In the popular view, the two words above–intimacy and insurance–are about as related as dogs and cats. Yet, in the Nov. 27, 2006, National Underwriter, columnist Jack Bobo made this observation: “Because of the intimate relationship between life insurance and the indemnification for the loss of a human life, the (life insurance) product is afforded special considerations under the law and in society.”
Bobo’s article was about life settlements, but those particular words bear scrutiny all on their own.
The words reminded me of how dynamically the personal insurance coverages (life, health, long term care, disability, etc.) intersect with key moments in people’s lives. Moments like birth and death, accidents and illness.
The insurance is not the intimate thing, of course. The feelings and personal experiences are.
Yet, if the individual owns insurance that covers the particular life event, the insurance is most definitely intimately involved. It will pay the doctors and hospital, help families support themselves after the death of a loved one, etc.
In the past decade, this aspect of insurance has not received much attention at industry gatherings nor in trade publications (including NU). Instead, the eyes are glued on market share rankings, sales statistics, tax issues, expense factors, fees, compensation, policy design, lawsuits, legislation, pricing, claims, and on and on.
When love and loss, hope and healing do get a mention, the topics invariably come in as filler. An award is received. A pat on the back is given. A moment of silence is offered. But few explore the tender moments. Few examine how advisors cope with a client’s pain. Few discuss the client/customer service exchanges where raw emotion is open and aching.
Maybe this is because the intimacy issue is a given. After all, industry people know, or should know, that insurance pays the doctor bill, the death claim and the monthly disability income. They know insurance provides support services, care coordinators and back to work programs.
But maybe the reluctance to discuss these issues is also because industry folk are more comfortable looking the other way–at the business of insurance, not at the intimate relationships involved.
Is this any way to grow a business? No.
Awareness of the intimate relationship between insurance and customers’ life-changing moments puts flesh on the bones of the industry. It helps–or should help–industry professionals tie what they do at work to the society around them. It speaks to purpose, to rhyme and to reason.
That awareness is good for business. As psychologists have noted many times, people who see purpose in their work are often highly motivated to perform well. They link their own humanity with that of the person or problem before them, and this brings meaning and richness to their endeavor.
It also favors customer-centric enterprise. Talk to any agent who has worked through a rough patch with a customer, and you’ll quickly learn that this intimacy is the heart and soul of the business. It’s the trust-builder (or buster, if not handled well).
To be sure, the insurance business has not ignored its role in human connectedness.
Just look at the “realLIFEstories” initiative of LIFE, Washington, D.C., for instance, and the foundations set up to serve those in need by industry groups such as the Million Dollar Round Table, Park Ridge, Ill., and the National Association of Independent Life Brokerage Agencies, Fairfax, Va.
Recall, too, how various industry advertisements highlight the many ways that insurance is present when people suffer loss or need financial guidance.
But the message doesn’t always get through. A lot of times, for instance, non-industry people just burst out laughing at the mere mention that insurance helps out at some of life’s most highly charged moments.
When pressed, a few of the scoffers may grudgingly admit they’ve actually received an insurance check or two. But they’ll also rant about other times when they “had to fight” the insurance company to get payment, or they’ll complain about phone calls not returned, paperwork not acknowledged, bills not charged correctly and e-mails not answered.
In the face of such vitriol, insurance professionals often clam up, avoiding the topic altogether. And now, the avoidance seems to have carried over to industry forums, so that “mum” is the word more often than not.
A living awareness of how intimately insurance interacts with the lives of customers is key to successful business operations. Rebuilding that awareness inside the industry and among consumers might be a good New Year’s resolution.