Industry Leader Forum: Protective Life

The Things We Think and Do Not Say (The Future of Our Business). Fans of the movie Jerry Maguire may instantly recognize the title of this article. In the story, Jerry, a sports agent who experiences a moral epiphany about his profession, stays up all night to write a multi-page “mission statement” encouraging his industry peers to focus on what he felt really mattered most—personal relationships.
Certainly, as life insurance professionals, we understand the enormous impact that we can have on the future security of individuals and families. But I do want to challenge you for a moment. I want to stir up something that perhaps has become increasingly overshadowed for some time by the rigorous and real demands of our business.
You see, I believe that we serve a very noble purpose, providing security and protection to families and small businesses. But have we lost something over the years, when it comes to the personal aspect of our business? Are we earnestly striving to understand our customers, each with his unique needs and his very personal dreams? Or are we focused on the business of expeditiously presenting them with reasonable product solutions and moving on to the next customer? As a society it’s all too easy to become increasingly distant from our customers and less attuned to the very personal needs of each individual.
Let’s be honest—how many times have we watched those commercials about starving children and thought to ourselves “those poor kids, I hope someone does something”? I don’t believe that as an industry we have grown insensitive to the needs of families and individuals. But I do believe that we don’t know and respond to our customers as well as we ought to. Here’s why…
Every year we read the same LIMRA results: Average Americans feel they don’t have enough life insurance, yet they are puzzled by the different types available, how much to purchase, and where to go to get it. Our own company-sponsored focus groups add further credence to this dilemma. Consumers feel no real connection with the life insurance industry, and in some cases express skepticism toward financial services professionals and the products we provide.
The fact remains that most Americans still don’t enjoy the peace of mind and satisfaction that come from taking care of their future needs and the needs of those who depend on them. Most are completely unprepared for retirement, and perhaps even more lack the life insurance protection that will be so critical to their loved ones after they are gone.
Every year we read these reports, shake our heads and say “those poor misguided people, how could they be so blind?” That’s not good enough. As an industry, what are we really doing about this?
At Protective Life we’ve been focusing on ways to address some of the issues that make it difficult for many people to obtain the protection they need. It starts with the small things—such as looking at the language we use in our communications with customers with an eye toward making things easier to understand; offering multiple ways to connect with the company, depending on the customer’s preference; equipping our distributors with the tools and materials necessary to properly explain a product or a concept. We’re spending serious time looking at the entire process, from both the distributor’s and consumer’s point of view. We maintain that the current status quo can be challenged. It really doesn’t have to be this way!
Raising consumer awareness through impactful education should be our top priority. Non-profit organizations like the LIFE Foundation are doing amazing things to educate the public about the importance of life insurance. Are we supporting them as much as we should? Are we working with them to educate the public?
Next let’s focus our energy on listening to what people actually need. All too often we unintentionally complicate our products by adding complex riders or internal mechanisms that result in the consumer walking away in frustration. We do our best to explain the benefits of these products, but in the end the consumers just don’t get what they really need­—protection.
As an industry we’re very good at offering solutions that should meet the core needs of American families for financial security, fundamental life insurance protection, and retirement readiness. But are we open to finding new ways to connect with people and help fulfill their needs? That will take some new thinking and a desire to change.
The latest buzz word seems to be “innovation.” What does that mean? For Protective Life it means going beyond innovative product design and solutions. It extends to providing amazing new tools that will improve access to new and existing customers.
The exponential growth of new web tools, mobile devices and social media has been nothing short of astounding. Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter have become not only mainstream communication tools, they are rapidly supplanting traditional media as the primary communication vehicle for millions of users worldwide. Coupled with full-time connectivity and instantaneous access to nearly all information through hand-held devices, it’s easy to see how these will continue to impact our connection to insurance buyers in the future.
Nothing will ever replace the power of meeting across the table with a potential customer, but the proliferation of web cams in various devices is rapidly evolving the definition of a “face to face” conversation. We intend to utilize this with both our distributors and policyholders in the coming years.
Space limitations require me to circle back to my original challenge. During this year and beyond I’d like to challenge all in the insurance industry to strive to make our business personal again; to truly understand and meet the needs of our customers; and to remember why we’re doing this in the first place. I’m certain you agree that the nobility of our purpose is unrivaled by many other industries and we can take pride in the positive difference that we make in so many lives.
As Jerry Maguire summarized in his now famous mission statement, “We must simply be the best versions of ourselves.” [JBD]

January 2012 Issue of Brokerworld Magazine. Author’s Bio John  B. Deremo Senior Vice President & Chief Distribution Officer, Protective Life

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