,” the misplaced emphasis on “the seen,” and how to extract clarity from financial darkness — for both sides of the agent-client relationship — all with special consideration of the IBC.
While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.
When, therefore, a man absorbed in the effect which is seen has not yet learned to discern those which are not seen, he gives way to fatal habits, not only by inclination, but by calculation.
— That Which is Seen, and That Which is Not Seen (1850) by Frederic Bastiat
Much of the confusion in finance in general and within the Infinite Banking Concept (IBC) community in particular originates in the neglect of the unseen. We get hung up on what’s present.
The impetus for an agent to “sell from the illustration” — that is, to generate a document from the life insurance company’s policy design software that enumerates future policy values based on the company’s current experience and assuming certain premium levels — is a manifestation of the emphasis on the seen at the expense of the unseen.
Agents sell from illustrations, because there is a substantial segment of the public who wishes to buy based on illustrations. Both indulge the desire to accomplish an abstract task with tangible tools.
As I’ve said on the Banking with Life podcast more than once, if the proper educational foundation has been laid, a life insurance illustration can be a source of clarity. If the proper educational foundation has not been laid, the illustration will be a source of confusion. Fixation on what is seen without a thorough understanding of what is not seen leads to mishandling of what is seen.
Pull the blackout curtains shut. Turn off any lights and unplug the printers and computers with passive indicator lights. Make the room completely dark. What do you do when you’re surrounded by things you cannot see?
Of course, to prevent harm, you begin to feel around for potential obstacles. You attempt to develop your awareness physically. If you’ll wait long enough, your eyes will adjust to the low light. Naturally, your body will adjust to the physical conditions.
In the world of finance, we’re surrounded by darkness, and the potential obstacles are legion. However, we can’t improve our awareness physically — we don’t get to bend down, feel around, and grasp financial wisdom. In a dark room, you can touch the Lego landmines before stomping on them. In the darkness of finance, the lessons you’ll need in order to prosper remain unseen.
Development of your awareness of financial obstacles and opportunities is not only an abstract process. It is also unnatural. Your mind does not automatically adjust to the deep, financial darkness in the way your eyes do in a dark room.
You cannot complete the abstract, unnatural, unseen process of improving your financial understanding by relying on what’s seen. Illustrated numbers on a page cannot, on their own, accomplish the task at hand.
This is why I tell members of the public and agents alike that the first step to implementing the IBC is to read Nelson Nash’s Becoming Your Own Banker — not “crunching the numbers” with a cascade of illustrations.
But keep in mind that BYOB is a pedagogical tool. It’s meant to teach. It is not a step-by-step guide to purchasing dividend-paying whole life insurance built for the IBC. That’s something you’ll handle when you talk with a qualified agent. BYOB is the educational foundation. From the source — from the man who came up with the whole idea — you acquire the vocabulary and the basic, minimum foundation on which you will build an edifice of abstract, unseen financial acumen.
Plus, BYOB has illustrations in it! Agents and prospects who in their first phone call request an illustration so that they can “crunch the numbers” and “see” for themselves what’s going on in an IBC-style, dividend-paying whole life insurance policy tell me much more than what they’ve merely verbalized. With those requests, they tell me that they have yet to do the work. Any illustrations one might need to see in order to understand the IBC are in BYOB.
Pay Your Dues
Often, not always, but often times the reason we prefer to engage with the seen instead of grappling with the abstract unseen is the refusal to do the work.
In BYOB, Nelson lays out a number of “Human Problems,” or things that keep us from understanding his message. I certainly wouldn’t add to or modify what Nelson has done, but over the last few months I have discovered another human problem. It’s the refusal to pay your dues.
Catching the IBC can be tough. Unlearning, which is the greatest obstacle for most who wish to get their arms around the IBC, is a challenging intellectual task. It requires self-criticism. It requires self-examination. Self-criticism and self-examination require vulnerability. Most of us, especially those with advanced life, financial, and professional experience, have built an identity around those experiences. Becoming vulnerable and analyzing at least one of the pillars of our identity can be terrifying. We might discover that the pillars aren’t as durable as we thought they were, and that could threaten the integrity of the entire structure. It’s no wonder that the shift in paradigm required for genuine apprehension of the IBC can be so difficult. For some, it’s even a threatening proposition.
[Digression for my Agent/Adviser readers: This is one of the reasons that the agents who avail themselves of “lead gen” services, who rely on scripts and third-party sales systems in order to build an IBC-style business have such a difficult road to hoe. Consumers can sense in-authenticity — especially highly-productive, high-income consumers. They didn’t get to where they are by remaining financially naive. Consequently, many of the sales systems that use the language of the IBC are built to target, e.g. the segment of the market that is looking to “get out of debt.” As my mentor James Neathery says, “you didn’t acquire all that debt because you’re uber-disciplined.” Of course, someone in debt can implement the IBC and improve their position over time, but the point is that repackaging the IBC in new words for marketing purposes will tend to unnecessarily pigeon-hole business growth.]
The perceived complexity of learning about dividend-paying whole life insurance and the IBC, and the potential challenge to the new learner’s prior set of financial values that the IBC might represent means that “paying your dues” could be a tall order. Paying your dues means reading BYOB. Paying your dues means re-reading BYOB. Paying your dues means watching Banking with Life. Paying your dues doesn’t take much money, but it does take time, attention, and vulnerability.
I believe that a major reason for the proclivity to refuse to pay your dues comes from the fact that we don’t have a track to run on. We don’t know what the dues are or where or how to pay them. Members of the public see countless, click-baity YouTube videos, podcasts, and books. They see the many attempts to re-brand the IBC by juggling around words like “banking,” “private,” and IRS Code section numbers, and they don’t know where to begin or who to listen to (all the more reason to go to the source…). Who can blame them?!
Agents see the many subscription-based sales systems, third-party calculator and illustration software, click-funnel marketing programs, and lead databases, all with similar “banking” language. They, hopefully, have already read BYOB — maybe once — and purchased a policy for themselves. But BYOB was published way back in 2000! The agent feels they need a system or a program to “take things to the next level” in order to improve the credibility of their sales approach and the quality of their professional reputation. But with so many programs from which to choose, and given that they’re so expensive, agents don’t know where to begin or who to listen to (all the more…). Who can blame them?!
As Nelson used to say, IBC is more caught than it is taught. To me, that moment of “catching” the IBC — the light-bulb moment (or moments) — when something “clicks” is, in fact, a moment of clarity. This isn’t the place to elaborate on what creates clarity, but suffice it to say that clarity cannot be imposed on someone. You cannot convince someone to see something clearly. You don’t create clarity with persuasion. Conversely, you can’t extract clarity from another person. It’s unlikely that you can call up five agents, ask them your list of questions (are they the right questions?), and derive light-bulb level clarity that we all search for in learning something new.
Clarity comes from illumination. Not physical illumination of course, but intellectual illumination. To go from the metaphorical to the literal, we can say that clarity comes from an environment of improved awareness. Awareness is rarely improved through the conventional, typical, mildly hostile, potentially contentious agent-client conversation.
If, as a prospective client, you don’t trust the character of your agent, your discussions with him is unlikely to yield improved awareness. Your path to clarity will only become obstructed, not liberated. If, as an agent, you don’t trust that your prospective client is coach-able, open-minded, and willing to do the heavy-lifting of vulnerable self-examination, your conversations with that prospective client are unlikely to lead to clarity.
In other words, both the agent and the client must be willing to pay their dues.
By the way, this means that agents, consultants, clients, and others in the financial industry who indulge the conventional marketing systems, who begrudge the party sitting on the other side of the table diminish our chances of successfully propagating the message of Becoming Your Own Banker.
This means that agents who pervert the design of dividend-paying whole life insurance in order to accommodate the misplaced objections of the mainstream prospective client likewise work against the successful propagation and implementation of the IBC.
What are the positive lessons we can take away from this meditation?
- Acknowledge the importance of the unseen. Emphasis and reliance on the seen without prioritization of the unseen breeds confusion and dependency.
- Pay your dues. Agents and clients alike should consider thoroughly reading and re-reading Nelson Nash’s Becoming Your Own Banker. Many have attempted to rewrite BYOB in different words for marketing purposes, but there is and will only ever be one original source of IBC education.
- Pursue clarity. Honest, vulnerable introspection, skepticism, and open-mindedness are the necessary, difficult prerequisites to improved awareness. Improved awareness increases the frequency of light-bulb moments. The greater the reliance on conventional marketing programs and sales systems, the less likely the agent and the consumer are to achieve clarity, and ultimately, successful implementation of the IBC.
I know it’s been a while since I’ve written here. For Christmas 2019 and New Years 2020, my family and I took a road-trip throughout Ireland. Since we returned first to California and then I back to Texas, I’ve been focusing on the development of my Austrian Economics PhD thesis proposal and a new contractual mechanism that allows me to train and coach agents new to the IBC. We’ve made a lot of progress on both fronts, so the volume of posts will pick back up soon enough.
I’ve missed it!
Thanks for reading.