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Simplicity Emotional Connection = Success With Boomers

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Baby boomers are increasingly seeking ways to simplify their lives, said Valerie Brown, president-retail annuities market segment for ING U.S. Wealth Management, Hartford, Conn.

For instance, boomers want to deal with just one institution and just one intermediary, Brown said during a panel discussion at the annual meeting here of NAVA Inc., Reston, VA.

To succeed with boomers, the variable annuity industry will need to improve in several areas, she maintained.

For instance, “our industry has too many one-trick ponies; it doesn’t focus on the holistic needs of the client.”

Instead, the industry needs to bring holistic, full education to clients, Brown said. For example, educate the consumer on all retirement options, not just annuities.

Another problem is, the industry pushes the wrong buttons, “too often using fear as a motivator,” Brown said. Boomers do understand the negative risks they face, she said, but they’ve trained their brains to ignore or discount negative information. “They want positives, to be opened up to opportunities, and not be pushed into the solution.”

Still another problem has to do with boomers’ growing desire for simplicity. “We speak the wrong language,” said Brown, who portrayed the language as “intimidating” and said the marketing materials often have “a lot of jargon.”

This problem affects advisors too, she noted. “A lot of advisors don’t sell annuities because they don’t understand them.”

Her suggestion is for the industry to examine the words it uses. For instance, rather than talking about the GMWB, “how about saying ‘income for life’ instead?”

“We’ve got to simplify our messaging and remove the jargon,” she said.

That’s hard work, Brown allowed, but she reminded the audience that “up to 58% of consumers will be switching, or have switched, their advisors as they move into retirement.” In short, the opportunity makes the work worth the effort.

Heather Dzielak, senior vice president-strategic initiatives and brand at Lincoln Financial Group, Hartford, urged the industry to reach boomers on an emotional as well as rational level.

Boomers are seeking people who can help them control their destiny, she noted.

This is part of what she termed the “new normal” that has developed. In the new normal for boomers, retirement isn’t the finish line anymore, she said, and “it’s not just about money; it’s about emotion.”

In addition to planning for rational challenges–e.g., income to last a lifetime, rising health care costs, maintaining the standard of living, etc.–boomers need to plan for the emotional challenges of retirement, she said, citing as examples health, family relationships, civil contributions, exploration and learning, and legacy preparation.

The emotional “wants” often trump the rational “needs,” she observed. Those who succeed with boomers will be those who take the time to understand the emotional side of the equation, Dzielak predicted.

VA products align with the rational challenges, she pointed out, noting that they can be used to provide a stable source of lifetime income, help pay for rising health care costs and meet other needs.

As for the emotional side, she said her company has decided to be “the brand that understands boomers and their quest for the dream.” Its message is “simple, positive, reasonable and optimistic,” she said while showing a clip from Lincoln’s Hello Future television advertisement.

The insurer is taking “the advice lead approach,” Dzielak added later on. “There is no product push that shortens the time to sale and drives the proprietary product. (We recognize) that boomers learn differently; we engage them … and then back them up with an advisor who can best serve them.”

Panel moderator Mike Sullivan, president of 50-Plus Communications Consulting, Charlotte, N.C., likewise stressed the importance of reaching boomers by connecting to the emotions.

As people age, he said, they become increasingly “right-brain oriented.” The right brain governs patterns, problem solving, creativity, pictures, color, images, and the like, Sullivan indicated. By contrast, the “left brain” deals with logic, sequence, linear thinking, semantics, analysis, etc.

The VA is basically a “left brain concept,” Sullivan said. So advisors who work with baby boomers “need to connect the product to the right side of the brain,” he said, adding that boomers are more likely to say ‘yes’ to a VA “when they understand the VA is the financial solution to their emotional need.”