Summer is unofficially here and it has been for the past couple of weeks. Since early May, my social calendar has been in full swing, as I have already attended a camping trip, two Manhattan roof-top parties and countless meetings for drinks and dinners, and at this point, I have plans almost every weekend well past Labor Day. While all of this socializing is fun, I still couldn’t help let a little work creep in, and so I took these opportunities to poll my own personal social network on life insurance. Namely, whether any of these people had ever bothered to buy some, apart from whatever their workplace offered. I conducted a very unscientific, unregimented survey of 46 individuals in my social circle. By no means a Quinnipiac University Poll, my friends answered with equal parts candor and disinterest, since life insurance was the farthest thing from their minds.
The people with whom I spoke were all between the ages of 22 and 31. A little under half of them were married and of those that were, almost all had at least one child. Their geographic locations spanned from Vermont to Philadelphia with most concentrated in the New York metropolitan area. I spoke with teachers; construction workers; a NYPD police officer; numerous accountants; one lawyer; one small business owner; an actress and many, many people involved in the world of finance from traders to some players in large Manhattan hedge funds. The results were astounding (although very easy for me to tally). Out of all 46 individuals, none of them owned an individual life policy. Not one. If they had any life insurance at all, it was a group policy offered by their employer.
After getting used to myriad ways of people telling me that they do not have an individual policy, from head shaking to enthusiastic “nopes!” to the ever-sarcastic, rolling of the eyes, tossing back of the head and parting of the lips into a “pssshhh” signifying, “what are you kidding me?”, I realized that this could be a problem for the industry. What was more thought-provoking was that every person who I spoke with told me, upon being asked, that they felt they were never marketed to, and they knew they had never been approached individually.
Over the past couple of years, I have come across press release upon press release from life insurance companies touting their forays in the world of social media in order to keep up with the modern consumer. Well, the industry may want to consider being a little more aggressive in its outreach to Generation Y than merely setting up a Facebook account. The people that I spoke with were not graduate students without job or family. They were professionals, many with dependents and quite a few with mortgage payments. They are healthy, young and responsible and would make great insurance customers. If only somebody sold them, that is.
I asked some follow-up questions, especially to my friends with children, as to how they were prepared for a tragedy, were one to occur. The answers that I got back ranged. A lot of people had money in stock. CDs were another popular response, ETFs and for the less financially literate, savings accounts, supplemented by meager 401(k) contributions matched (always less than 50%) by whatever company or organization they were working for. And inevitably, there was that “life insurance thing I signed up for when I first started working there.” Clearly, there needs to be an education push by the industry to show younger people that their group life policy from work is most likely not sufficient (but that is a topic for another column).
I am not sure exactly what is going here. It could be that for producers, selling annuities is more lucrative as far as commissions go (but none of the people I spoke to owned any type of annuity either). It could be that the focus is still on marketing to boomers and pre-boomers. Or, as a recent column in the New York Times magazine, “Whole Life Premium,” suggests, people my age simply are not the group individual life policies are meant for. We don’t have enough worth protecting, or we simply are not yet worth the effort to do so. I disagree with that notion. One thing that I do know is that the life insurance industry is currently missing out on potential lifetime policy owners who might not be so receptive if the industry waits much longer to begin marketing to them.