Broker Words—December 2020

God bless the folks out there I see on local news channels offering so many great ideas on how to make the best of our current situation and suggest ways to make great personal progress in circumstances I don’t think many of us not in or seeking public office would have ever remotely considered advantageous.

Had I been even vaguely so constructively inclined I’d have a style-magazine-feature-worthy sock drawer, a bountiful vegetable garden, a house cleaned, organized, renovated and decorated to suit any obsessive-compulsive’s wildest dream, and would have learned to cook (all organic) as if Cordon Bleu trained since birth. I’d have finished (hopefully Volume One of) my memoirs, become professionally proficient at some artistic medium and hand crafted all of my outgoing christmas presents at such an appealing level that one could actually believe recipients when they said they loved them. That awkward pause and hitch in their voices would be representative of genuine disbelief and overwhelming gratitude rather than mentally shifting gears to desperately find a way to believably compliment some adult equivalent of the dreaded macaroni sculpture.

Like I said, God bless those folks…but I’m still stuck too often in “Boy, 2020 really sucks.” My wife, apparently presciently named Hope, on the other hand, does seem to find ways to make the best of the situation while still recognizing that things are not as she would wish—all adulty-like. Although neither of us has eaten in a restaurant since early March, haven’t traveled more than 25 miles or so on a “trip” or been to the nail salon, hair care professional, or dental hygienist, she did decide to have a foot surgery she had been postponing (and soon another) because she, “Might as well…I can’t go anywhere anyway.” She’s doing everything in her power to convince herself that it will be nice for a change to be home for the holidays rather than enjoy an extended visit with her wonderful family in North Carolina. She disgustingly has almost all of her Christmas shopping completed (online)—and wrapped!—and, ever the fashionista, has taken great strides to upgrade her loungewear. I should really feel like the Country Mouse I suppose in my years-old sweatpants and ironic (or moronic) T-shirts. One of the talk show pinheads has suggested that going ahead and decorating for Christmas early might be a good way to pick up one’s spirits. Might be a good way to make me pick up dozens of bins of decorations and make a thousand trips up and down the basement stairs a week before Thanksgiving. Hark. The Herald Angels sing.

The logical (and grateful) recognition that Hope and I are much more fortunate than literally millions of Americans isn’t lost on me, but there is so much dyspepsia-producing content across all media that it seems Pepto Bismol should be at least as difficult to find as Wet Ones, Purell and Charmin. A deadly virus released, whether intentional or not, upon the world by our most dangerous political and economic adversary has deeply affected the world, our country and our industry.

The silver lining for insurance professionals is that our industry has, throughout its history, found ways to adapt to changing circumstances, be they interest rate suppression, challenging legislation or evolving consumer wants and demographics. Many of the changes being “forced” upon us now are the very things that can make the industry and our products and processes more appealing to younger generations. (More insight on tech innovations and adoption can be found in Mike Bridges’ excellent Tech-Tock column this month as well as Marc Glickman’s article Dear Actuary.) One would hope that the COVID-19 pandemic at least brings consumers’ awareness and acceptance of their own mortality more to the forefront and generates greater willingness to protect their families’ financial futures through life insurance, annuities, disability income coverage and long term care planning.

Signs of a vaccine in the near future are greatly encouraging, but still uncertain are the actuarial and underwriting impact the virus will have on product pricing, design and availability, how the economy will react to the policies of what will apparently be a new administration and what impact that will have on many products’ appeal to the consumer, and, frankly, what measures our politicians will take, rightly or wrongly, to control the public’s behavior ostensibly to curb the spread. An aggressive lockdown approach will affect the finances of many people who may otherwise be customers—fingers crossed that it be for a relatively short time for as many as possible. Food…er…trumps…insurance.

What won’t change is the drive and determination of insurance professionals like yourselves to get families protected through the purchase of your products. America’s courageous first responders and healthcare workers are certainly getting paid to respond in this crisis, but I doubt many of them are thinking of the money as the prime motivator as they tend to the afflicted. One truly beautiful sight during this pandemic moved me to the core—the coverage of people standing on their balconies to cheer and salute these brave souls as they emerged at each shift change. I choose to believe that, similar to those professionals, although the money might be nice, you are driven by the belief that you serve a higher purpose. I salute you, and may God bless you and keep you safe today and in the challenging year ahead.[SPH]