Tag Archives: media

How to Communicate Following a Suicide

More than 50 research studies worldwide have found that certain types of news coverage regarding a death by suicide can increase the likelihood of additional suicide deaths in vulnerable individuals. The magnitude of the increase is related to the amount, duration and prominence of coverage. Business leaders can learn from these media studies and shape written and oral communication in a preventive way.

Media Lesson: Risk of additional suicides increases when the story explicitly describes the suicide method, uses dramatic, graphic headlines or images, and repeated/extensive coverage sensationalizes or glamorizes a death. Use non-sensationalized language and life-giving terms. Avoid images that glamorize the death such as photos or videos of the location or method of death or grieving family and friends. Headlines such as “Kurt Cobain Used Shotgun to Commit Suicide” should better be drafted as “Kurt Cobain Dead at 27.”

Business Application: Talk about suicide in a way that assumes the recipient will handle the information in a mature, responsible, life-giving way. Often, leaders avoid any reference to suicide when speaking with their teams. The rationale can be wanting to avoid any power of suggestion. “We didn’t want to give them the idea.” This belief is highly inaccurate. They already have the idea…especially immediately following a death by suicide within their social circle. Avoiding the topic lends it negative power. Discussing suicide carefully, even briefly, can change public misperceptions and correct myths, which can encourage those who are vulnerable or at risk to seek help.

See Also: A Manager’s Response to Workplace Suicide

Media Lesson: Avoid reporting that death by suicide was preceded by a single event, such as a recent job loss, divorce or bad performance review. Also, avoid describing a suicide as inexplicable or “without warning.” Reporting like this leaves the public with an overly simplistic and misleading understanding of suicide.

Application: Suicide is complex. There are almost always multiple causes, including psychiatric illnesses that may not have been recognized or treated. However, these illnesses are treatable. Refer to research findings that mental disorders and/or substance abuse have been found in 90% of people who have died by suicide. Most, but not all, people who die by suicide exhibit warning signs. Identify a list of usual “Warning Signs”. Consider quoting a suicide prevention expert on causes and treatments.

Fully acknowledge the horror and the loss but emphasize what is being done to support those who are impacted. Change your language from “committed suicide” or “successful/unsuccessful suicide” to “died by suicide” or “completed suicide.”

Media Lesson: Do not cite the content of the suicide note or any “manifesto.” Better would be “A note from the deceased was found and is being reviewed by the medical examiner.”

Application: Communicate, communicate, communicate but determine what content is shared on a “what is helpful/need to know” basis and always prioritize respectful adherence to the needs and wishes of the family.

Media Lesson: Use your story to inform readers about the causes of suicide, its warning signs, trends in rates, and recent treatment advances. Include means of accessing resources.

Application: Knowledge offers healthy power. Have a hopeful, caring, life-giving tone. Focus the major portion of your remarks upon resilience and health rather than details about the death. Talk about available treatment options, stories of those who overcame a suicidal crisis, and resources for help. Emphasize faith practice and spiritual strength. Include up-to-date local and national resources where people can find treatment, information and advice that promotes help-seeking.

Business leaders can change the conversation and help keep people just a little bit safer.

life insurance

Selling Life Insurance to Digital Consumers

When we started PolicyGenius, an independent digital insurance broker, last summer, we braced ourselves for a high-speed education on the finer points of the consumer insurance market–and boy did we get it. We previously consulted for the industry, but even that doesn’t prepare you for all the work that happens on the ground, like filing for licenses on a state-by-state basis, or spending a holiday manually preparing and sending out illustrations because of a last-minute surge in quote requests. (Or dealing with fax machines.)

But learning all the nuances, even the bewildering ones, has been an amazing experience. It’s exciting to be involved in an industry right at the start of its transformation into the next phase of doing business.

We hung out our digital shingle in July 2014, and thanks to our smart shopping and decision-making tools, as well as some extremely positive exposure from the national media, we’ve enjoyed 30% month-over-month growth in our user base.

In the process, we’ve had 12 months to learn a lot about the modern digital insurance customer. Here are six takeaways that agents and carriers can benefit from.

1. Babies are still the No. 1 trigger for buying life insurance–which means there’s still plenty of opportunity to educate consumers about other equally important life events.

It’s no surprise that having a baby motivates a person to buy life insurance. Our own data shows that among customers who take our Insurance Checkup (our online insurance advice tool), the number of those who already have life insurance jumps by 20% if the customer has a child.

In a survey we commissioned last year, we found that consumers place insurance fourth in line behind saving for retirement, paying off debt and following a budget. Life insurance should be a key part of any long-term financial strategy, but a lot of people still don’t realize that. The survey also suggests people don’t recognize the financial challenges that accompany other big life events like marrying, buying a home, starting a business or becoming a caretaker for aging parents.

Our takeaway: Buying life insurance for your baby is a given. Now we need to focus on bringing these other invisible triggers to our customers’ attention.

2. Couples do it together.

A State Farm survey a few years ago found that 74% of people rarely talk about life insurance, in part because it’s an uncomfortable subject to bring up with one’s spouse. But we’ve repeatedly seen one half of a couple begin a life insurance application with us, and then shortly thereafter we get an application for the other half. In fact, around 20% of our life insurance applications have a partner application associated with them.

Our takeaway: Once an applicant sees how easy we’ve made it to shop for a policy, she decides to take care of her partner’s policy while she’s at it. It saves time, and it prevents couples from having to talk about the subject too much or revisit it again any time in the near future.

3. Digital insurance consumers are thoughtful shoppers who appreciate honest advice.

Our average customer spends 9 1/2 minutes exploring her PolicyGenius Insurance Checkup report. According to Adobe’s Best of the Best Benchmark report from 2013, the average time spent on a site in the financial services category is just more than six minutes!

Our takeaway: If you give the customer intuitive educational tools and advice tailored to her financial needs, and you don’t ask for anything intrusive in return (like a phone number), she’ll become more engaged.

We’ve seen this later in the shopping cycle, too, when customers look into the reputations of prospective insurance companies. But more on that below.

4. Digital insurance consumers are happy to do most of the work on their own.

If you’ve been a part of the insurance industry long enough, you’ve probably heard the saying, “Insurance is not bought; it’s sold.” In other words, industry veterans believe that you have to sell (and often pressure) consumers, who wouldn’t otherwise purchase on their own.

We founded our company on the theory that this isn’t true, and now we know that there are people out there who independently come to the conclusion that they need life insurance. We’ve found that customers who come to our site want to go all the way through the application process on their own, with no agent intervention. They self-navigate through decisions about coverage and carrier selection on our site, using the jargon-free content and tools we’ve built to make the path easy. It may not be as easy and fast as buying a pair of shoes from Zappos, but we’ve worked hard to make the process reliable and trustworthy.

But not every self-serve life insurance experience is smooth, which is why it’s important to have human help when needed. One client told us in a follow-up thank you that it was “comforting to have someone on my side in evaluating different insurance carriers and working to get me approved when the first insurer turned me down.”

Our takeaway: If you make insurance easy to shop for, you don’t have to focus so much on the hard sell.

5. Digital insurance consumers are not just Millennials.

Everyone likes to talk about the Millennial consumer these days, but we’ve discovered that the digital insurance consumer isn’t defined by any one generation. It’s true that Millennials (< 35) make up about 50% of our user base; however, Baby Boomers (50+) make up 20% of our user base, and Generation X (35-50)–who spend more online than Boomers do, according to a recent BI Intelligence study–fill out the rest.

Our takeaway: To reach such a wide range of online consumers, we have to focus on values that have universal consumer appeal–honesty, speed and self-service that’s backed by amazing customer support.

6. Insurer financial strength and reputation are important.

When you’re shopping online, you’re used to seeing reviews and ratings. It’s one of the ways online consumers compare products or services that they can’t see face to face.

Customers frequently ask us for insurance company ratings and customer reviews. And they ask for help choosing a carrier when all the ones they’re considering have approximately the same rating, or if customer reviews are inconclusive. We’ve been asked, “Who is the largest insurer or has been around the longest? I don’t want anyone that will go out of business.”

They take financial strength ratings, brand strength and reviews seriously, and factor them in when deciding which policy to buy. It’s so important that we’ve added one-page “report cards” into our life insurance quoting process to help answer these questions.

Our takeaway: Insurance companies don’t have to worry about digital platforms like ours commoditizing their policies and encouraging consumers to shop only on price. While price is important, it’s not the only factor that consumers consider when buying a life insurance policy.

As an industry, we still have a lot to learn about selling insurance to the digital consumer. And as an online broker, we’re still learning valuable customer insights from fellow brokers and agents throughout the industry. It’s true that everything we’ve learned in the past year has helped us confirm many of our initial propositions, but it’s also helped us better understand how to win over today’s insurance shopper. We can’t wait to see what the next 12 months brings.

It’s a Good Time to Be in Insurance

Today, the insurance industry is healthy and strong, with high levels of organic revenue growth and rising profit margins across the independent agency and brokerage channel. According to Swiss Re, mergers and acquisitions (M&A) activity continues to trend upward in terms of both the number of acquisitions and the average price paid per agency.

As we start a new year, it’s important to keep in mind how much the insurance industry has evolved since it first began. From the first policy to protect shipments at sea, to coverages for new risks like cyber security that were unimaginable in years past, insurance has always been a critical component in human progress. It has allowed people to follow their dreams and take risks. No one would purchase a house or build a new industrial complex with the underlying belief they could lose it all.

What’s Ahead

We’ve seen how insurance has adapted over the years, but what’s next? With organic growth and acquisitions higher than ever, now is the time for your agency or brokerage to fully embrace digital technology to take advantage of every business opportunity in a market primed for profitability.

Why go digital?

  1. Your clients expect it
    Today’s insurance consumer is fundamentally changing business and customer service models. Consumers are more mobile than ever. Media and news are now consumed on the go, and personal and business transactions via mobile apps are part of everyday life. The demand for 24/7 access to information is requiring nearly every industry to reevaluate how it operates to meet these new customer expectations – and the insurance industry is not immune. In fact, in a recent survey conducted at this year’s Applied Net conference, agents and brokers ranked changing customer demand as the main catalyst to increasing their technology investments.

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Agencies and brokerages should also consider that the next generation of tech-savvy insurance consumers will also be the next wave of insurance employees. They bring a new set of expectations to the workplace as insurance professionals from the baby boomer generation begin to retire.

Delivering a digital customer experience has become table stakes for the next-generation trusted adviser. The insurance experience of yesterday is no longer sufficient with today’s demands and tomorrow’s expectations.

  1. Your business requires it
    The increased pace of business to keep up with consumer demand can make staff feel like there are not enough hours in the day. Digital technology simplifies processes and eliminates manual tasks. In the Applied Net 2015 survey, when asked which technology most improves productivity, respondents strongly indicated that standardized workflows and agency-insurer interface are seen as the greatest source of efficiency gains.

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Advanced software, such as Applied Epic, delivers pre-built, best-practice workflows to streamline processes and reduce time spent on duplicate tasks. Additionally, end-to-end transactions between a business and insurers need to happen within the management system for optimal productivity and efficient business operations. For agents using IVANS Download, employees save an average of two hours per employee per day.

The Makings of a Digital Agency or Brokerage

Digital transformation reflects the transition of taking manual, paper-filled processes to digitally automated workflows powered by software and the Internet. A “digital agency” is one that has undergone a digital transformation to drive growth and profitability across its lines of business. It experiences many digital, paperless interactions and transactions per day with insurers and insureds and among staff.

A digital agency is built on 5 pillars:

  1. A single agency or brokerage management system to serve as the operational foundation. Your system should be able to manage every type of business from personal lines, commercial lines, benefits and risk management, and it should connect all of your staff within your agency or brokerage including CSRS, producers, accountants and principals. Consider this: 50% of the insurance industry’s workforce will retire in the next decade. Can new staff be efficiently trained on your agency management system?pic3
  2. Big data evaluates ways to mine and analyze the rich transactional data in management systems. There is an abundant amount of data in your management system, but do you have the technology to quickly gain insights? Data analytics uses advanced technologies to analyze vast amounts of data and produce analytic insights in visual representations much more rapidly than traditional tabular reports. Consider this: Companies that use data analytics are five times more likely to make faster decisions than their peers.pic4

  3. Insurer connectivity creates a digital connection between your management system and your chosen insurer partners. It’s important that agencies and brokerages have access to the best products and the best insurers to meet the risk needs of each client, and connectivity allows just that. Consider this: 69% of survey respondents found the availability of automated insurer interface to be very important when selecting insurers to do business with.pic5
  4. Mobility gives agents and brokerages the ability to interact with prospects, clients and employees in the field via insurance-specific mobile apps and client portals. It becomes much easier to obtain information when you have your smartphone or tablet in a time of need. Consider this: 76% of Millennial survey respondents believe access to information via a mobile app is important.pic6

  5. The Cloud allows your staff access anytime, anywhere, as well as full security and data backup. Hosting your software in the cloud leads to increased flexibility, security and business agility. Consider this: Today, 77% of organizations cite agility as the primary reason of moving to the cloud. Whether you are scaling up via organic growth or M&A or scaling down to be sold, the cloud allows your business that flexibility.pic7

Step into the Digital Age

With today’s customers expecting more and increased competition redefining the insurance industry, digital technology simplifies and amplifies current processes. It expands communication channels – to clients and insurer partners. It mobilizes your staff from their desk to the field. Digital technology elevates your role as a trusted adviser, making you present at all moments of opportunity – any time, anywhere.

As each year goes by, we strive to be better and do more for our customers. Business as usual is no longer enough. The strategy? Your foundation has to be more advanced, your communication channels need to be open and your business must be mobilized. Growth-minded agencies and brokerages have a great opportunity ahead.

Healthcare Reforms Aren’t Sustainable

A recent NPR program celebrated the success of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The benchmark was that many really sick people finally had coverage and that many poor people were now obtaining coverage because of subsidies or because of the expansion of Medicaid. If measured by participation, the healthcare reform under ACA is a success, with more growth anticipated.

Unfortunately, the long-term benchmark must be sustainability and outcomes, not participation. Government programs are often popular in the short term but not sustainable in the long term. The National Flood Insurance Program, Medicare, Medicaid, the VA, etc. will ultimately have to be “adjusted” because 100% of the taxpayers are funding these systems and a very much smaller percentage of us use them.

At some point, the non-users scream “enough already.” “Other people’s money” always runs out, and the $2.6 trillion-plus spent on healthcare is not evenly divided. 47% is spent on the sickest 5% of the population, and just 3% is spent on the healthiest 50% of Americans, according to “Healing a Broken Healthcare System,” from the Louisiana Healthcare Education Coalition. Half of the people are hardly benefiting from the money they contribute under healthcare reform.

Our systems of healthcare and healthcare financing cannot be sustained as they are trending. Yesterday’s system was not sustainable; neither is today’s ACA. The marketplace must innovate. More government and more taxes are not the answer.

Obesity and diabetes are running rampant, and too many folks (especially young people) are living a sedentary lifestyle. This lifestyle adds to the “diseased population” and the future problems and costs.

Personal and family responsibility are a necessity. Nutrition (diet) and activities (exercise) are a start. Addressing the individual in all her elements — mind, body and spirit — is a must. Answers to this crisis are inside of us as individuals and populations — not just at the doctor’s office.

Providers and institutions delivering care must leverage technology for efficiency of operations and efficacy of results. Increased availability and utilization of naturopathic physicians, physician assistants, nurse practitioners, health coaches, nutritionists, counselors and tele-medicine will ensure increased patient engagement and ultimately satisfaction and enhanced results.

Preventive medicine for all and “bringing” care and prevention to populations who can’t get to the marketplace available to most will improve lives and reduce costs. We need fewer dollars to be spent on prescriptions and invasive surgeries. It’s okay for providers and payers to just say no to demands that are not in the consumer’s best interest — regardless of what the TV commercial suggests.

Genomics, improved diagnostics to ensure earlier interventions, a focus on extending life (versus delaying death), integrated/holistic care, marrying technology and touch and technology, natural medicine and other changes are in the works now.

Other hopes rest in vascular therapy, tailored and embraced wellness plans, systems that can intervene with populations in need during crises and tailored and personalized process management for chronically ill mental health patients. Accountable care, outcome-based payment mechanisms, new models of care and care delivery and consumer engagement (personal avatars facilitating our own motivation allowing us to design our own “road to well”) are solutions now or yet to be introduced in the market of tomorrow. These are our future. Marcus Welby, M.D., is dead, but the healing and caring he delivered can live on.

This article was written in August. Last week, I received proof of the concepts. A friend received his renewal for his ACA policy. Coverage was reduced from a 70/30 co-pay (insurer pays 70%,) to a 60/40 plan, yet his premiums increased 31%. This is just the beginning — it will get worse. When you insure a majority of sick people and you subsidize many of their premiums, you will get participation. When relatively healthy and unsubsidized policyholders receive prohibitive rate increases, they will discontinue coverage, and the insured pool suffers adverse selection. Did I mention that the situation will get worse?

The Dangers of Public Segmentations

Recently, it seems that developing public segmentations of your customers or citizens and then sharing it for all to see is becoming fashionable.

In part, this is to be applauded and welcomed.,/p>

The trend highlights a key tool within the customer insight toolkit, encourages greater focus on understanding people and embraces the need for greater transparency. However, there is also an inherent risk, that readers fail to understand the purpose, design and limitations of such segmentations and thus unwittingly apply them where they will not help.

This reminds me of a time many years ago when psychometric segmentations were very popular in business circles. Myers Briggs (MBTI) and many other profiles were enthusiastically applied and team members categorized into their “type.” Sadly, all too often, this perception about some important differences between team members was filed away following the team-building exercise and never used again. Screening interview candidates via psychometric segments was also “flavor of the month” at one stage, although I hear it being much more rarely used now (or only as part of a mix of “facts” to be considered).

Perhaps part of the problem can be a misunderstanding of the role of segmentation. As posted previously, segmentation is just one of a number of statistical tools available, and each segmentation will be designed to achieve a particular purpose. For this reason, more than one segmentation of customers may be entirely appropriate and insightful for a business that is able to handle such complexity (though most business leaders dislike this idea).

But let’s return to reviewing some of those recently published public segmentations. The first one I want to consider is the Consumer Spotlight segmentation published by the FCA.

While this appears a useful segmentation to help the FCA understand and focus on more vulnerable segmentation with regard to financial understanding or access, it is also important to recognize its limitations. A 10-segment model will only ever be appropriate for understand macro attitudes and behaviors. My own experience of segmenting consumers within different product markets tells me that both attitudes and behaviors can vary widely once you drill down to specific needs or products. So, it’s important to realize that this segmentation has been designed to focus on dimensions like vulnerability, detriment and financial risk. Thus it is most relevant for the FCA itself, to help target communications.

A second example is a commercial business taking such a public approach to sharing a segmentation. It is the Centre for the Modern Family segmentation funded by Scottish Widows.

This is another interesting segmentation, as it seeks to highlight and track changing social attitudes, family structures and pressures on modern families of many different types. However, once again it is important to realize the limitations of this survey. It is an attitudinal segmentation, constructed from a combination of “qual and quant” survey results, interpreted by an expert panel drawn from academia, social care and commerce. As such, this is a subjective perspective evidenced by self-reported attitudes and behaviors. Although such an understanding can be very rich, the inability to overlay this segmentation onto customer databases means that actual behavior cannot be verified or targeted actions or communications executed (often a drawback of attitudinal segments).

My final example is from the UK government. There are two I could have chosen here, as they have also recently published a segmentation on “climate change and transport choices,” but I’ve chosen to highlight the segmentation exercise published in regard to the problem of digital exclusion.

Once again, it’s encouraging to see this segmentation exercise being undertaken and the transparency regarding approach and progress. However, it does also appear to run the risk of a number of other “hybrid segmentations.” That is the risk that certain differences highlighted in various research studies or other sources are “cherry picked” to construct a patchwork quilt of apparently rich understanding that is not evidenced on a consistent basis. This can be seen in the infographic embedded in the above article. Even constructing a behavioral/demographic framework for a segmentation on that basis and then consistently surveying each segment runs the risk of masking important differences because of the averaging effect of artificially constructed segments. It will be interesting to see how government advisers and agencies avoid those risks.

I hope you found that interesting and are also engaged with the level of focus on segmentation in today’s government and media. If these are approached carefully and interpreted appropriately, they should be another driver of greater influence and seniority for customer insight leaders. That is our cause celebre.