Eugene Houchins III began his journey to success by obtaining a Master’s degree in Environmental Engineering from Georgia Institute of Technology and an undergraduate degree in Civil Engineering from Auburn University. That extensive educational background along with passing multiple state Professional Engineering licenses led him to a 14-year engineering and technical sales career working in the oil-and-gas transportation industry.
Mr. Houchins’ responsibilities in the energy industry required extensive domestic and international travel. Based on his desire to reduce his travel schedule and spend more time with his family as well as relocate from the oil capital of the world, Houston, Texas back to his childhood home of Atlanta, Georgia, he began looking for other opportunities.
After being introduced to the concept of life settlements by one of his bankers, Eugene Houchins found a unique opportunity in the underserved market of the life insurance industry and decided to build a business around it to provide a solution. He is now the president and founder of American Life Fund Corp. The private investment firm which specializes in life insurance settlements, has evolved to become a leading viatical settlement company.
The American Life Fund Corp is responsible for providing customers the financial assistance they may need by selling their existing life insurance policy. This transaction is called a life settlement or sometimes referred to as a viatical. There are a variety of reasons that people would want to sell their policies to include; the need for immediate cash, their policy is no longer needed or wanted, loss of income due to terminal illness, or just not being able to afford the premiums any longer. Whatever the case, it’s a wise way to liquidate an asset that would otherwise be non-liquid. The corporation is a much-needed asset to the inurance community and is doing very well with no signs of slowing down anytime soon.
When Eugene Houchins isn’t busy managing his business, he enjoys spending time with his wife and son as well as coaching little league sports. He also enjoys watching college football, traveling with his family, and is an active cyclist.
How did you get started in this business and what inspired you to start?
When I lived in Houston, my banker introduced me to a life settlement, and that is the purchase of a person’s life insurance policy which was very interesting to me. I didn’t know that you were even allowed to do that. I got tired of traveling all over the world for oil-and-gas pipeline work, so I decided to go back home to Atlanta to raise my family. I had the crazy idea to leave the engineering field and go into the private equity and investment sector, which I know nothing about at the time.
How do you make money?
American Life Fund Corp makes money by assisting people in the sale of an existing life insurance policy. The new owner takes over the premium payments and collects the death benefit when the policy matures. We are now licensed in over 40 states. We provide a service to people who no longer want their life insurance policy by providing them with immediate cash for an otherwise thought to be a dormant asset. The only other option would be to surrender the policy back to the insurance carrier for pennies on the dollar or allow the policy to lapse.
How long did it take for you to become profitable?
During the first six months, we only made a whopping $6,000 in total revenue. It took time to learn the business. However, after a year, we learned enough about the life settlement industry to determine where our focus should be in order to be profitable. After those trying times, we found our niche and that’s pretty much when we began seeing a profit.
When you were starting out, was there ever a time you doubted it would work and how did you handle that?
Yes, yes, yes, especially in the early stages. I believe the four things required for success in business are; 1) having sufficient capital to sustain yourself and your fledging business for a couple of years, 2) start with a plan you can commit yourself to, but understand the plan changes as you gain knowledge of the industry, 3) be disciplined enough to follow the plan and work hard, really hard, to stay the course and 4) realize you are on an emotional roller coaster so do not get too low when things go poorly and not too high when things go well and do not lose your confidence. Backup plans are good in case you need them, but I would advise anyone who doubts in their business to continue to do what you have a passion for and eventually you will catch a few breaks along the way to success.
How did you get your first customer?
We bought a list of people who could possibly have an interest in our service and sent out a mail marketing campaign to 2,000 people with several responding back. They ended up being our first customers. We were new to using this method and learned as we went along. We still keep in touch with these first-time customers today.
What is one marketing strategy other than referrals that really works for you?
We are pretty cutting-edge on social media right now, and we have expanded our marketing department. We now have a team of people whose sole purpose is to focus on social media marketing because it’s constantly trending and ever-changing.
Is this on Facebook or Twitter? Which ones are you using?
We use most everything. We have Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Yelp, and Google Plus. We have an account with every social media outlet that’s out there and we become efficient at it. We diligently post useful content to our followers on a weekly basis.
What is the toughest decision you’ve had to make in the last few months?
Since American Life Fund Corp is in the business of financially assisting people, it is always tough when we cannot help someone in real need. For instance, not being able to help a cancer patient who came to us but they don’t have value in their life insurance policy. They tell us their life stories of being unable to work, their disability pay ends and income stops, and they have to downsize their living arrangements and so on. Or perhaps it is a senior who is outliving his/her retirement but their life policy has little market value. It’s hard not being able to help them; it’s a tough thing to walk away from. However, we always take the time to educate and inform these individuals the options they have, even if we can’t provide these options. They are always thankful for any knowledge and education we can provide.
What do you think it is that makes you successful?
I believe there are a couple of primary reasons why we are and continue to be successful. First of all, we treat each potential client with dignity and respect, no matter what their circumstances. We take the time to ascertain their needs and we never over promise, which is a real issue in sales commission-driven industries. Being customer service oriented means having compassion for the people that we deal with. Another reason would be our speed of a transaction. This sets us apart from our other companies by having improved in-house efficiencies and managing risks in the purchasing stages. Nobody wants to wait around for lengthy policy analysis waiting periods. Lastly, we handle our transactions differently from our competitors by having a dedicated staff devoted to our mission of helping those policy owners wanting to sell their policy immediately. We provide options, with the thought that the more options to these customers the better.
What has been your most satisfying moment in business?
That would be working with my father. He was self-employed as long as I can remember, came out of retirement to help me and provide valuable business advice. Luckily, I get to see him every day. He can help me with my business decisions, be my strategic adviser, and we just enjoy time at lunch together. I’m fortunate to have him around the business; not everyone can say that about their parents at my age.
What does the future hold for your business and what are you most excited about?
The great majority of these life insurance holders still do not understand that their policy is an asset that can have great value and can be sold today, immediately. This is still one of the best kept secrets in life insurance and the informational campaign to educate the public has not been strong enough. We are continuing to find more effective means of getting the word out and spending resources to do so, but more knowledge in the hands of the policy owners and the policy advisors will lead to increasing opportunities for both sellers and purchasers. The future looks indeed promising for the life settlement industry and American Life Fund Corp.
What business books have inspired you?
Dale Carnegie’s, “How to Win Friends and Influence People”. I attended a Dale Carnegie public speaking courses pretty much on a weekly basis for many years and it turned out to be very influential to me and my career. Everyone, whether in a business environment or in a normal everyday social setting is essentially involved in selling oneself and influencing people, from the CEO to the mailroom clerk, you just might not know that you’re doing just that, selling yourself or your ideas. No matter what a person’s job title is, they are essentially involved in sales in one way or another—everyone is.