BOSTON (TheStreet) — Would you buy life insurance from a man who dresses in spandex and coughs up blood?
Gene Simmons has embraced many personas over the years: The demonic, fire-breathing bass player for legendary rockers KISS. A rabid merchandiser who oversees an empire built on his band’s merchandise, ranging from T-shirts to designer coffins. The star of a reality series, Gene Simmons Family Jewels, gearing up for its seventh season on the A&E network.
His latest venture is helping sell life insurance to high-net-worth individuals.
Simmons spoke to TheStreet recently as he packed for a trip to Israel being filmed for his TV show. It is the first time he has returned to his homeland since — as a young man named Chaim Witz, the son of an Auschwitz death camp survivor — his family migrated to Queens, N.Y., in search of a better life.
The night before the trip to Israel, KISS played their usual set of hits, Detroit Rock City, Love Gun and Stutter among them, at Reliant Stadium in Houston. Once upon a time, backstage post-concert might have been a bacchanalia; that night it was a client meeting.
Simmons was schmoozing for Cool Springs Life Equity Strategy, a Franklin, Tenn.-based firm he helped found a year ago. The firm specializes in providing life insurance for the rich in, it claims, a very financially advantaged way.
Focusing on those with assets of $20 million or more, Cool Springs facilitates loans that allow clients to procure high-value life insurance policies with little or no money upfront. The loan, which covers premiums, can be paid incrementally or settled from the ultimate payout. The firm says this approach helps minimizes estate taxes.
Some in the industry cast a skeptical, if not critical, eye on the concept of premium financing, which other firms and insurance companies have offered over the years. Cool Springs says its strategy will succeed because the cost of borrowing and commissions are low for their affluent clients. The interest rate is flat, based upon the London Interbank Offered Rate. Clients have the option to fix the interest rate for a term ranging from one to 30 years or allow it to fluctuate as frequently as every week.
Among Simmons’ partners in the venture are CEO Samuel Watson, a 29-year veteran of the life insurance industry, and David R. Carpenter, who retired in 1995 as chairman and CEO of Transamerica. Also aboard is Richard Abramson, who managed Paul Reubens’ Pee-wee Herman character, co-created and produced the acclaimed children’s show Pee-Wee’s Playhouse and previously joined forces with Simmons for several business ventures, including a marketing firm that included the Indianapolis 500 as a client.
Simmons’ involvement came after he and Abramson, having passed on a financial product they were working on, were introduced to Watson.
Simmons role is rainmaker, an evangelist for the new firm whose fame and connections can bring in clients from the world of entertainment and sports.
And Simmons has his patter down, stressing how even the most financially savvy can be either underinsured or choosing the wrong products.
“Life insurance is a must,” he says. “It’s the one thing in your life you are doing for everybody else. Once you are dead, you really don’t care, but while you are alive it is the one big, selfless thing you should be doing. And you should try to maximize the amount of money that you leave behind to your family, your loved ones and whoever else you deem.”
Simmons is blunt that, at his company, only the super-rich need apply.
“It is not for everybody,” he says. “People of a certain economic level should be buying Volkswagens, and they shouldn’t be getting a Rolls-Royce.”
In keeping with assumptions you might make based on his public persona, it doesn’t take much prompting for Simmons to veer away from the dry selling points of insurance.
The word “premium?” He hates it, considering it a “soft sell” that avoids calling it what it is — “money, writing a check.”
“I hate fine print,” he adds, building a head of steam. “I hate it. You can’t even go in and buy a car. The sticker price is $25,000. But, by the time you leave, it is $31,000. Why doesn’t it just say $31,000 as the full price? Because they lie, that’s why.”
A mention of the estate tax, zeroed out last year and back at 35% for this year and next, propels him even more into invective.
On the national debt:
“Between bailouts and schmeckle-outs and all the -outs that the government has gotten involved in, big government is now bigger than ever. You longer need mommy and daddy to wipe your butt, you’ve got the government to do that every time you do something wrong.”
On tax policy:
“They’ve got to get the money somehow, and they are going to get it, trust me. How are they going to do it? It’s Robin Hood time. Somebody’s going to take from the rich and give to the poor. The American Dream — work as hard as you can and enjoy the fruits of your labors — is not really true. Under the present administration, which I voted for, a more accurate description is, ‘Work as hard as you can and when you finally gain the rewards of your hard work, we’re going to make sure a lot of it goes back to everybody else.'”
“If we don’t leave the rich alone, and I’m talking as a poor person who worked his way up, they will move to Sweden or someplace else. Keep beating up the people who create jobs and watch them go offshore. Everybody is shocked when you pick up the phone to order a magazine subscription that the order fulfillment is in India. Everybody s shocked when that happens. well, keep beating people up who create jobs and see what happens.”
On challenges entrepreneurs and small business face:
“I want to start a business, so I go and I borrow and get myself deeply in debt. I’m going to make ‘popcorn farts’ — that’s going to be my product. I have to pay rent or buy a building. I’m on the hook for that. I have to hire people, I have to pay their salaries, worry about their retirement plans and, in case one gets pregnant, I have to worry about the pregnancy plan, I have to pay for their vacations and overtime. Then, I have to buy equipment and insure the place.
“Finally I make the first popcorn fart. It costs me a dollar to make, that’s the cost of goods, and if I’m lucky I can get $1.40 to $1.50 for it. The store, the distributor and everybody else will make much more than I do, and all they do is sell it. Everybody else gets paid first, if there’s a profit I get paid last. If the business goes under, I am fully on the hook for it. And, after I make my first dollar, I have to give 50% to the government if I’m lucky. After that, if I want to leave it to my heirs I get beaten up again. At what point do they just simply come clean and say, ‘I have a gun to your head, give me your money.’ The capitalist system is not in good shape. The American dream is not what it used to be, and that is why the people who become high-net-worth individuals have to be much more diligent that they ever have been before.”