Any agent could offer a blended policy, says Witt. But "agents are in a perpetual conflict of interest where they have to choose between their own best interest and clients." If the customer gets a better deal, the agent gets a worse deal.

Hinners has been a Northwestern Mutual agent since 1984, which is the year he went to his last agents' meeting. "It's difficult for me to sit there and listen to the B.S. spewed out like, 'Here's how you can steal some business from someone else.' Or, 'Here's how you can make a lot of money from 401(k) plans,'" he says.

Like many of his colleagues who put value for customers first, Hinners was considered a renegade by the industry. "What I try to do is to save people as much money as possible," he says. Some companies are becoming stricter about permitting practices like blending that favor the consumer, Hinners says. "Maybe they're waiting for old dinosaurs like me to die off."

Barkhausen, now a fee-only consultant, says, "The agent's typical illustration has no or only a negligible amount of cash value in the first year in relation to the premium paid." However, with an "efficiently designed product, the first-year cash value may be a high percentage-perhaps 80% or more-of the premium. The extra cash value in the early years compounds over time and can produce significantly more long-term cash value and death benefit."

Glenn Daily, a fee-only insurance consultant in New York, says he's had a number of clients come to him with very large whole-life policies in which the part of the policy with the largest commission makes up most of the policy. Daily defines blending as "taking money from the agent's pocket and putting it back into the policy." Daily says he "can't believe there haven't been lawsuits about this," because the option of giving the customer a better deal is right there, whether the agent chooses to use it or not.

A blended policy could result in a much lower premium. However, most consultants, like Daily, pump the savings from commissions back into the policy to increase cash values. "The goal is to use blending to reduce commissions and improve policy values, not to reduce the outlay," Daily says. Likewise, Scott Witt, who custom designs policies for each client says, "My fiduciary loyalty is to whoever hires me."

The desire to reduce the load or the commission and enhance cash value sometimes leads consumers or their advisors to consider a no-load insurance product. Daily would certainly consider that option. Others, like Barkhausen, say that although "the sales load or its relative size has a very substantial impact on the performance of a life insurance policy, it is by no means the only factor."

Other crucial factors include the mortality charges or cost of insurance and the investment performance of the portfolio.

Blending the policy provides an insurance consultant with a much broader array of options than just no-load products. But secrecy prevents many consumers from learning about it. "In my work, I find that agents don't know of or don't disclose the extent to which these opportunities exist," Barkhausen says. "This lack of disclosure is a "sin of omission" by agents and brokers but is really a "sin of commission" on the part of the carriers and, indeed, the state regulators."

So what's holding everyone back? Why not let the secret out? Some consultants say that life agents need to be pampered; they need to be told that they are adding value to America and to the lives of American families. Whenever I question the work of life insurance agents, I get a ton of letters saying things like, "You don't know how hard we work!" or "Have you ever tried to sell a life insurance policy?"