Industry Leader Forum: AXA Equitable Life Insurance Company

A New Year’s Way to Engage People on the Topic of Life Insurance. We face a fundamental challenge in 2012: ongoing economic uncertainty. Life insurance ownership is at a low. LIMRA says 95 million adult Americans have no life insurance. Many who do, don’t have enough. Yet market volatility, the real estate collapse and high unemployment have increased the need for guaranteed financial protection. Less attractive now are promises of higher returns from riskier asset classes.
The current economic climate has Americans focused on necessities, but viewing life insurance as a low priority creates additional risks. People faced with rebuilding assets also need protection against losses. Savers are torn between equity growth and equity volatility. The good news is that product innovation over the past two years addresses some of these conflicts.
Innovative riders on some variable universal life (VUL) policies, for example, help stabilize investments within the product. New options can help clients focus on the long term by removing the concern of short term drops in returns, providing some equity exposure but with a downside floor and a cap on the upside. This can help individuals put money to work for death benefit protection and potential growth toward other financial goals, making them more apt to consider life insurance.
New products alone won’t turn the tide. Even in a strong economy, life insurance wasn’t necessarily viewed as a priority in our culture of consumption. Perceived complexity adds to the problem.
Challenges, however, breed creativity and opportunity. Insurance carriers and producers are putting themselves in the shoes of those who need to understand life insurance and are finding new ways to get people comfortable with this inherently uncomfortable topic. Traditional marketing methods—direct marketing, sponsorships, sales campaigns and collateral—remain the foundation of marketing communications, but we need to leverage new technology.
Social Media Enhances Client Interaction. Insurance carriers must adapt to clients’ growing reliance on social networking to gather information about who we are, what we stand for, how our products might fit their needs, and why they might choose us.
Social media won’t replace traditional marketing, but it affects how we interact with clients. It provides direct, dynamic access to our markets, allowing us to engage clients more often, quickly, and less expensively. It also gives us access to more prospects. We’re not just talking with our clients, but with their entire social networks. It’s never been easier for consumers to share information and experiences. Every positive (and negative) interaction we have through this channel touches more people than ever before, and carriers and producers need to understand its power.
Our sector has been slow to enter these conversations. We need to pick up the pace. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and mobile applications involve a new level of engagement with clients, giving them control over when and how they receive information. Some carriers already leverage these tools to speak with, not at, clients. Increased use of social media can greatly improve efforts to break down barriers separating us from our customers.
Assessing financial readiness in the event of death, even just meeting with a financial professional, is daunting. People find the topic uncomfortable and complex and are plagued with inertia. Consumers want to be better informed, but don’t have time for research.
Virtual consultations and mobile applications can help, which is why AXA Equitable created video calculators and mobile apps for smart phones and tablets. These tools provide convenient access to information, allowing people to take control of their finances whenever and wherever they want.
New technology won’t replace face-to-face interaction, but can initiate the planning process, mitigating fear and providing a greater understanding about the critical role life insurance plays in a financial strategy. This can make consumers more open to what a financial professional has to say, and provide equal value to producers who can use them to help educate clients about financial topics.
Such tools are no longer nice-to-haves but must-haves. Consumers expect it, and carriers don’t want to be seen as behind the times. Having the technology, however, is not enough. People expect an eBay, Amazon or Google experience regardless of the industry. It’s important to understand these expectations and evaluate ourselves against other categories, not just competitors.
The Game of Life Insurance. Gamification is another fresh way to reach consumers. People want to spend their money on something fun—cars, clothes, the latest electronic gadgets. Buying a concept like financial security isn’t as much fun and is often a hard topic to face.

AXA Equitable has responded by developing Pass It On!—an online game that distills the concept and value of life insurance into a series of choices. Players guide virtual families to better futures by saving game currency, managing expenses and making important financial decisions. At game start, players select beneficiaries. As the game progresses, players face risks, vulnerabilities and critical choices that affect their families.  Pass It On! introduces a potentially rewarding and fun way to help people understand why life insurance matters. Even if players aren’t ready to meet with a professional, they can simulate walking a mile in the shoes of dependents left behind, helping them experience the importance of establishing a safety net for beneficiaries.
According to techcrunch.com, 100 million people played casual social games last year. Sixty percent of them were Generation X women, with an average age of 43—a core target market. Clearly, social networking is also one way to reach the next generation, Gen Y.
Making Change. A recent LIMRA survey found only 44 percent of U.S. households have an individual life insurance policy. Some 11 million households with children younger than 18—viewed as having the greatest need for coverage—have none. Yet almost half of the participants polled said they’d be in immediate financial trouble if a primary wage earner died.
Marrying traditional and new media can help us better communicate the value of life insurance and reverse the downward trend in ownership. Let’s make 2012 the year fewer Americans lose someone they depend on without a financial backstop. [DMO]

January 2012 Issue of Brokerworld Magazine. Author’s Bio David M. O’Leary Executive Vice President and Head of Life Insurance, AXA Equitable Life Insurance Company

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