Life Insurance Awareness Month starts Sept. 1, and William Shelow is heading into that month with a feeling that the life industry needs to do more to get people covered. “We’ve had declining policy counts for a number of years,” Shelow said in a recent interview. “We know there’s a huge coverage gap there.”
Shelow is president of LifeMark Partners Inc., a Linthicum Heights, Maryland-based life insurance distributor. He’s also part of a Future of the Industry Committee that’s working with Maddock Douglas, a consulting firm, to look at how consumers see life insurance, and how life products and distribution strategies should evolve next to meet consumers’ needs.
LifeMark itself is trying to innovate by adding cancer tumor DNA sequencing benefits from Wamberg Genomic Advisors. The firm will offer free sequencing benefits to 250,000 life insurance purchasers, and discounted benefits to another 2 million life insurance purchasers. Shelow hopes his company, and the industry future committee, can do something to help the 70 million U.S. workers who now lack life insurance, and to help make sure that everyone understands how important life insurance is to family financial security.
When a family breadwinner without life insurance dies, “that family can’t afford to pay their mortgage,” Shelow said. Here are five other things Shelow talked about during the interview.
Shelow said that he sees life insurers running great ads about their brands, and great ads about saving for retirement. He wishes he saw more ads that would tell consumers why they need to insure themselves against the risk of death. For the most part, “there’s not a lot of messaging and advertising about life insurance,” Shelow said.
2. Life Happens
Shelow loves Life Happens’ portfolio of stories about how having, or not having, life insurance has affected real people. He also loves seeing Danica Patrick, one of the most successful female race car drivers ever, returning as the Life Insurance Awareness Month spokesperson, and he loves seeing programs about Patrick’s participation in the awareness month campaign. “The more they could get air time aimed at customers, the better,” Shelow said. “Tell a story about what life insurance does.”
3. Room to Improve
The Maddock Douglas consultants Shelow’s committee hired found that the consumers they talked to knew little about life insurance. All the firm had to do to produce a dramatic increase in the consumers’ interest in life insurance was to explain how life insurance works, and what it can do. That finding “tells you there’s an opportunity there,” Shelow said.
4. Financial Professionals
Although Shelow wants to see much more life insurance advertising aimed at consumers, he also wants to see life insurers strengthen, and update, the way they market themselves to the people who sell life insurance. Thirty years ago, Shelow said, the typical people selling life insurance were life insurance agents. Today, he said, many of the people who sell life insurance are financial advisors. “Selling life insurance is just part of their jobs,” he said. Insurers have to work harder to reach financial advisors, and to reach other types of financial professionals who sell life insurance, including property-casualty specialists, registered investment advisors, benefits brokers and others who might sell some life insurance, along with other products, he said. Shelow said he believes live-human financial professionals of some kind will continue to be critical to persuading people to get covered. Even if a web-based artificial intelligence system can help consumers apply for life insurance online, “it’s not necessarily going to drive life insurance sales, unless people have a reason to want to buy life insurance,” Shelow said. “We’ve got to motivate and inspire consumers to buy life insurance.”
One thing that could motivate financial professionals to persuade more consumers to buy life insurance is better pay. Shelow said he does not expect to see increases in life agent compensation any time soon, because life insurers are so cost-conscious these days.