The Insurance Industry’s Alter Ethos

The Insurance Industry’s Alter Ethos

Beyond the Big Box Talking Heads

The notion of protecting our assets is nothing new—from ancient times, risks associated with safety and survival have been high priority. Merchants, mariners and diplomats alike have employed basic forms of insurance, proving that protecting what’s ours is vital to human society.

Somewhere along the way though, insurance has become a must-have, must-hate. How did a beneficial commodity become a misunderstood nuisance? Let’s investigate prevailing perceptions about the insurance industry: What it should be, isn’t, and can be at its best.

The Difference of Potential

Expansion, growth, and advancement: The stuff of a progressive society, the entrepreneurial ideal. As a system of risk management, insurance allows the business world to fully develop and expand, hedging against the crippling fear of loss.

As a contributor to wealth creation—think jobs, taxes, fueling economic growth—the insurance industry is intrinsic to a strong society. And beyond the business world, insurance providers can use their considerable influence to do good on a grand scale. Corporate social responsibility efforts can hugely impact low-income and at-risk communities, provide disaster relief, and encourage a socially responsible atmosphere among employees. So much good—that’s rarely seen.

To the Point of No Return

While the insurance industry is vital to maintaining a vibrant, dynamic economy, public perception doesn’t line up. The Insurance Business and Its Image in Society: Traditional Issues and New Challenges, a study produced by Henri-Claude de Bettignies of INSEAD Business School, summarizes:

“…the image of the insurance industry in the public opinion is not so good. In reality, it appears to be blurred…”

Constant exposure to opaque blather, catch phrases, mascots and quirky spokespersons creates a deceptive air of familiarity and simplicity—we learn to trust what we do not know. We are told we can be the masters of our policy, even determine our own price. Unbeknownst to us, these tactics eventually foster a bent toward the “what’s-in-it-for-me” mentality. Howard Kunreuther, co-author of the book Insurance and Behavioral Economics: Improving Decisions in the Most Misunderstood Industry, noted in a 2013 interview:

“I think that people view insurance as an investment rather than as a protective activity. That is one of the basic misunderstandings. As a result, if they haven’t collected on their policy, they will cancel it because they feel that, in some sense, it was not a good deal…”

Meanwhile, as he remarks, “the best return on a policy is no return at all.”

Unfortunately, we have been conditioned to judge as superior that service which asks the least of us. Yet what a policy claims to protect is often what’s most valuable. Why the disparity in evaluation?

Dumbing Value Down

As is true in any commercial venture, consumers both drive and are driven by marketing. After some time though, the ‘Save $$$ with us!’ refrain falls flat. Then crop up the mascots and gimmicks—essentially the insurance industry’s ventriloquists. They chant the same mantra and are heard, because, whether admitted or not, the general consumer is still looking for the best perceived deal: More for less, and return on ‘investment.’ But is this approach to ‘protection’ really your best bet?

While consumers inevitably evaluate insurance providers by their fees, the truth remains that no two customers are the same. To be fair, the same is true of the providers. While many present a uniform savings-driven front, behind the scenes these companies vary greatly in their structure, corporate social responsibility endeavors, and sadly, in their business ethics, running the gamut from exemplary to scandalous. Yet, despite the industry’s out-front attempts to guide the consumer’s decision-making process, many individuals still value customer service over deals, community involvement over talking heads.

Consumer Be Where?

Before gimmicks, slogans and jargon get in the way, consumers are simply looking to protect what’s theirs. Somewhere along the way though, companies can lose sight of this. Observations from the INSEAD study are telling:

“… subscribers may have the impression of being trapped in a system that is organized to take their money without caring very much about their real insurance needs.”

“Sometimes, misrepresentations are not deliberately done to deceive buyers, but are instead due to agents’ lack of product knowledge and training.”

“An over-emphasis on end results may lead to a culture that focuses on short-term sales and neglects after-sales, long-term customer care.”

Much more than a checkbook, or a steppingstone to the next commission-based promotion, each consumer is an individual with distinct circumstances. Bargain buys and package deals discount the consumer’s needs, and a lower bill just doesn’t compensate.

In today’s insurance industry, the agent’s knowledge is key. A trusted, independent agent dedicated to your protection will work within your unique situation. Instead of just quoting procedural jargon, an agent must spend time listening, discerning how your concerns speak to your needs. Far from being a one-size-fits-all service, adequate insurance coverage requires skillful tailoring. Insurance is meant to safeguard the important things: You, your family, and your future. We need to make this easier.

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