By Cyril Tuohy
Life Happens, which is wrapping up its 20th year, is getting its own life together.
After completing a rebranding campaign this year designed to speak as one voice and one brand, Life Happens received a little mainstream exposure during recent mentions on NBC’s Today Show and CBS This Morning.
It’s no accident. Life Happens is growing up and its members have been working hard to raise its profile.
Changes to the composition of the organization's 18-member board of directors to include more top-level executives from carriers, not just producer organizations, has also made a “huge difference,” said Marvin Feldman, president and CEO of Life Happens.
It was not always so.
Rewind back to 1994, when the LIFE Foundation — which changed its name this year to Life Happens — was born as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit. The Internet was in its infancy, mass-market cell phones were still years away, and the fax machine still ruled the day.
It was also a time when the life insurance industry was getting a lot of bad press, Feldman said. The news media were in “attack mode.” Tales of consumer mistreatment at the hands of agents and carriers reneging on claims hogged the headlines.
Producers felt that carriers weren’t doing enough to fight back, take control of the agenda and “set the record straight.”
In 1994, seven insurance producer organizations, including the National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors, founded the Life and Health Foundation for Education — also known as the LIFE Foundation — to improve the industry's image.
“Our goal at Life Happens is to make sure a consumer takes responsibility for planning via life, disability and long-term care,” said Feldman, president of The Feldman Financial Group in Palm Harbor, Fla. “They know what it is but not necessarily how it works.”
Everyone has an idea, more or less, of what life insurance does, so Life Happens is geared to educating people about how life insurance works.
“It gets the message out that you need to understand what the products do and then sit down and talk about need,” Feldman said.
In its 20 years, the organization has collected the support of more than 140 insurance and financial services companies. Member companies pay according to a formula based on recurring premiums.
Supporters include insurance giants such as AIG and Prudential, wholesalers, and specialized fraternal organizations such as Hermann Sons Fraternal Insurance, the Polish Falcons of America, and the Slovene National Benefit Society.
Life Happens steers clear of endorsing products, companies or agents. It engages only in education and communications campaigns to educate the public and deliver the message about the role and the importance of life insurance.
Based in Arlington, Va., Life Happens issues the annual Insurance Barometer study in conjunction with LIMRA.
Life Happens awards scholarships to college students and college-bound high school seniors. The organization’s Next Generation high school financial literacy program has reached more than 28 million students and more than 80,000 teachers since it was launched in 1997.
The organization’s website, www.lifehappens.org, is a no-frills affair with a robust home page and it receives several thousand page views every month, Feldman said.
Under the website's “Insurance 101” tab, getting started is easy, with links that guide visitors based on their life stage or a product category.
The “Find Coverage” tab allows visitors to choose coverage through an agent, at the workplace, via the Internet, mail or phone or through an insurance carrier. A search engine helps visitors look for agents by ZIP code.
Feldman said the site’s calculators, which help people figure out their life and disability insurance needs, are the most popular features on the website.
Stories and anecdotes presented through videos detail narratives about the role that life, disability and long-term care insurance play in people’s lives.
Feldman said that next year the organization will launch a branding initiative for agents.
Another noticeable change will likely be the replacement of former Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Boomer Esiason, who has been a spokesman for Life Happens for the past two years. Feldman said he had no word yet on who the next spokesman might be.
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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