By Cyril Tuohy
With the holiday season upon us, there’s no better time to celebrate the power of storytelling and narrative.
For financial and insurance advisors, stories provide one of the most effective means of selling the value of life insurance protection, with the power of narrative to reach an audience on simple and effective terms.
Storytelling is as old as mankind, but in the modern world it sometimes gets lost as advisors and clients hustle to their next appointment or put off thinking about asset protection until tomorrow. Yet, storytelling helps people to slow down, focus their minds and collect their thoughts.
“Stories help the producer have that conversation with the client,” said Thomas H. Harris, executive vice president of distribution for Penn Mutual.
It’s no accident that more personal stories are showing up on insurance-carrier and advisor websites as a way to connect with potential buyers.
Penn Mutual has eight stories listed on its website. Each story illustrates Americans at different stages of life, how life insurance coverage might fit in with the changing needs of individuals and families, and the peace of mind that insurance protection offers.
More carriers and advisors are turning to video to let policyholders tell those stories as well.
“What is it about a story that is so powerful? Why should you listen to your clients’ stories and share yours as well?” asked financial planner Charles R. Hale in a blog post.
Advisors miss the point, Hale writes, when they boast about how important their clients are, how many clients they serve, the amount of assets they manage, how many magazine covers they’ve notched, or why prospects should invest with them.
“I don't think there is anything wrong with that approach, but I was never comfortable using it,” Hale writes. “I was taught that it worked and for years it did. But the words didn't speak to what was genuine in me.”
“Now I start with: ‘Mr. Prospect, I do financial planning, but I'm really a storyteller ...’ And I proceed to tell a story about who I am. I may talk about my values, my visions or family. Then I ask my prospect to tell me a story about his life.”
Consumers don’t want brochures to tell them why life insurance coverage is good for them, according to Bobby Samuelson, vice president for life product development at MetLife. Samuelson spoke with InsuranceNewsNet in advance of the 33rd annual conference of the National Association of Independent Life Brokerage Agencies last week.
Harris puts it the most succinctly: Rip up the brochure and sell the story.
Why does storytelling matter? Unlike a car, a smartphone or a pair of ice skates — for which the buying experience allows you to see what you'll get — an insurance contract is a document. Insurance buyers are paying for pieces of paper that will remain in force for many years.
That makes insurance a unique product, and the job of the storyteller is to show how those documents are relevant to a person’s life — or death.
For underwriters and advisors, this approach is obvious. But to harried families juggling children and other competing priorities, it’s a different story.
Sarah E. Stewart, vice president-life marketing and chief operating officer of Financial Brokerage in Omaha, was asked at the NAILBA conference about the top threat to independent life brokerage distribution in the next year or two.
Independent producers, she said, are finding it harder and harder to sell life insurance. “They think that people don’t want it,” she told InsuranceNewsNet.
However, she said, the reason the industry is having trouble selling life insurance coverage is that life insurance is not being presented in a way that speaks to consumers.
“We need to simplify everything," Stewart said. "We need to educate our producers on getting back to basics, so that we are selling people what they need. That means less focus on commoditization. We need to add value for the consumer back into the sales process.”
In short, insurance producers need to tell a more compelling story.
Cyril Tuohy is a writer based in Pennsylvania. He has covered the financial services industry for more than 15 years. Cyril may be reached at [email protected].
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