Years ago, the agency to which I was attached was housed in a local bank building. Attached to the bank building was a parking garage where most of the people in the agency parked. The garage was managed on a daily basis by the son of the owner of the building and as such he had daily contact with the customers. Over a period covering the first two years of our occupancy of this facility, just about every agent in our office provided this manager with an opportunity to buy life and long-term disability insurancebut to no avail.
Not only did he not purchase any insurance, but he derided all forms of insurance as well as the people who sold it. His rudeness and anti-insurance attitude became a well-known issue in our agency. Needless to say, to us, he was not a popular person and it was a bit galling to have to patronize his garage.
As fate would have it, though, months later his car hit a train in a city in the northern part of our state. The accident was his fault and left him totally and permanently disabled. In order to relieve the financial distress that resulted from the disability, the bank (our landlord) circulated a request for donations among the tenants of the building. Not surprisingly, the request was not met with great sympathy in our office, given his repeated refusals to accept personal responsibility for his actions.
This is a phenomenon that has been steadily increasing over the years. There is hardly a week that passes that our local media does not publicize one or more car washes or other fund-raising efforts to help a family in need as a consequence of the death or disability of a family member. As I have traveled around the country, I have noticed that the same is true of other communities.
As noble as this may be, it would be far nobler if the media spent more time reminding people of the importance of accepting personal responsibility for such contingencies. A fund-raiser may help pay for an inexpensive funeral or a week or two of income loss, but it cannot provide the long-term needs of a family or disabled person, by far the more urgent need.
Further evidence of this trend is lifted up in a recent publication of the Life and Health Insurance Foundation for Education (LIFE). LIFE reports that only 40% of Americans now own life insurance and that the numbers are falling. Moreover, even among those who do own life insurance, the level of coverage is woefully inadequate.
This is a deplorable situation and it raises the questionwho or what is to blame? In many respects, it could be viewed as an indictment against us. Some experts suggest that we simply are not providing enough face-to-face opportunities for people to buy. Others suggest we direct all our energy to the top of the publics economic pyramid or to products primarily geared to wealth accumulation.
I have no quarrel with the idea of wealth accumulation, but such a program also should include that all-important ingredientself-completion in the event of death or disability.
But the public also shares the blame, for there is ample evidence to support the notion that today the public is obsessed with the purchase of items that provide present gratification. Changing public attitudes is a tough sell, but its a battle we have fought for 150 years and in many respects it is our mission in the marketplace.
In the past we have battled and overcome misunderstanding, ignorance, superstition and even religious bias against life insurance. It is hard to believe today, but at the turn of the century, fundamentalist ministers were quoting the bible as a reason to shun life insurance. Jeremiah 49:11 was a favorite quote used to discourage the purchase of insurance: “Leave thy fatherless children to me, and I will preserve them alive and let the widows trust in me.” This, despite the fact that the real beginning of life insurance in America started with the Presbyterian Ministers Fund.
Well, we have overcome those early prejudices by sound and reasonable arguments and a willingness to engage in private and public discourse. Today, with the wide array of products available, it is easy to “go with the flow” and provide what the customer wants, rather than what is needed. I always have believed in the notion that selling is a form of education. Selling without education is akin to “order taking.”
That is why I believe so strongly in the mission of LIFE. “Life Insurance Awareness Month,” being promoted by LIFE, is an important adjunct to that mission and deserves our wholehearted support. What we are really talking about is educating the public, not only about the imperatives of accepting personal responsibility but how life insurance and disability insurance are the only sure means by which it can be accomplished.
When the need for car wash fund-raisers no longer exists, then we can take pride in the fact that once again we have delivered a message on the importance of personal responsibility and lessened the reliance upon the charitable actions of others in times of need.
Reproduced from National Underwriter Edition, July 16, 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.