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The first of the year is a good time to wipe the table clean. Here are my suggestions for the table of insurance and financial products.

Put product information on your Web site. You would think everyone does that by now. But, after many trips to many sites, I have concluded that many dont. Some sites just say: “Contact us for information about insurance, securities, etc.” Others do show links leading to product sections, but the discussions shown there are often scanty or blurry. Still, others do post product details but only behind password-protected doorways.

Maybe these firms dont want to spend the time/effort to keep updating the public part of their Web sites with product info. Maybe some worry that product sections might: 1) overwhelm or confuse consumers; 2) make visitors believe advisor-sold products are available online; 3) give competitors (or attorneys!) too much ammo.

Its hard to say. But, from a Web visitor point of view, its frustrating. One might hear about a companys having a new product or see an ad for it, go to the Web site and findnext to nothing. What kind of a marketing plan is that?

Suggestion: Why not take full advantage of the Webs marketing power? Show your products, name them and give a few details on each. Maybe have a product education section that explains key terms. You dont have to give away the whole store. You dont have to spell out your most treasured competitive advantage. But providing a good overview of your offerings will strengthen your credibility and help customers decide about doing business with you. This goes for agencies and financial planning firms as well as providers.

If you must use business jargon, at least get it straight. Granted, some states do require that certain terms be used in the sales literature, and some compliance departments do require that field and CSR staff use certain terms when communicating with customers. Unfortunately, some of those terms are mere jargon to consumers. Worse, they are not used consistently from person to person, firm to firm and state to state. “Living benefits” is but one example. And “transparency” is fast becoming a term-for-all-seasons, with just about everyone using it to mean different things. This causes a lot of confusion.

Suggestion: Go ahead and ask, “Do you understand these terms?” If you detect uncertainty, explain. If you are unsure yourself, check for clarification with recognized sources. If you are preparing sales materials, include a simple definition and/or, if your rules also allow use of “plain English,” then just speak plainly. Why bother? Because if you leave doubt on the table, chances are you will leave money there, too.

On product retrenchment, get out of la-la land. The movement of providers in and out of markets and product lines shows that some firms will indeed pull the plug before letting a troublesome product doom the company.

Most times, firms have solid business reasons for pulling out. However, some are guilty of abrupt pullouts, without explanation and “after-care” to existing constituents (field, customers, suppliers, etc.). Some firms create the impression that their employees dont have to answer to anyone but their numbers people, their boards and their shareholders. That is tunnel vision. Poorly planned withdrawals cause a lot of ill-will, upset customers, and cause phone calls to regulators and visits to the attorney.

Suggestion: Use the communications tools at your disposal to let the key parties know what is going on, why (to the extent you can tell it) and what plans are in place to help the affected parties make transitions. You just might find that being proactive in this area is also productive.

Ditto the field. Unexplained and fiery field organization decisions to terminate carrier relationships can be disruptive, too. As with carrier pullouts, marketing organization exits are usually made for bona fide business reasons. But if no plan is in place to guide the exit, the consequences can be far-reaching. A lock, stock, and barrel movement of business from one carrier to one or more other carriers disrupts not only the carrier but also the customers. Sometimes, the rolling business rolls right on over the customers best interests, with trips to the regulators and the attorney a not-uncommon consequence.

Suggestion: Same as above. Let the affected parties know what is happening, why (to the extent you can tell it) and what happens next.

Wake up. In the past year, I have called insurance agencies and companies where the people there are wonderfully alive and involved and knock themselves out to see to it that I get what I need (whether calling as a customer or a reporter). But I also have spoken with financial product folks who would just as soon have the customer, reporter, supplier or whomever evaporate. In this era of post-downsizing and CRM focus, the fact that sleepers are still on the job is amazingand no doubt costly to the firms.

Suggestion: Do what you have to do to renew your interest in your work or move on. And, if you are the boss of such a person, do what you have to do to energize your staff or move on.

Insurance/financial products are so dynamically linked to the lives of peopleinsureds, claimants and various business stakeholdersthey deserve the best handling, marketing, positioning and service possible. In 2005, it would be nice to see some table-clearing in these areas.


Reproduced from National Underwriter Edition, December 30, 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.