Note: This article first appeared at NerdWallet.com. Click here to read the original.
One of the many sectors that are running red hot in China, the life insurance industry is growing by leaps and bounds. Some of that growth is due to a burgeoning middle class and falling taboos about discussing death.
But some of the increase in the number of life insurance policies can be attributed to how companies are marketing the product. China’s best life insurance marketing may hold some lessons for American companies, which are fighting declines as its pool of potential clients changes.
Marketing life insurance
Chinese life insurance policies were once mainly small endowment products sold through banks. Life insurance marketing has changed dramatically in recent years with a sharp increase in the number of agents and a more diverse distribution strategy. These days direct sales on insurance websites, large shopping sites (similar to Amazon) and online content based on consumer interests are being used to drive sales.
Products are also beginning to be presented differently. Rather than just being about money, purpose has also entered the picture. Researchers at the Society of Actuaries (SOA) identified three distinct markets, each requiring a different marketing approach:
- Life investors: Representing 41 percent of the market, these individuals view life insurance as a temporary investment. Marketing to this group should involve making life insurance a permanent part of the financial portfolio.
- The uninterested: 33 percent of the market falls into this category. The SOA found nearly half of this group would seek information about life insurance online, and the primary marketing strategy here should be education.
- Life protectors: 26 percent of the market is considered life protectors who regard life insurance as something needed permanently. Marketing to these individuals would involve introducing new products for them to consider.
Life insurance trends in China vs. the U.S.
China’s marketing push is occurring on a backdrop of double-digit growth. Life insurance sales in China grew an incredible 28.1 percent between 2006 and 2010, with strongest growth in the 25-to-34 age group, according to the SOA.
Here in the U.S., the picture is quite different. The 2013 Ernst & Young Life-Annuity Market Outlook showed a 50 percent decline in the amount of money American households spend on life insurance over the past decade.
Younger people are largely disinterested in life insurance, and although premium rates have kept pace with inflation, sales show a zero growth rate for this period. Changing regulations and low interest rates are contributing factors, making life insurance a less attractive investment than it used to be.
In addition, the average age for agents is 54, meaning they are less likely to reach younger prospective clients. Life insurance agents generally are less likely to reach out to younger people because it may mean lower commission.
The bottom line
Even with its new approach, China’s life insurance industry is in an adjustment period and has undergone some changes and corrections. Still, the American life insurance industry has much to learn from China’s strategies. Identifying market segments and individualizing marketing approaches may be just what’s needed to give the life insurance sales in this country a much needed shot in the arm.