Broker Check
The Smell Test

The Smell Test

| June 03, 2020

The way I see it, Cole Hahn's are not a whole lot different than a pair of Air Yeezy's. That said, I have to admit that Cole Hahn's coordinate much better with my "middle-class fancy" look, which usually consists of a polo shirt and khakis. Sure, maybe I could run a little bit faster, jump a little higher, or juke a little stronger with some Air Yeezy's laced up, but at $9,600 a pair, I'll never know for sure. 

Yup, you read that right. A pair of Air Yeezy 2 Red October sneakers recently sold for $9,600!

If you're keeping track, that's an increase of 3,740% over the original retail sales price. Who of us could have predicted back in the day that a pair of treads would ever command such a premium? But they do, and the makers of fakes have not been slow to try and cash in on gullible buyers. So how can buyers like you and I tell the difference between legitimate kicks and a pair of imposters? 

We use the secret weapon: the shoe authenticator.

According to an Associated Press article entitled, "Detroit Startup Finds Fake Sneakers" by JC Reindl*, shoe authenticators are the real deal, and they have played a critical role in the success of StockX, which sells over $2 million in resale shoes every day. But before you get the idea that a "shoe authenticator" is some fancy, high-tech device, it's best to tell you that we're talking about a job. 

That's right - shoe authenticators are people. 

In fact, they're people like Sadelle, who have extensive training in the process of authenticating sneakers. This means they can use factors like the appearance of the stitching, the feel of the fabric, and the authenticity of the colors to determine whether or not a pair of sneakers is the real deal. However, there is no greater tool in their arsenal than the smell test. 

Yep. The smell test. 

You see, the cheap glues are used to hold together sneaker fakes smell a lot different from the real thing. This is why people like Sadelle are hired more for their fine-tuned beak than anything else. One good whiff, and they can spot a fake in no time. 

So, what does a nose-in-shoe smell test have to do with disability income insurance?

Well, you see, in a given week, I review dozens of disability income insurance policies. This allows me to help financial professionals advise their clients to make the best choices. And, just like the shoe authenticator, I have a process. After all, to see what a disability policy is really like, you have to take a peek under the hood. This means getting deep into the policy and giving it a good, thorough read. 

A mere illustration alone won't do - but don't worry, we keep many historical policies on file just in case.

At first whiff, I generally look for the following:

  • How much is the benefit amount? Is it appropriate for what the policyholder needs or wants?
  • What is the policy's definition of a disability that qualifies for the total benefit amount? This is pretty much the linchpin of the entire contract, so you want to make sure you have it right.
  • When do benefits start, and how long will they last?
  • Is the policy guaranteed in renewal years? Is the premium guaranteed in renewal years?

Once the policies pass this initial "smell test," I go back and take a closer look at some of the finer details. This includes figuring out how the partial benefit pays. To do this, I stress-test a few scenarios to see how it plays out, such as:

  • Does the presumptive benefit require irrecoverable conditions to pay?
  • Are benefit additions available to increase coverage in the future?
  • If the premium is graded, does the policy stay the same after level premium conversion?

In order to make sure a policy is "the real deal," you've got to know where to find these little clues because they are tough to find unless you have a finely-tuned eye (or nose). Earlier I told you about the Air Yeezy's fetching $9,600 and how the demand for shoes like this makes the role of the shoe authenticator a crucial job. Now think for a moment about the millions that many of us will earn over a full, healthy, and fruitful career supporting our lifestyle and financial goals. 

If "Sadelle the shoe authenticator" makes a mistake evaluating an Air Yeezy, and you get sent a pair of fakes, you better believe that you'll be upset. Yet that financial impact is not even close to what can happen if you miss a critical detail in your income protection plan. You tell me which is more important?


As I was writing this article, I couldn't help but think about the first Nike Air Max sneakers released back in 1987. I was in the third grade, and my friend Jake (who we affectionately called Jake the Snake) got a pair of the original black and red ones. 

Man, was I jealous. I have to say - I wonder what a pair of those would be worth today?





This material contains the current opinions of the author but not necessarily those of Guardian or its subsidiaries and such opinions are subject to change without notice. 2020-101072, exp. 5/22