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How to deflect damaging news

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If, in a particular universe, all index annuity sellers are crooks, and Jack sells index annuities in that universe, then Jack is a crook. If this law of the universe is true, and you live in that universe, then the law applies to you. Another example: Gravity affects everyone on earth, you are on earth, gravity thus affects you. And this is what the SEC thought securities regulators had proved about index annuities. But here’s what they really said:

Jack is a crook, Jack sells index annuities, thus all index annuity sellers are crooks. The fault with this sequence is Jack is only a subset of the universe, so Jack’s laws apply only to Jack. This has the same lack of logic as saying Mary has brown hair, Mary is a girl, therefore all girls have brown hair. The securities regulators found a small number of index annuity agents who were acting in crooked ways and from this convinced the SEC that all index annuity agents were crooks.

The problem is people usually don’t bother to try to determine whether a statement is logical, especially when the issue is framed as morality. Often the greater the illogic of a position, the more the promoter of the false position will present challenges as attacks against morality and goodness.

A way to deal with an illogical position that threatens you is to get the decision-maker to reconsider. The way you get to present your case is to create a “Scooby-Doo” moment by saying something unexpected that makes the consumer stop thinking with their emotions and lift up their head and essentially go “ruhh-roh.”

The securities minions’ real message was that index annuities are sold by crooks and that insurance regulators are too soft. A possible counter-attack insurance regulators could have tried on 151A was to say it is NASAA and FINRA that are too soft on crooks–state insurance departments have kicked many more agents out of the business than they have. Let insurance regulators supervise both index annuities and securities and the NAIC will make holding a free lunch seminar a capital offense! If the message is framed as an “us versus them” morality play, you need to separate yourself from the message by showing you are not “them.”

This works because you answered in a way that was unexpected causing the decision-maker to stop and reevaluate their position. At the same time you said their message — too soft on crooks — does not apply here. Now this would have given the SEC their Scooby-Doo moment.


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