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“Why do the cell phone companies only make small cell phones?” asks a friend who works with older senior citizens. “My clients want to use the phones and they are capable of handling the technologybut the handsets are just too small for most to use comfortably!”

In her view, the cell phone companies should be a little more senior-friendly. This got me to thinking: Maybe the insurance and financial sector should be that way, too.

But wait, you say, the financial sector already has done a lot of work on reaching out and touching seniors. And you are right.

Some firms now print product brochures, mailings and promotions aimed at this market in larger typeface. A few print larger-type actual contracts, too. Some have special product lines earmarked for seniors. Some have senior-style seminars and other types of online and offline education programs to help this group learn more about their financial health. Some insurers provide advisor seminars on senior issues. And third-party providers are coming out with certification and designation programs geared to educate professionals who work in the senior market.

A pat on the back to all these players. No, give em 2 patsone for studying up on the market and the other for responding.

Actually, some industry players should get 3 pats. The third is for the handful who chose to move forward in the senior market when it was distinctly unpopular to do so. As you may recall, up until about 5 years ago, there was a lot of hurry-up-and-wait talk about entering the senior market. The word was: “Go slow, because we dont know” what will happen.

You dont hear that any more. As noted, some firms are making strong moves into this market.

So, whats the problem? Simply stated, more needs to be done. The need for income planning products and services is a case in point. So is the need for revamping asset allocation tools and presentations to be senior-friendly.

And, if youre going to do stochastic modeling with seniors, heaven help you if you talk to them stochastically. (Better: Learn how to present and talk about the model findings in ways seniors can easily grasp. If its not easy to get, dont do it.) Or, how about finding senior-friendly ways to educate seniors on using accelerated benefit features in their life policies? This list could get long, fast.

There is a cost to pushing deeper into this market. Some may not want to pay it. But before saying no, be sure to evaluate the cost of losing business to competitors who say yes.

A second point about the cell phone story speaks to what information the industry still needs to collect about seniors. Lets go back to my friend who is frustrated with the small-sized cell phones. She says she really wishes she could talk to cell phone developers and let them know about the problem she has noticed. Maybe they could come out with a Senior Style line of phones, she says.

Now, carry that thought over to the insurance and financial sector. Maybe the senior-friendly companies should take a few cues from those who work with seniors in lifestyle support capacities.

The industry is not lacking for senior-side research, of course. But most of the research probes the usual terrainwhat seniors themselves think about senior needs, what the adult children of seniors think about senior needs, what government studies show about senior needsand even what industry professionals think about senior needs (from a business perspective, naturally).

Whats missing is perspective from what I will call “senior helpers.” These may be nurses, social workers, pharmacists, senior center workers, travel agents, servers at restaurants frequented by seniors, senior clothiers, church workers, and senior exercise instructors. They are people like my friend who work regularly with seniors but who may be outside the family and financial advisor circles so often tracked by financial services companies.

Many of these helpers see seniors as they live out the impact of their financial decisions. Therefore, they are in an ideal position to shed light on what seniors really need, want and are willing to buy. It could be that their comments will trigger new and valuable strategies for working with seniors, and new product ideas, too.

The many cross-sector initiatives on aging do generate some insight of this kind. Im referring here to efforts of social agencies, religious groups, business counsels and aging organizations of every description. Thanks to them, we are starting to see larger street signs appearing here and there and senior-centric professionals moving into ground-level offices.

Now, its time to bring that hands-on focus to the insurance and financial sector. Talk with those senior helpers, do focus groups with them, poll themgenerally try to learn what they see and think about senior financial needs.

Their perspectives might be decidedly different than industry findings to date. More to the point, the insights gleaned may give your firm the competitive edge it needs in this market.


Reproduced from National Underwriter Edition, June 4, 2004. Copyright 2004 by The National Underwriter Company in the serial publication. All rights reserved.Copyright in this article as an independent work may be held by the author.