In Life Insurance Sales, Prepare to Reckon with Women

Could wives actually be nudging their husbands to buy life insurance? According to Jon Dressner, that is exactly what many women are doing.

“Women are becoming a major force to be reckoned with in life insurance selling,” said the senior vice president and chief creative officer of LIFE Foundation, during an interview with InsuranceNewsNet.

Agents who still engage in the “old style” of selling, where they talk only to the husband and totally ignore the wife when both are present, may want to reconsider their approach, he suggested. “They should treat women seriously and include them in discussions and purchase decisions,” Dressner said.

The interview preceded Dressner’s Tuesday presentation on a panel here at the 2012 Life Insurance Conference, which is co-sponsored by LIMRA, LOMA, Society of Actuaries, and the American Council of Life Insurers (ACLI).

Research supports it

Dressner based many of his remarks on research that the LIFE Foundation and LIMRA just completed on consumer opinions on life insurance. Called the Life Insurance Barometer Survey, the study is now in its second year.

The findings reconfirm earlier findings that women tend to be more concerned about a host of financial issues than men and that they feel more financially insecure than men, as well, he said. For example, 41 percent of women told the researchers that they are very or extremely concerned about supporting themselves if they are disabled and can’t work. By comparison, only 35 percent of men said the same thing.

Similarly, when asked if they are concerned about being able to pay for long term care services, 41 percent of women said they are very or extremely concerned while only 31 percent of men said the same.

What about life insurance? Thirty-five percent of women said they don’t currently have enough life insurance, while only 29 percent of men said the same.

The life insurance finding coincides with other research indicating that women generally tend to be less likely to have life insurance than men, Dressner indicated.

He also said, however, that the gap in this area has closed in recent years. “In the old days, life insurance companies used to target only men. But after seeing that women ‘get it’ (the need for life insurance) more than men, some companies are wising up and urging their agents to go out and talk to women about life insurance.”

Women tend to be the gatekeepers, he explained. “They are the major influencer in many households, and many do nudge their husbands to act.”

Heads up for agents

But Dressner has a heads-up for agents about working with women and men. Research shows that women tend to make decisions differently than men, he said.

For instance, many women say they want to meet with the advisor three or four times before deciding, whereas men, once they decide to act, want to move swiftly.

Women explain their slower approach as a desire to “be certain” about what they are buying first.  “That’s important to guys, too,” Dressner said, but they don’t feel the need to take a long time to decide.

He thinks that women respond this way because they feel less knowledgeable about financial matters than do men. “Women will often say, ‘that sounds good, but let me think about it. Call me next week.’”

That frustrates a lot of agents, Dressner said. “They don’t want to keep following the case and making calls.”

By comparison, although it’s tougher for agents to get the attention of men, once they do get the attention and the man locks in, “they act right away.”

How can advisors effectively respond to both decision-making styles? Dressner suggested that they give their female prospects information and knowledge they can view and think about. For instance, provide them with brochures about the product and buying life insurance, and point them to resources on the Internet. “Don’t make them feel they are being rushed into something,” he added.

For men, he recommended that agents focus on building trust with the prospect.  That’s because, once the advisor has the trust, many men just go with that. They trust the advisor, and they trust their own judgment of the advisor and the recommendations.

Significantly, Dressner said, the survey found that a large majority of women (67 percent) and men (61 percent) prefer to buy life insurance in a face-to-face setting. “Women especially want to look the person in the eye, and over several visits,” Dressner said.

By comparison, only 13 percent of the women and 21 percent of the men said they want to buy life insurance via the Internet.  The low 13 percent finding for women reflects their desire to learn and know more before buying, he indicated. “You can’t ask a question or be reassured by the Net.  They need to talk to someone.”

The insurance-buying differences between women and men aren’t as sharp as night and day, Dressner allowed. “But the differences are there, to the point that some insurers and marketing companies have decided to focus more on selling to men than women, or the other way around—particularly if they ‘get the psyches’ of one group or the other.”

What if an advisor or marketer prefers to treat women and men identically? “You run the risk of turning off the men or the women, depending on what you are doing,” Dressner cautioned.

Tracy Marrocco, director-program marketing at Penn Mutual, will also speak on the panel, focusing how her company uses research to develop strategies to reach the women’s market.

Linda Koco, MBA, is a contributing editor to InsuranceNewsNet, specializing in life insurance, annuities and income planning.


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