Posted January 12, 2022
Advising clients upon protection- a product set specifically designed to only really be of use in the event that something has gone seriously wrong- can involve discussing sensitive and potentially upsetting scenarios, and takes practice, training and a certain amount of resilience.
The traditional methods of bringing the area to life in a meeting, from the quite old-fashioned ‘disturbance techniques’, to the more modern angle of presenting statistics, do not always connect with people in the way that they need to. Insurers are obviously keen to grow their market, and create tools such as risk calculators to present to clients the percentage likelihood that they will claim on various policies. My own experiences in this industry are that information needs to be paired with emotion. It is rarely statistics or coverage limits that clients are concerned with; they want the story.
As human beings, our brain is hard-wired to learn and recall from stories and this should come as no surprise; story-telling is as old as mankind and much of our historic knowledge came from this oral tradition. When we see feats of memory on the television- gifted individuals recalling hundreds of playing cards in the correct order as example- the cards are not remembered for what they actually are, that would be impossible. Instead, visualisation techniques are employed to turn the list into something that brain can more easily learn and re-call- typically a story or house with objects in place for the raw data. To engage effectively with our customers, we need to be aware of this and employ it.
A life insurance contract is a piece of paper, a legal contract, and for clients to pay monthly for long periods of time to hold this, the adviser needs to show how it is relevant to their life (or death). Story-telling makes a presentation more conversational and more likely to draw the clients into a genuine two-way conversation. The power of making this emotional connection boosts engagement, aids retention, and makes the adviser more memorable as an individual that is hopefully a pleasure to speak with.
From my own experience in this industry, it is the stories that I remember. The client with undiagnosed acromegaly approached by a neurosurgeon whilst doing a toy demonstration in Hamley’s toy store due to the huge size of his chin, the client’s family who sadly received a life insurance payout before they had even yet paid a premium, the client who used her keyman cover to keep her restaurant afloat whilst she received treatment for breast cancer. These serve as daily reminders of the critical importance of why we do what we do, and give me the authentic examples to share with clients and bring the conversation to life.
One such story that had an impact upon me in recent years involved the BDM of a large mutual insurer, which underlined in a very pointed manner the importance of trusts and wills. The lady was purchasing a property with her partner and they had arranged life policies to protect one another should the worst occur. As they were not married, they understood the importance of placing the policies into trust and having a valid will in place, and had an appointment with a solicitor to arrange the wills and complete the trust forms.
Her partner, in the days just prior to this, very sadly passed away in his late 20s with no prior health issues whatsoever.
As he died intestate, and the life policies had not yet been written into trust, the proceeds of the plan did not pass to his partner, despite the clear intention of their purpose. At a time of huge emotional distress, the drawn-out uncertainty of an unclear financial picture really compounded the anguish.
Hearing this story, first-hand, and imagining having to deal with that should it have happened to one of my clients really embedded the importance in a way that nothing else could have. To this day, every single client we deal with has their policy in the correct trust at the correct time, and we explain the importance on a daily basis to those customers who are slow to sign and return the papers.
There is a real reluctance and shame in discussing benefiting from life policies that tells us a lot about the work that needs to be done by advisers to bring these stories to life. Clients who receive lump sums from life policies typically do not like this to be known by others. Feelings of shame or embarrassment and the concern that others would feel they have somehow benefited appear to drive this behaviour and it is something that really holds our industry back in promoting the good work advisers and providers do to create financially robust households.
We are all aware of the huge disparity between the actually very high number of claims that are paid out for life policies, typically around 98%, and the expectation of the general public, set at a far lower number. This reluctance to tell the positive stories drives that expectation.
On any given month there will be a story in the press of a life policy that failed to payout, or a critical illness plan where the definition was not met (generally due to the policy being old and no longer fit for purpose). The press understands what makes a good story, but unfortunately, as I am trying to convey here, it is stories that clients remember, not statistics around pay-out levels, and those articles do not help further our cause. It is a rare day that you will be able to read a well-researched article in a Sunday supplement detailing the financial benefit to a family when a life policy paid out and performed as it was intended to put simply, that does not, in the press’s eyes, make a good story.
At Watts Mortgage & Wealth Management we ensure that every client’s nominated adviser handles any future claim relating to that case. This provides excellent continuity for the customer themselves, and a hopefully familiar face at a tough time, but also ensures that the advisers themselves have a better understanding of the reality of the claims themselves and how the right policy written in the correct manner has life-changing benefit in protecting the families and businesses we advise. This exposure to the reality of claims gives our advisers their own experiences that they can convey to future clients authentically, and in their own words.
We all have stories; we just need to be better at telling them.