The National Association of Insurance Commissioners plans to give agents an engaging online resource to help educate clients on life insurance products.
While website educational tools by themselves are not unusual, the NAIC can provide uniformity with a 50-state reach, said Laura Kane, director of communications for the association.
The idea is to create tools and graphics that each state can incorporate into their insurance department websites, Kane told an NAIC working group Monday. Work will begin immediately with a "toolkit" of info in time for Life Insurance Awareness Month in September, she added.
Longer term, the redesigned website will be able to include things like the entire life insurance buyer's guide, Kane told the Life Insurance Online Guide working group during a conference call.
“A lot of what exists now just takes you to a dead end and we don’t want to do that," Kane said. "We want to give people the ability to drill down. They don’t do that as much as they used to on the web, but certainly for somebody who’s interested in that topic, we want to give them that ability, as well as give them the ability to download it and read it at their leisure.”
Kane joined the NAIC nearly one year ago and completed a similar online project for the property & casualty audience. It includes an online quiz designed to engage customers. That can be replicated for the life insurance project, she said.
“We can create an online quiz and we can keep track of what the responses are," Kane told regulators. "What are the questions they’re missing? That helps us to understand what concepts we need to work on.”
The working group is developing a list of life insurance terms to be explained in easily understood language for the website. Chairwoman Mary Mealer of the Missouri Department of Insurance asked Kane if the redesigned site can be made interactive so visitors can click on terms and have the explanation pop up.
While noncommittal, Kane said the project will be ongoing for many months. At the moment, the focus is getting the toolkit out, she added.
"We just want to take advantage of what everybody else will be doing to remind people that September is a great time to take a look at your life insurance needs and sort of understand things a little bit better," Kane said.
The NAIC has a contract with Useagility, a consulting firm, to do consumer testing of its efforts, Kane said.
Birny Birnbaum is executive director of the Center for Economic Justice. He was hoping for a little more from the online effort.
“Life insurance products have become incredibly complex," Birnbaum said. "Not just many different products, but the products themselves are increasingly complex over 20, 30 years ago when the buyer’s guide was first developed.
"So what we propose was not just an online tool, but sort of a decision-tree approach where people could start with the area that they needed information."
A question-and-answer tree would follow to give consumers the right information they need, he explained. But that idea is fraught with landmines, Kane replied.
“We just have to work through with legal what would constitute giving advice versus being a resource. There are some issues with that," Kane said. "I think we can create worksheets that are specific to certain products. But we still want to say to people, ‘be sure to contact your agent for more info.’"
“I apologize if we gave the impression we were looking for the NAIC to be some sort of robo advisor," Birnbaum said.
The NAIC Summer Meeting begins Aug. 2 in New York City.
InsuranceNewsNet Senior Editor John Hilton has covered business and other beats in more than 20 years of daily journalism. John may be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @INNJohnH.