Sauteed Brussels sprouts with toasted walnuts and lemon. (AP Photo/Matthew Mead)

My son loves Brussels sprouts. He loves all vegetables, really, but he especially digs Brussels sprouts. Now, my son is also fairly unique among children, for whom Brussels sprouts are more commonly associated with cruel and unusual punishment, rather than nutrition. The fact that the Coffin family are a bunch of vegetarians probably has something to do with it.

Now, as much as my boy digs his veggies, he never, ever goes after them with the kind of insane gusto I saw him employ when he decimated his annual Halloween takings. Thanks to Superstorm Sandy, we on the Jersey Shore had a much smaller trick-or-treating season this year because it was too difficult for kids to go house to house among so many downed trees and power lines. So they did a “trunk or treat” thing where parents all parked their cars in the lot of the municipal pool and handed out candy from their trunks. It was kind of cool. Like a block party for kids in costume.

The candy barely lasted a day. Why? Because my son is nine years old. Expecting him to ration his candy is like expecting rain to fall upwards. And lo and behold, an empty bag and a mild stomachache later, he was done with his haul.

I relay this story because at a state of the industry panel at NAILBA 31 today, it was noted that among the life insurance industry’s many challenges, customer satisfaction is not one of them. According to consumer research, the vast majority of life insurance customers report being satisfied with their purchase. This is because buying life insurance fills an emotional need, the panel went on to say.

This same panel then noted how those same consumers have a huge trust gap with those who actually sell them insurance, that many people still don’t have insurance, and most think it is more than they can afford. Now, this all struck me as direct refutation to the customer satisfaction data cited previously. Nobody, and I mean nobody, who is so routinely satisfied with a purchase as the panel said life insurance customers are of their policies, should be so hard to sell to. That would be like imagining my son being glad to eat candy but somehow being reticent to buy it. Given how often the boy hits me up for KitKats when we are in line at the grocery store, I can tell you that there is not a sales problem with him and sugary stuff.

So what’s the deal with life insurance? I think mainly it stems from a false set of expectations. What does it really mean to be satisfied with a life insurance purchase? And how much does that emotional need really come into play? Indeed, people are satisfied when they buy life insurance, and it does fill an emotional need. But they are satisfied from an “I’m glad I took care of that” perspective and not a “I can’t wait until my family gets the death benefit” perspective.

I kid, but imagine the same situation with, say, a car. You can’t wait to drive your new car. Your satisfaction is on a totally different plane than it is with insurance. And while I am certain folks in the industry understand this, to hear it touted so triumphantly at NAILBA was a little disconcerting. Nobody buys insurance because they want it. They buy it because they need it. Nobody is really satisfied with their purchase. They are relieved they have covered their bases. Nobody has an emotional experience over their insurance. They have an emotional experience with those the insurance protects.

The personal interaction anybody has with insurance comes from a state of negative motivation (the avoidance of something bad) and detachment from the product itself. Personally, I think this is why so much life insurance marketing and advertising now focuses on anything but life insurance. Not only do people not like to be confronted with the fear they are meant to address when buying life insurance, but you can sell a positive reinforcement such as retirement planning a whole lot more easily. Life insurance as retirement planning is something you actually do want to use.

But here’s the thing: selling that way, developing life insurance as investment vehicles … it all gets away from the core reason why life insurance exists at all. Don’t get me wrong; life insurance as an investment paid my way through college, and I am deeply grateful for that. But a trip by the LIFE Foundation booth at NAILBA is a good reminder of the real purpose underpinning life insurance. And it is something we would do well to remember, and to figure out how to address. Right now, the industry chooses to design, market and sell life insurance as if it is candy. But it is not. Life insurance is Brussels sprouts. And while that isn’t nearly as fun for you as candy, it is a whole, whole, whole lot better for you. And that’s worth remembering.

For more coverage from NAILBA 31, see:

7 key takeaways from NAILBA 31’s state of the industry

Rocked at NAILBA

4 business success stories so crazy they just might work