By Jack Bobo

Periodically, Australia is ravaged by wildfires that do an enormous amount of damage. I happened to be visiting in that country shortly after one of these fires had threatened the capital city, Canberra.

A local life underwriter related to me his own terrifying experience resulting from the threat of that firestorm. He had climbed to the top of a nearby hill to observe the fires only to discover that a wall of flames was charging toward his home at the speed of a train and with a roar to match. He ran quickly back to his house and told each family member to select two items to take with them as they would have to evacuate. With the choices made, the family drove off leaving all their other possessions behind.

Under the same set of circumstances, what do you think your choices of what to save would have been?

I asked the life underwriter what were his choices and he replied, “The family photograph album and a suit of clothes.” He explained that everything was replaceable except the family photographs, which were essential to sustain important memories, and that he needed a suit for work the next day so life could go on.

The essentiality of a suit of clothes to enable a person to face “tomorrow” is rather obvious, but the importance of memories as they relate to that objective is somewhat more subtle. The work of a professional is intimately associated with a value system and one which is most often derived from a collection of memories. Ethics, work habits and even product orientation are more often rooted in past experiences than in future expectations. Our memories are essential in forming our “beliefs.”

In light of this I recall the results of research done some years ago that should provide cause for concern. In studying policyholders’ behavior toward policy persistency the researcher noted that preferences were not based upon deeply held beliefs. Typically, policyholders believed life insurance was “something one has to have,” but could not explain exactly why. While few being surveyed had reasons for dropping the policy, neither did they have strong arguments for keeping it in force. In the words of the market researcher, “buyer attitudes not rooted in beliefs are precarious.”

Needless to say, no one likes to be positioned precariously when in a client relationship. In fact, even the suggestion of the absence of policyholder beliefs implies a lack of professionalism in creating the sale. I am also certain that it could be argued that beliefs may have been established at the time the policy was purchased, and the survey was simply a reflection of the poor memories people have about such things as life insurance. Beliefs and the memories we attach to them have to be nurtured, though, which is why we return to church regularly, salute the flag and look at the family photograph album. It matters little whether people forgot or never understood in the first place–the position is still precarious and deserves our serious attention.

This particular place of research has been helpful to me in identifying something that has been troubling me for some time. Despite significant increases in our business, I have felt that something important has been lacking. Even though I have long been retired from active work in the field, I still attend a lot of industry meetings. I enjoy keeping abreast of what is happening in and to our business. At most if not all of the meetings I attend the missing ingredient is conviction. Only rarely do speakers bare their soul regarding their conviction about the value of life insurance and the service we render. To take for granted that everyone understands the basic beliefs that undergird our business is tantamount to declaring that we or our policyholders need no further nourishment, or even worse, to saying there is nothing of value to recall.

Most of what I hear from platforms today deals with how a person should buy life insurance rather than why. Tax-sheltered schemes or even arrangements like split dollar are not reasons to buy–they are simply a means to pay a premium. I would be the last to downplay creativity, for finding the premium dollars is still very important. But to the extent our preoccupation with such things crowds out basic beliefs that will remain long after the tax laws have changed, we will remain precarious.

One of the reasons I am such a strong believer in the LIFE program is that in a way it is like our own photograph album. In it are pictures of families and businesses that have survived and can face “tomorrow” because of the miracle of life insurance. They fortify our belief that we can do something no other business or profession can do.

Luckily, the home of my Australian friend was spared by a last-minute shift in the wind, and the photograph album came back home. The firestorm in the form of change that has swept across our industry in recent years may have scorched a few of our memories, so perhaps it is time to recall some of them as we position for “tomorrow.”