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The life insurance demographic problem: It's not going away

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When we received the results from our first National Underwriter Life Insurance Survey a few weeks ago, quite a few things surprised me.

Like the fact that, despite all the hand-wringing earlier this year, the fiscal cliff deal had no effect on 70 percent of practices.

Or that fully 12 percent of agents said they only conduct client reviews if a client asks for one.

Or that more than 3 percent of the agents we surveyed said they don’t own life insurance. (Seriously, you guys?)

A few things didn’t surprise me in the least, though. Chief among them? The demographics of our survey respondents.

Roughly 75 percent said they were 50 or older. Only 22 percent were female. And nearly 70 percent had spent more than 11 years in this business. (About 25 percent had spent more than 30 years!) We didn’t ask about race, but as anyone who’s attended a life insurance conference in the last … uh, ever … knows, I don’t think it’s a stretch to guess that our respondents weren’t incredibly diverse.

So what, right? These are stats that simply confirm what we’ve known for a long time now: the life insurance industry is home to a lot of aging white guys. Big deal.

But that’s exactly the problem. Our industry’s worrying demographics are old news, and they really, really shouldn’t be.

It means our efforts over the years — diversity programs, college recruitment schemes — haven’t made enough of a dent.

It means, in an increasingly diverse America, significant populations still can’t find an agent who understands their specific needs.

It means we’re creeping closer to a time when it’s going to be difficult to find an agent, period. (And that’s assuming a client, especially a middle-income client, is even seeking one out in the first place.)

It means we’re giving tech entrepreneurs additional incentive to jump into this field and make advisors obsolete.

And it means that, in a society obsessed with minute-to-minute status updates, we’re at risk of growing complacent about one of the most important issues affecting our industry … simply because it’s gotten stale.

Why haven’t we solved this lingering demographic problem yet? It would seem that a well-paying profession (more than 70 percent of our survey respondents reported making more than $50,000 a year) with flexible hours (38 percent of our respondents reported working 30 or fewer hours per week) would attract scores of young, eager candidates — male and female, white and not — especially in this economy.

See also: 20 women in insurance you need to know

But it’s not. Is it the industry’s frumpy image? Its commission-based pay? Are young grads simply not aware of this career path? Are we not providing enough support to young hires once they decide to give this industry a try?

I can’t answer any of those questions, and I’m betting most industry experts can’t either. But this industry’s story won’t change for the better until we can.

For more from Corey Dahl, see:

A brief history of life insurance

3 famously flubbed attempts to market to women

What ‘Breaking Bad’ can teach you about insurance sales


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