Currently showing: Funding longer lives > Social contract

02 Sep 14 12:58

I've never believed in coincidences, luck or fate. I felt that my path was determined solely on my actions alone and that the actions of others didn't have much impact on how my path would unfold.

This view changed when my older brother, Don, died unexpectedly four years ago. To say that his passing has had a profound effect on our family would be an understatement. At the time of his passing he didn't have any life insurance; he died on a Wednesday and when we were at the funeral home on Friday we were met with the brutal realities that death has to offer.This was the first of many lessons that would be served up over the coming weeks, months and years. I'm isolating the financial impact of his passing as it's far too personal to speak about the other impacts that come from a circumstance like this. How could someone with a wife and three beautiful daughters not have proper life insurance?

In reality, I couldn't stand in judgment as I, too, was inadequately prepared with only a modest term policy that I purchased 12 years prior and a group policy through my employer. It turns out that neither me nor my brother were anomalies as the majority of Americans are either uninsured or underinsured. The issue is so pervasive that more American's are uninsured / underinsured than actually have adequate life insurance, it adds up to a staggering $20 trillion gap. It's in circumstances like this that many life insurance policies are purchased: by those that see the devastation that's left behind after an untimely passing. All passings are untimely.

In the months that followed Don's passing I purchased life insurance and felt better for having done so. It's been noted that life insurance buyers don't understand the value of their policy. In my case I had a tangible and vivid reminder each time I looked at my wife and three kids of the value my protection would provide if I were to suffer an untimely passing.

Almost two years following my brother's passing, Swiss Re published a report on the "Mortality Protection Gap" in the US, quantifying the level of underinsurance. Swiss Re had measured the gap for about a decade already and was ready to take our efforts to the next level. I was asked to lead the Protection Gap team to increase awareness and find ways in which we could help demonstrate the value of life insurance.

I found this to be a great outlet to understand the various reasons why American's don't purchase life insurance and why it's so difficult for us, as an industry, to reach the middle market consumer, where the need is so significant. In the period we've been focusing on this a good amount of progress has been made, we've learned a lot and I've seen that there are many smart people working to create a better plan to attract today's consumer, but we are only at the beginning. More needs to be done and we need to be open to different ways to reach these consumers. If only people who don't have life insurance (or adequate coverage) could see the world through my lens, the lens following my brother's passing when the mortgage payment was due, the pending tax bill and now college education for his two daughters. No marketing campaign in the world would compare to the response this would drive. How do we get the average American to see this?

I can't say for sure what role fate plays in each of our lives, but I can tell you that my brother died on a beautiful day in September which happens to be Life Insurance Awareness Month. I wish I could bring him back, but I know I can't. The only thing I can do is make sure that no other family finds themselves financially unprepared in the event of an untimely passing.

Category: Funding longer lives: Social contract


Rashunda Tramble - 2 Sep 2014, 2:41 p.m.

Not too many things leave me speechless, but Steven, your post just did. It brings home the reality of what a lot of us, myself included, face with our families. And it does so in a beautiful, heartbreaking way. How do we get the average American to see this? By sharing stories like this one. Thank you Steven.

Susan Imler - 2 Sep 2014, 9:20 p.m.

Steve, thanks so much for sharing. I'll add another from my family with the reverse perspective. Two years ago this September, my 58-year-old brother-in-law died suddenly from a heart attack. A few months ago, I noticed that his wife put this poignant little post on FB. It struck me because it's at the heart of what we do. In her candid words...."Today I was mowing my lawn and singing, "My house is a very, very fine house". I got to thinking how very grateful I am to Kevin for planning ahead. The house would not be mine had he not followed through with purchasing more life insurance five years before he died. Thank you Kevin for taking care of me!" THIS is the story, this is the message...we all want our loved ones to say the same about us.

Steven Cvijanovich - 4 Sep 2014, 9:39 p.m.

Rashunda, thank you for your kind words, I can only hope that my story sparks action on the part of others who have folks depending on them. We are part of an incredible industry with such power and capability, I'm hopeful that we can start to erode this gap and show today's consumer the benefits of our offering.

Steven Cvijanovich - 4 Sep 2014, 10:19 p.m.

Susan, you're exactly right, your sister and her children are so fortunate to be in this position. I want everyone to have a story like this, we can solve this, it's in our power to do so. Everyone knows how retail music has been transformed by an outsider to the industry, I don't believe we need a similar outcome, but we need to engage today's consumer in a way that we haven't before. It's untenanble to think that if we don't solve this on our own that the opportunity will be ignored by others.

Daniel Martin Eckhart - 5 Sep 2014, 7:47 a.m.

Beautifully written, thanks for sharing this and yes, I do hope this reaches many people. May they look at their loved ones and remember the your story. The reason for the protection gap is only partly ignorance and lack of funds ... a big part is simply the human condition. "We're alive, it won't happen to us, it can't. These are things that only happen to other people. My life, my family's life, we're good, everything's good." It's very uncomfortable to contemplate the possibility, much easier not to even think about it. Luckily, stories like yours make a difference. Not the numbers, not the stats, not the companies - but real people sharing real stories ... may yours resonate and make a difference ... I have a feeling it will.

Rashunda Tramble - 5 Sep 2014, 8:43 a.m.

"It's very uncomfortable to contemplate the possibility, much easier not to even think about it." Exactly. We need a cultural shift. But we can do it. Consider cancer: not too long ago, no one even mentioned the word in the general public. Being diagnosed was very hush-hush. Things have certainly changed since then.

Alicia Montoya - 8 Sep 2014, 8:22 p.m.

Thanks for sharing, Steven. Your blog post made me wonder, once again, why it is that we only seem to wise up to reality after it hits us square in the face.

After years of extremely high road death rates, Spain's traffic commission finally launched a brutal TV ad campaign that depicted the very situation a driver could find themselves in during an accident. The ads made you "live" through a whole accident, from the few seconds preceding the accident to the 1-2 minutes after collision, with, yes, all the screaming and dead loved ones next to you in the car. I will never forget that campaign and it's made me a very careful driver.

So how can we help each other internalize those seemingly distant, abstract risks so as to be best prepared when disaster strikes?

Here's a nice campaign from MetLife: #WhoILiveFor which depicts citizens citing the people (and pets!) they live for. I like the approach: make it personal

Deb Gutmann - 11 Sep 2014, 11:19 a.m.

Working in insurance since graduating from high school, I thought my husband and I had enough insurance. However, when he passed, it was not enough. He took over a family business and it did not cross my mind that we needed to increase his life insurance to cover the business. I make sure to let family and friends to rethink their insurance every few years to determine if things have changed and if those changes create a need for additional life insurance.

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