Broker Words—February 2021

COVID-19 has brought our industry, in some cases kicking and screaming, to an important tipping point—quicker adoption of myriad tech solutions. Initially to scramble for systems to manage widespread work from home accommodation, initially hopefully for a relatively short time, but further to aid distribution in maintaining sales levels as reality birthed a seemingly ever-increasing atmosphere of caution making traditional face-to-face interaction almost completely untenable. Although many advances were already in the pipeline, the pandemic accelerated adoption at a previously unimaginable rate (at least to this peripheral observer).

Countless research studies have indicated younger generations’ embrace of doing online research themselves prior to contacting an insurance professional coupled with firm expectations of a much quicker buying process from application to policy delivery. Many necessary speed-to-issue processes were already established pre-pandemic and being diligently refined to suit these generational markets to the benefit of all stakeholders. For just one example of how new tech initiatives are shaping expedited service to consumers, I urge you to read Ken Leibow’s insightful Tech-Tock… column in this issue. Truly exciting stuff for our industry.

But sitting across the table or desk from an agent was still widely viewed as beneficial by most consumers as the insurance professional still offered the significant advantage of a wealth of experience and product knowledge well beyond the scope of all but perhaps the most diligent amateur coverage Clouseaus. And while Nick and Nora could easily find pet insurance for Asta, and possibly unearth a comprehensive body of evidence on life insurance, at best they were still just “rounding up the usual suspects.” It would be a fortuitous revelation for them to include asset-based long term care in their lineup, and traditional long term care insurance or disability income coverage never even made it into the precinct for questioning.

That’s where you folks came in—you are the extremely reliable sources who could point them in the right direction to consider all the angles and be sure all the possible solutions are explored. Further, you are the security professionals tasked with protecting their lives and their families from as many dastardly events as possible. You are the ones who know who all the possible culprits are and how to best thwart their potential financial and emotional impact—and thus you are still indispensable.

But even Hercule Poirot would have had a heck of a time solving the Murder on the Orient Express via a Zoom call. Your job has become more difficult when social distancing morphs into few if any face-to-face meetings. More power to you if you haven’t felt the impact. I consult with the family’s agent via email, phone and text, but when I needed a sheaf of policy forms for my mother he dropped the folder on my porch, backed off, and then we had a very brief, mask-garbled conversation outdoors eight feet apart or more. Not exactly prime relationship nurturing stuff.

Good friend Dave Murphy has some great tips in this month’s Purpose-Driven Professionals… column that I would urge you to read. To compensate for the lack of in-person meetings, he offers some great insight on maintaining (and building) relationships with your clients—stepping up your game while utilizing your other communications sources—to be sure that forced “out of sight” doesn’t mean “out of mind” for you and your clients. Now our secondary relationship reinforcing vehicles like social media and email, as well as primary communications like phone calls and individual personal actually stamped cards and letters, can be even more beneficial as connection sources to help fill the crevasse forced between us by COVID-19—but I believe that personalization is the key. Our communications need to reinforce that we still care rather than be perceived as simply reminders that we’re still “out there.”

I’ve been on exactly one Zoom call so far (I suppose I should be ashamed to admit that), and I spent agonizing moments deciding on an appropriate background, arranging my laptop to be sure it showed my semi-impressive library in the background rather than the cluttered kitchen where I actually work, but spent an inordinate amount of attention hoping one of the dogs didn’t crap on the floor behind me on camera. I do enjoy the facetime calls with my wife’s family, but it was a painfully inadequate substitute for actually being there for Christmas. There are currently more than 400,000 reasons that this pandemic sucks much more important than me missing spending the holidays with my beloved inlaws. Too damned many people missed the company of family and friends permanently and in their hour of greatest need for that comfort.

My hope is that all these tech advances that are helping us cope don’t become so ingrained that we, as an industry, come to rely on many of them increasingly exclusively rather than rebound when we can and return to face-to-face interaction. Ours is a relationship business, and a smile and a handshake are integral to developing the depth of caring relationships that bolster our drive to continually protect families and businesses from financial ruin. Those relationships garner referrals—some with challenges not particularly formula fitting. More important—it simply must not evolve to become merely a transaction. An interview with a disembodied voice, a needs analysis survey form and a series of clicks.

One great “consolation prize” for missing a vast gathering of dear friends in Vegas to celebrate my recent harrumphtieth birthday was a fantastic app my wife found— She got her family members and 37 of my dearest industry friends to post individual Happy Birthday videos (many misguidedly sweet and encouraging and others…not so much so) which she then converted into a single video presentation. It was truly the best birthday present I’ve ever received. I heartily recommend it—especially at this time when we’re forced to stay physically distant.

I sometimes sneak out of the house to the grocery store before my wife can complete her InstaCart order, and I increasingly awaken to find myself being “that guy” who is holding up the line by expanding on the customary conversation with the meat counter guy, or the deli girl, or the cashier. I hope this crap lets up soon (hopefully before I’m banned from Price Chopper) because I really miss seeing the great friends I’ve made in 38 years in this business…and I bet you do too. [SPH]