Money & Policy

Work-From-Home In Retirement: One Win-Win Solution

A clever business that finds part-time jobs for insurance vets

Working part-time in retirement is an appealing proposition for many people and doing it from home can sound even more enticing.

Insurance industry entrepreneur Sharon Emek has come up with a clever way to get some retirees legitimate work-from-home jobs and help employers simultaneously. (In a minute, I’ll offer some tips on how to avoid home-based work scams.)

To understand what Emek’s doing, it helps to flashback to about a decade ago. At the time, insurers were growing concerned about their older-than-average workforce (25 percent of their employees will be near the traditional retirement age by 2018, according to the management consulting firm McKinsey & Co.). And insurance companies hadn’t been attracting many replacements from younger generations.

Then the iPhone came out, making it easier for insurance reps to work from home. Putting the two together — aging insurance workers and high-tech gear — Emek realized that there was a business opportunity to exploit.

Work At Home Vintage Employees or WAHVE finds part-time jobs for “vintage” insurance professionals who’d like to phase into retirement.

A WAHVE of the Future?

In 2010, at age 64, she launched a new staffing company: Work At Home Vintage Employees or WAHVE. The Avon, Conn.-based company finds jobs for aging boomers —“vintage” insurance professionals — who’d like to phase into retirement. (I like the term vintage.)

Today, roughly 275 WAHVErs — long-time insurance industry workers short on retirement savings— are earning incomes by working from home with flexible hours for more than 100 insurance companies. “They want to work but they don’t want to work 9 to 5,” said Emek. She noted that “they may have to stay home to take care of grandchildren while their daughter is getting chemotherapy or help out aging parents. “

An Alternative to Filing for Disability

One example: Judy Bush of Waynesboro, Va. Bush enjoyed a two decade-plus career in the insurance business, including a stint as an account manager with a large book of business. Her last few years were hard, however, after developing a bad back — a condition exacerbated by driving 80 miles a day commuting to her job. “I was seriously considering filing for disability,” she said. “I am 58 and I wasn’t ready to get out of the workforce.”

Thanks to WAHVE, Bush didn’t file for disability. Instead, she now works five hours a day from her home office assisting two account managers in Texas on their personal-line insurance business. (Personal lines involve homes, autos, motorcycles and the like.) She provides support services such as pulling documents together, entering data and taking on back office processes so the account managers can focus on clients.

Her “commute” today is walking up one flight of stairs. WAHVE “has allowed me to remain productive and stay in an industry I spent 21 years developing a career in and to keep up with changes in the industry,” Bush said.

Her husband keeps track of their household budget and by his calculations, the couple’s living standards are about the same as before. The reason: Bush’s lower work-related expenses, from gasoline bills to the dry cleaning tab.

Earning an Income, Not a Fixed Income

Karen Arnold, 69, came to WAHVE through a referral from a former colleague in Chicago, Ill. Arnold, who lives on a farmhouse near Greenville, Ky., owned a small insurance agency before selling it and then worked in the insurance business in places like Chicago and Seattle, Wash. She retired early around seven years ago to care for two ailing sisters, then joined WAHVE after her sisters passed away.

She now puts in 35 hours a week. “I’m enjoying it immensely,”” she said. “I think that Emek has presented an alternative to retirement on a fixed income. She’s a visionary.”

To get a WAHVE job (there’s no fee to apply), you need to be interviewed, complete an application and pass a computer skills test and an insurance knowledge test. The staffing agency also reviews any licenses and designations.

An Idea That May Expand

Emek told me she plans on growing her WAHVE workforce to 500 over the next two years. “I definitely think there is room to expand,” she said. “Then bring it into another industry.” Unsurprisingly, Insurance Business America magazine’s Hot 100 list for 2015 — a list that recognizes people who’ve made waves in the insurance industry — included Emek.

Plenty of aging boomers are eager for income, meaningful work and greater flexibility during their phased retirement, semi-retirement, Unretirement (my favorite catchphrase) or pretirement (Emek’s preferred term). It seems to me that entrepreneurs in other industries with skilled, knowledgeable workers could emulate Emek’s model.

How about the brokerage business? Commercial real estate? Oil and gas?

Typically, aging boomers with skills and licenses in industries like these negotiate their own deals with their former companies as they enter their Unretirement years. Emek’s model opens up the odds that older workers will continue to earn an income from their institutional knowledge without commuting to the office anymore.

Other Ways Retirees Return to Work

I’ve covered a number of intriguing options in this column, such as companies like Aerospace and its Retiree Casual program which lets the firm’s retirees return to the office on a part-time or project basis. Blue Cross/Blue Shield of America has its “Blue Bring Back” program, which lets managers request a retired former employee for an assignment; Kelly Outsourcing and Consulting Group manages the program. Experience Matters acts as a matchmaker for private sector retirees looking for a paycheck and a passion and nonprofits looking for talented workers.

The twist that WAHVE offers is telecommuting from home, which is becoming increasingly popular. Art Koff, the octogenarian founder of Retired Brains, a website focusing on work in retirement, says the “work at home” section of the site has seen the biggest increase in his traffic in recent years.

Sadly, the work-at-home job market is also ripe with scams and older Americans are a prime target. The fraudsters typically ask for money up front for training materials and maybe some inventory, often found to be useless later on.

5 Tips to Avoid Work-From-Home Scams

Here are five tips from Retired Brains for how to avoid home-based work scams:

1. Don’t give personal information like your bank account or Social Security number to anyone you don’t know. This is how scammers get information for ID fraud.

2. Get information about the business upfront. Find out the physical location of the company: address, phone number, name of the CEO and a mission statement. Be wary if you’re only given a P.O. box for the address.

3. Don’t pay for information on the product or service being offered. If you’re asked to pay upfront money, it’s probably a scam.

4. Steer clear of companies that offer to send you an “advance” on your pay. Con artists do this to get your bank information and set you up for bounced check scams.

5. Don’t be pressured into accepting a job on-the-spot. If the company won’t give you time to do your research, run don’t walk.

Chris Farrell
By Chris Farrell
Chris Farrell is senior economics contributor for American Public Media's Marketplace. An award-winning journalist, he is author
 of the books Purpose and a Paycheck:  Finding Meaning, Money and Happiness in the Second Half of Life and Unretirement: How Baby Boomers Are Changing the Way We Think About Work, Community, and The Good Life.@cfarrellecon

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