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The Enrollment Challenge

Retirement readiness decisions are a daunting task for most employees. According to a 2012 Participant Engagement Study conducted by Lincoln Financial:

  • 41 percent of employees are only somewhat engaged or fully disengaged from any retirement plan
  •  7 percent of employees only are fully engaged and interact with their retirement plan on a regular basis.

Plan communication and education can provide people with the financial knowledge needed to better understand their employee benefits and make better enrollment decisions to achieve better outcomes.

Communication Is Key

The U.S. Employee Benefits Security Administration’s ERISA Advisory Council published a key report in 2010 on how plan communication practices and design options impact participation and contribution rates. They researched strategies for tailoring communications to different subgroups of employees through direct communication, and their effectiveness in influencing participants of diverse demographic market segments, including segments categorized by income level, household status, generation, gender, and ethnicity.

The report then provided recommendations of best practices for enrollment that are statistically proven to be effective, including education to plan sponsors on specific proven techniques and communication practices. In evaluating what communication methods are most effective in encouraging participants to save for retirement, the following considerations were made:

  • Cost: an effort was made to balance the need for comprehensive plan communications against cost.
  • Delivery: A variety of methods were explored including the use of current and emerging social media.
  • Plan Design: The study reviewed how plan designs relate to increasing participant enrollment and savings. In particular, the Council studied the use of automatic features. Automatic enrollment plans automatically choose the employees’ contribution percentage and enroll the participant in an investment vehicle. This raises participation rates to close to 90 percent. However employees enrolled at low contribution rates of 3% or less tend not to deeply consider or increase their contributions.

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9 Recommendations and Best Practices

The Council found that effective plan communication and education can provide people with the financial knowledge needed to understand their employee benefits, make better financial decisions, and achieve better outcomes.

Given that the most successful plan communications make use of many channels from print to external websites, online tools, social media, and creative marketing, the Council highlighted best practices that balance personalized, targeted content to help employees evaluate benefit offerings with cost efficiency. They highlighted specific techniques and communication practices that have been statistically proven to be effective in increasing the involvement of employees in saving for retirement. The following are 9 recommendations:

  1. Communications tailored to particular segments drive results
  2. One-on-one or small group meetings increase participation
  3. Immediate “on the spot” communication is most effective
  4. Short, simple and focused communication drives participant response
  5. Multiple “touches” with various creative formats increase participation
  6. Increased technology use is effective and cost efficient
  7. Behavioral economics and “social norming” can increase participant involvement and savings
  8. Incentives given by sponsors and “gamification” help trigger participant involvement
  9. Responsive marketing principles may assist plan sponsors in improving communications

Here is a brief synopsis of these 9 practical recommendations and some best practices:

1. Communications Tailored to Particular Segments 

tailored-skill-development-imageThe Council found that communications that target participants based on their interests, background, and/or economic status were more successful than the “one size fits all” approach.

Understanding the culture and background of the workforce being targeted is key. For instance, since Hispanics will soon constitute one-third of the US population, Council member Donna MacFarland of Lincoln Financial Group stated that in her experience education materials typically are translated from English to Spanish, whereas she recommended that sponsors design the material using the reverse approach, developing  materials first in Spanish to address specific cultural needs and language differences.

Human Resource professionals also have found that allowing employees to map out an action plan rooted in realistic scenarios is an extremely effective tool. Some plan sponsors have successfully used a “three-pronged” approach to reach out to their participants by combining simple income replacement projections, behavioral finance strategies and a personalized message. For example, JP Morgan developed 36 different personas based on three age groups (younger than age 30, age 30-50 and older than 50). The firm also targeted participants based upon their regional median income (e.g., Kansas’ median income is $30,000 while in New York City it is $70,000). The basis for this approach was to enable these groups to compare themselves against their peers and take the appropriate action toward saving for retirement.

By narrowly tailoring their target audience on behalf of the plan sponsors that retained them, JP Morgan subsequently monitored whether employees opened their email communications and took action toward saving for retirement. If the individual took action, that person was considered “active,” while someone who opened the email but did not take action was considered “interested.” Based upon the action taken by the individual, the participant received specifically targeted information. This technique resulted in three to four times the response rate of participants who were not targeted.

However, some witnesses advised that there is a general concern regarding the use of targeted communications because complex data collection may provide gender or ethnic identification. Thus, there is concern over whether specific segments identified based upon race or gender could raise discrimination or deferential treatment issues. The Council heard testimony from Donna MacFarland of Lincoln Financial and Thomas Ryan of Fidelity that the use of particularly sensitive demographic information causes concern among plan sponsors. There are also practical concerns about housing information technology. Nevertheless, the overwhelming opinion received during testimony was that targeted communications work.

Branding helps targeting through the use of communications that include a unique positive image that is the group can relate to.

Here are some best practices of participant-centric communication methods:

  • Best Practice 1 – The Power of Example: Trustees of the Elevator Constructors 401(k) Plan used materials featuring the story of three employees who made different savings decisions during their careers. The narrative of the three employees was used throughout one-on-one sessions with printed materials to demonstrate how a 401(k) contribution would benefit participants in a variety of circumstances including temporary layoffs, hardships and early retirement. As a result, plan participation rates increased from 26.56 percent to 29.82 percent in 2011. The plan also experienced an 85 percent increase in plan activity from meeting attendees.
  • Best Practice 2 – Employer/Employee-Centric Content: M.A. Mortenson Company, an international construction firm, employed construction-related themes in its financial education to engage participants and foster pride in the company. Financial education was made mandatory and workshops were divided by career stage, age, and gender. The plan sponsor focused on participants’ preferences by surveying them after the workshop and making recommendations based on their feedback to yield desired results.
  • Best Practice 3 – Bilingual: Consolidated Citrus Limited Partners wanted to 1) increase attendance at plan educational meetings, 2) increase plan participation, 3) increase deferral rates and 4 encourage participants to maximize their match. Ninety percent of the workers spoke only Spanish, and the majority of their day was spent in the orange groves. An in-language campaign was initiated. The company’s Spanish speaking leaders met with small groups in the orange groves. Straightforward collateral in both Spanish and English Collateral were available on site, including announcement posters. By bringing the meetings to the employees, 95 percent of the targeted group attended the meetings. Plan participation increased from 40 percent to 75 percent and deferrals expanded from 4 percent to 8 percent.
  • Best Practice 4 – Branding: The Animation Guild 401(k) Plan was implemented for artists working at Southern California animation studios. The sponsors worked with the Guild’s representatives to obtain insights and develop a branded communication urging participants to remember to enroll. The response rate increased over eight percent from the previous year, with 135 new enrollees. Another employer cited in the research increased participation by 30 percent by keeping the message fun, simple and “cool” to target younger workers.
  • Best Practice 5 – Multicultural: The Four Seasons 401(k) Plan needed to convey an important plan change to an employer profit sharing employer matching contribution. The sponsor obtained feedback from bilingual meeting presenters in designing the campaign, and provided materials tailored to Hispanics and presentations also were created in Spanish designed to be culturally and linguistically accurate. As a result, the average deferral rate of the targeted group rose from 2.9 percent to 5 percent, and significantly increased beneficiary designations.

2. One-on-One or Small Group Meetings 

OneonOneAfter a study by Lincoln Financial found that 66% of participants prefer one-on-one guidance, Lincoln made it a component of its financial education model. They found that the need for individualized information is particularly acute for groups with low participation rates, including women and minorities.  Various studies have shown good enrollment and contribution results when employees request in-person group workshops facilitated by financial experts.

  • Best Practice for One-on-One Meetings:In 2012, MassMutual representatives spoke with 150,000 employees in face-to-face meetings. Forty-six percent of these individuals took action to improve their retirement readiness and, in one-on-one meetings, 75 percent of employees took action.
  • Best Practice for Small Group Meetings: Costs and timing may prevent plan sponsors from providing one-on-one meetings, but small group meetings and audience segmentation have also been successful. The FINRA funded Nurses Investor Education Project had small group meetings for well-educated nurses interested in taking action toward their retirement. They found that generally, the nurses’ lack of basic knowledge, or their perception that they did not know enough to attend these sessions, prevented them from attending their plan sponsor’s meetings. As a result of using small group meetings as a forum, the nurses perceptions changed and attendance at their employer’s retirement plan sessions improved.

3. Immediate “on the spot” Communication 

onthespotThe ability for participants to take action at the time they are thinking about retirement savings is more effective in increasing enrollment. For example, having computers in the room at the time employees are learning about the plan would allow them to sign up and take immediate action.

  • Best Practice: A US Army mandatory financial management course found that providing the enrollment forms for the Thrift Savings Plan during the financial management course resulted in a sizeable increase in participation, with soldiers signing up for the Plan before leaving the classroom.

4. Short, Simple, Focused Communication 

focusedBehavioral studies show that the most effective communications use simple, straightforward language specific to a participant’s personal situation.

  • Best Practice: Time constraints mean that any impediments to action should be identified and mitigated. For example, on a website, any extra step, such as the need to retrieve a PIN, may prevent employees from taking action. Solutions include sending the PIN directly to their email account or a mobile number, or mailing a postcard with the website’s uniform resource locator (URL).

5. Multiple Touches With Various Creative Formats 

profileConsistent, continuous and on-going meaningful communication can be achieved by repeatedly sending out simplified mailings. Social media can help alleviate the cost of additional touch points, and yet, few companies use social media channels for retirement information.

  • Best Practice: The Council’s Professor Madrian cites a company in which the third mailing of a simplified reply form requiring the checking of a box to enroll doubled enrollment from 22 percent to 45 percent of non-participating employees.

6. Cost Effective Technology 

advancement-of-technologyEvery demographic group is now using the Internet as a preferred source of information, via home computer or mobile devices. In addition, electronic media provides the ability to track responses, which is unavailable when the communication is sent through printed materials and regular mail. Another cost effective technological advance is Dynamic Page Publishing,  reviewed at the conclusion of this article.

A Deloitte study in 2012 that found:

  • 93 percent of Americans place Internet access as the most valued household subscription;
  • 54 percent of Americans own smartphones, and the rate is increasing 29 percent annually.
  • One of three Americans over age 50 has downloaded an application to a smartphone, and 28 percent access their bank accounts via smartphone.

Engaging Millennials: Electronic media is the most effective method of communication to engage younger generations in retirement planning, including Generation X (born between 1965 and 1979).  In order to combat inertia caused by competing financial priorities, such as student loan debt, it is important for this group to be engaged through “YouTube” videos, Facebook forums, Twitter, email and mobile delivery, including providing “one click” transactions and incorporating elements of “gamification.”   Millennials also demand simple, personalized, and action-oriented communications, and prefer human contact for complex tasks.

  • Best Practice – Email: Thomas Ryan of Fidelity Investments testified to the Council that Fidelity makes all channels of communication accessible, and finds that email communications have generated higher response rates than direct mail.
  • Best Practices for Engaging Millennials – Fidelity: Fidelity has studied the preferences of Generation Y, or “Millennials”  for using electronic communication, and found that this group tends to rely heavily on the Internet to interact with representatives from Fidelity, although they appear to be the least engaged when it comes to the frequency of contact. Millennials serviced by Fidelity have the lowest 401(k) participation rate, at 58 percent, compared to 67 percent for all other populations. Design changes made to simplify online interaction with Millennials resulted in a 40 percent increase in web utilization by this group.
  • Best Practices for Engaging Millennials – Putnam: Lori Lucas of Callan Associates discussed Putnam’s roll out of a plan primarily for Millennials that encouraged participants to bring their tablets to an nteractive meeting to log on to the benefits website. As a result, 40 percent of attendees increased their deferrals within 90 days after attending the meeting.
  • Best Practices for Engaging Millennials – MassMutual:: Offering enrollment and savings increases using iPod Touch devices in group meetings resulted in action rates of 85 – 90 percent among those attending. The use of targeted and tested mail and email campaigns resulted in $150 million in new deposits over three years and a 3.9 percent increase in action rates.

7. Behavioral Economics and “Social Norming” 

choiceThe way certain information is presented can have a resounding impact, including the way choices are presented to the participant, a method referred to as “anchoring”

Presenting options in a different order or with a higher default percentage has increased deferral rates. While communications traditionally list contribution percentages in ascending order from one to five percent, studies have shown that reversing this order so that the first option shown is five percent markedly increases enrollment in the five percent option. This method is referred to as “placement.”

 “Social Norming” reflects the fact that people tend to benchmark themselves against their peers. Statistics from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that participants tacitly compete against peers in similar socioeconomic conditions.

8. Incentives and “Gamification” 

carrotThe use of games (gamification) is an effective tool in reaching  individuals who may not be easily engaged in retirement decisions (“non-savers”). Gamification can be used to reward people if they engage in the correct behaviors. Plan sponsors may also use incentives to provide rewards to participants with who exceed a certain benchmark contribution amount. Other techniques include raffles.

  • Best Practice 1: The NFL’s “Play 60” campaign  incorporates the use of the NFL brand to incentivize children to play a game for at least 60 minutes a day.
  • Best Practice 2: A rug manufacturer in northern Georgia had a series of meetings for people working multiple shifts, giving away lottery tickets to encourage attendance, and experienced standing room only for the meetings.

9. Six Marketing Principles Improve Communications

Communications that are uninspiring and difficult to undmarketing-300x200erstand leave employees confused, bored and unmotivated. The communicator’s “curse of knowledge” is a bias in which the communicator’s knowledgeability makes it difficult to demonstrate it from the perspective of lesser-informed people. The Council highlighted six principles of communication that plan sponsors should consider when drafting documents or presenting to their participants that will inspire action:

1. Show Empathy

empathyTo  determine the relevance of a message to an audience, it is necessary to engage them and ask questions that the content of the presentation or the communication should then be tailored to answer. For example, an energy company developed a program to help consumers understand and lower their energy bills, using this computerized question:

Can I help you with your bill?

  1. Yes, help me understand my bill.
  2. Help me save money.
  3. Both of the Above.
  4. I’m Here for Something Else.

By showing empathy to what the consumer cared about and giving information and tips to help them feel more in control, these questions presented helped raise consumer satisfaction.

2. Use Metaphors and Analogies

analogCommunications also reference a metaphor or visual picture to help the recipient relate to the message. For example, when Ridley Scott presented the screenplay for Alien to his producers he used the popular movie Jaws as a reference, and the metaphor “it’s like Jaws in space,” to frame a concept that the producers easily understood

3. Use Storytelling

icon-storytellingPeople tend to forget facts that are presented but usually remember a story. Stories are easy to absorb when people are overwhelmed with information. They also eliminate extraneous facts to capture the recipient’s interest and relate to him on an emotional level.

4. Use a Conversational Voice

conversationalUsing overly technical information, compliance or legal jargon can loose an audience. For example, it is difficult to convey the benefit of voluntary life insurance individual and spouse buy-up options in which election of coverage for a spouse can equal up to half an individual’s buy-up,  depending on the desired level of coverage. An effective way of communicating this is as follows:

“The company is going to buy life insurance for you. If you want, you can buy extra life insurance. Whatever extra life insurance you buy for yourself, you can also buy up to half that amount for your spouse. Now, depending on how much additional insurance you’d like, one or both of you may need to answer some questions about your health to see if you qualify for it.”

5. Surprise the Recipient

boxing-glove-surpriseUnexpected methods of engaging the recipient get the individual’s attention when a subject is ordinarily challenging and abstract. The use of humor, as shown below, can be considered an example.

6. Use Humor

humorUsing a little humor in the message will keep the audience engaged and make the message easier for audiences to relate to.

 

Plan Design Considerationsicon-design

Automatic Enrollment

A study by Brigitte Madrian and Dennis Shea shows that automatic enrollment increases average participation rates from 65 percent to 85 percent. It is particularly helpful for low-income workers with annual wages under $20,000, where participation increased from 27 percent to 82 percent. Average participation for employees under age 30 doubled from 41 percent to 82 percent, and the best improvements have been among the segments that had the lowest participation rates.  This was corroborated in as presented in the testimony of Lori Lucas.

Mandatory Contributions and Automatic Escalation

Defaults that are too low can  impact workers who would otherwise have contributed more. Since studies have shown higher default contribution rates have not increased opt-out rates, employers should consider recommending higher default contribution rates.

One solution is a stretch match (increasing the maximum amount of pay that can be matched and decreasing the percent matched, to keep the employer’s costs flat.

Another way to increase savings is automatic escalation in which sponsors automatically increase a worker’s contribution rate by one to two percent  of salary at each pay anniversary until a cap, such as 12 percent of pay.

Best Practice – TIAA-CREF: David Richardson of TIAA-CREF found that 403(b) plans typically have much higher contribution rates, ranging from 10 percent to 15 percent of pay compared to 5 percent to 7percent for all 401(k) plans, due to mandatory contributions from both employers and employees as a requirement of employment.  The 403(b) plans TIAA-CREF administers experience much higher annuitization rates — 40 percent compared to 4 percent for all 401(k) plans.

 Conclusions and Implications

red pencilThe Council found that continuous, simplified, personalized communication using multiple channels, connected with humor and empathy, are effective ways to communicate with plan participants to encourage participant engagement.

Benefit Program Marketers seeking to increase employee plan participation need to be more flexible, customizable and responsive than ever to introduce, present, promote and clarify the particular offerings and choices the employer has agreed to sponsor. Dynamic Publishing platforms are becoming a key tool in executing this strategy DPP is a way of designing publications in which layout templates are created which can contain different content in different publications. In cases where the same content is being used in multiple layouts, the same layout is being used for several different sets of content, or both, dynamic page publishing can offer significant advantages of efficiency over a traditional system of page-by-page design. Future articles will explore Dynamic Publishing in greater depth.

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financial literacy chart

A Huge Disconnect

Paula Vasan in Financial Planning magazine highlights a striking FINRA Investor Education Foundation report about consumer attitudes toward, and need for financial literacy. The findings show a huge disconnect between consumers’ perceptions vs. reality when it comes to financial planning:
  • 75% of Americans have “positive perceptions” of their own financial knowledge and math skills.
  • Yet just 14% were able to correctly answer five financial literacy questions compiled by FINRA’s investor education foundation.
These startling findings are based on surveys of more than 25,000 adults conducted across the US between 2012 and 2009, in which an online test was used to evaluate the financial knowledge of participants. You can view the full results of FINRA’s quiz here.

Who’s Most At Risk?

FINRA’s survey found that financial capability varies by geography and demographic groups:

Geographical Disparities: The Coastal States Do Better

  • Citizens of California, Massachusetts and New Jersey were the most financially capable, ranking in the top five in at least three of five measures of financial capability.
  • Mississippi was the least financially capable state, placing in the bottom five in four out of five measures, while Arkansas ranked in the bottom five in three out of five measures, and Kentucky ranked in the bottom five in two out of five measures.

Generational Disparities: Younger Americans at Risk

  • Younger Americans, especially those 34 and under, are more likely to show signs of financial stress, including taking a loan or hardship withdrawal from their retirement account or making late mortgage payments.
  • Younger Americans are more likely to have unpaid medical bills. The breakdown is as follows:
    • 31% of those aged 18-34.
    • 17% of those aged 55 or older.

Gender Disparities: Women at Risk

Other studies have shown women to be at risk.  A report by workplace financial education provider Financial Finesse, 2012 Gender Gap in Financial Literacy Researchshows women still lagging in in key areas of financial planning, and, further, the report identified that the gap between the genders is widening in nearly every area of financial planning.

A Widespread Societal Problem

Despite these disparities, the national averages show a serious across-the-board need for financial planning help.  Of the five basic financial literacy questions tested, the national average was just 2.88 correct answers.

  • Only 41% spend less than their income.
  • 26% report having unpaid medical bills.
  • 56% do not have sufficient savings to cover three months of unanticipated financial emergencies.
  • 34% paid only the minimum credit card payment during the past year.

Unfortunately, these are not isolated findings, but have been corroborated by numerous studies over the years. For instance:

  • A 2012, the SEC report on financial literacy concluded that “American investors lack essential knowledge of the most rudimentary financial concepts: inflation, bond prices, interest rates, mortgages, and risk.”
  • 69% of 1,664 participants in a 2010 Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance study to determine Americans’ general financial knowledge  failed the quiz.
  • In a 2008 study of high school seniors, only 36.2% knew that “retirement income provided by a company” is called a “pension.”
  • An Ariel study of 401(k) savings disparities found that African-American and Hispanic workers in the U.S. have lower 401(k) balances and participation rates than their white and Asian counterparts.

Serious Economic Implications

This paints a grim picture of the state of American financial literacy. The implications of the financial literacy disconnect are twofold:

  1. Consumers who are unable to understand their financial planning needs are unlikely to realize their full financial potential.
  2. An uneducated public lowers the bar for financial planners, leaving consumers at risk.

Ms. Vasan interviewed fiduciary advocate Ron Rhoades, program chair of the Alfred State Financial Planning Program. He emphasized the need for a strong fiduciary standard of conduct requiring planners to act in the best interests of the client. According to Mr. Rhoades:

Sadly, 80% or more of ‘financial advice’ and ‘investment advice’ provided today is not provided in the best interests of consumers, but rather is — often unknown to the consumer — designed to sell expensive investment products to unsuspecting consumers.

A 2009 National Financial Capability Study found that only 15% of respondents indicated that they had “checked an advisor’s background or credentials with a state or federal regulator, ” and an alarming 43% of investors in a 2007 MoneyTrack/IPT Investing Secrets Survey demonstrated a susceptibility to fraud.

An April 9, 2012 Op Ed by Time Business and Money titled Improving Financial Literacy is Essential to Our Nation’s Economic Health written by Roger W. Ferguson Jr., president and CEO of TIAA-CREF, and a former vice chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve, sums it up well:

Why It Matters: People with low levels of financial literacy suffer from that lack of knowledge at every stage of their lives: Another study from the TIAA-CREF Institute shows that people with a high degree of financial literacy are more likely to plan for retirement, and that people who plan for retirement have more than double the wealth of people who don’t.

Conversely, people who have a lower degree of financial literacy tend to borrow more, accumulate less wealth, and pay more in fees related to financial products. They are less likely to invest, more likely to experience difficulty with debt, and less likely to know the terms of their mortgages and other loans. 

The cost of this financial ignorance is high, leading many people to incur avoidable charges and fees from things like making late credit card payments or paying only the minimum amount due, overspending their credit limit, and using cash advances.

Calling All Planners

Consumers Need Help: The problem is likely to become worse as Generations X and Y head into middle age. And the educational response has been negligible. 26 states have no financial literacy requirements at all in their K-12 education systems, and only four states require students to take a personal finance class in high school.

The Disconnect Makes Financial Planning a Hard Sell: A more complex financial environment coupled with an enormous disconnect between consumer needs and attitudes creates a huge challenge for financial planners. The services of Financial Planners are more needed than ever, but getting people to face these sensitive matters remains a hard sell.

What Planners Can Do: Given this disconnect, astute financial planners can help to bridge the gap between need and perception by offering to conduct financial planning classes at local schools, civic groups (like Lion’s and Rotary), local businesses and other public forums.

A Business Development Opportunity For Planners Too

Not only does this meet a vital need, but it provides invaluable opportunities for financial professionals to increase their business in the community. Financial literacy classes can help financial planners to :

  • Introduce and advertise their practice.
  • Differentiate themselves as credible, trusted professionals in a crowded field.
  • Network within community-based associations and organizations where they can increase their visibility, gain referrals, and become trusted, influential resources.

Financial literacy classes provide an entry point for planners to get involved with community organizations and expand their influence, and can open up opportunities that can lead to networking, referrals and sales, by:

  • Serving on organization committees.
  • Buying tickets or a table for their functions.
  • Buying adds in their programs.
  • Submitting an informational article to their newsletters.
  • Assisting in or sponsoring events.
A financial literacy program provides opportunities for planners to be seen as thought leaders and trusted resources, making organization members receptive to a request for a networking meeting or an appointment to explain the services they provide. At the same time, planners will gain great confidence that they are helping consumers to make better financial choices, starting with the choice to engage a trusted advisor for the support they need.

The Life Insurance Choice Dilemma

Too many choicesToday’s tumultuous economy and changing consumer attitudes make the life insurance purchase decision challenging. Both term (temporary) coverage and permanent coverage have their relative advantages and disadvantages. Here, in brief are the choices:

Term Life? This provides an affordable entry point, but  coverage is temporary. The cost of insurance increases over time as the insured’s life expectancy decreases, eventually making coverage less affordable.

Permanent Life?  Permanent policy options can be complex and confusing:

  • Whole Life provides protection to at least age 100, but tends to be more expensive, difficult to understand, and inflexible.
  • Variable Life allows for improved cash value potential, but exposes the buyer to market risk.
  • Universal Life is interest sensitive, and policies purchased during high interest rate periods  suffered adverse performance as rates declined.

What Consumers Want: Control, Clarity and Value

Life_chart

Given all these choices, how can consumers decide which product is best suited to their own needs, circumstances and priorities?

A recent study by LIMRA and LIFE Foundation  can help shed some light on consumer priorities. While individual circumstances will vary, the study shows that general consumer insurance buying patterns and  priorities have changed over the past 15 years.

The study’s  findings strongly suggest that life insurance shoppers, influenced largely by the internet, tend to seek these 3 things:

1. Control/Flexibility

  • 26% say they prefer to purchase life insurance by internet, mail or phone.
  • 64% still prefer to buy from an insurance or financial professional face to face (although this is down from 80% in 1996.)

2. Clarity/Simplicity

When asked what factors matter most to them in buying insurance, consumers cited:

  • #1: Understanding what they’re buying (36%.)
  • #2: Obtaining the proper coverage amount (22%.)

3. Affordability/Value

Although the cost of basic term life has fallen by about 50% over the past 10 years, consumers are still concerned about the price of coverage:

  • Cost is the top reason people give for not owning enough life insurance.
  • Men place value getting the best price more than women: 17% vs 11%.

And in the wake of the 2008 recession and the weak recovery, there is also increased sensitivity to risk and volatility, making the stability of guarantees more important.

How Guaranteed Universal Life Fits In

Responsive life insurance companies are addressing consumer demand for control, simplicity and value with a new generation of guaranteed Universal Life policies.  These new products are designed to meet consumers’ needs while overcoming the challenges that the older generation of Universal Life policies encountered. Here’s how:

1. Clarity/Simplicity: Universal Life (UL) is based on a comparatively simple and transparent design (as illustrated below). It provides a clever way to combining term life insurance with a saving plan:

  • a portion of your premium pays for the cost of insurance.
  • a portion is reserved as cash value that can be used in the future to reduce the cost of insurance and provide cash when you need it.

unilife

2. Control/Flexibility:

When times are hard, the cash accumulation fund provides a cushion that can allow you to skip premium payments, and when times are good, there is flexibility to increase your premium payments to enhance that savings element. You can decide how much of your premium dollars go to savings to generate more significant cash values that accrue tax deferred and can be used for contingencies such as:

  • Unpaid medical bills – Few people anticipate the need for additional money during a prolonged illness. Cash value in the policy can be withdrawn, or borrowed, to pay medical bills.
  • Higher education – College funds are built over a sustained period of disciplined saving. While funds are not accessible in the early years of the policy, cash values are available when children are ready for college.
  • Retirement supplement – Additional income during the retirement years can be helpful when other sources are not available.

It is possible to arrange to pay a premium for a certain number of years only – such as 10 or 15 years while still guaranteeing lifetime coverage. UL policies also allow for a choice among death benefit options: a Level Death Benefit, in which premiums and interest primarily increase the cash value, or Increasing Death Benefit, in which they are also used to increase the death benefit over time.

3. Affordability/Value: UL provides cost control and value in the following ways:

  • Affordability: While more expensive than term life insurance, UL is less expensive than whole life insurance.
  • Value: Guaranteed Universal Life (GUL) provides the value of guarantees, so that both the coverage and premium level will last to a certain age regardless of current interest or economic conditions. In response to increased life expectancy, some policies provide coverage up to age 121. Policies also provide a guaranteed minimum cash value.

Buying Life Insurance is About More than Price

Under the right circumstances, Universal Life Insurance can provide permanent coverage that stays in force as long as the premiums are paid or beyond. Proper management of the savings component enables the funds to grow tax deferred at a steady rate until the money is needed. Additional standard or optional benefit features provide additional value and flexibility, including:

  • Self Completion: an optional Waiver of Premium benefit will waive the premium payments in the event of disability, allowing the policy to stay in force.
  • Accelerated Death Benefit: This standard benefit enables the policy holder to receive cash advances against the death benefit if diagnosed with a terminal illness.
  • Partial Surrender Benefit: This standard feature lets you take a portion of your cash value out of the policy instead of surrendering the entire policy for the full value, lowering the death benefit by the amount you withdraw.

In today’s volatile economic environment, changing consumer attitudes and priorities have created a need for simple, transparent, affordable, flexible products that provide solid guarantees. Unlike the older Universal Life products that were sold when interest rates were high and lost value as rates declined, today’s Guaranteed Universal Life products have been designed to provide sound guarantees during a time of low interest crediting rates. And with interest rates at their current historic lows, there’s room for future growth over time.

For consumers who are seeking affordable, customizable permanent coverage, it may be time to take a fresh look at Universal Life.

Gold Didn’t Pan Out

gold tumbles

April 2013: Gold dropped to its lowest level in two years – on top of a 10% fall over the past six months.

Gold was supposed to be a secure investment in an uncertain time – so much so that an April 2011 Gallup poll found that 34% of Americans thought that gold was the best long-term investment, more than another other investment category.

Then,  two years after its price reached a new high, it plunged to its lowest level in over two years, falling 19% since late 2011. This is the greatest decline in 33 years, amid record-high trading.

According to the New York Times, the crash of a golden decade of rising prices caught many investors by surprise. Morningstar reports that $5 billion  had flowed into gold-focused mutual funds between 2009 and 2010, bringing those funds to a peak value of $26.3 billion in April 2011. These funds lost half of their value:

It is a remarkable turnabout for an investment that many have long regarded as one of the safest of all. The decline has been so swift that some Wall Street analysts are declaring the end of a golden age of gold. The stakes are high: the last time the metal went through a patch like this, in the 1980s, its price took 30 years to recover.

In a time of plunging global interest rates, why did investors flock to a traditional  inflation hedge?  Why were they willing to buy at such high prices? It seems that many investors mistook gold for a product that could provide them significant protection against economic risk – more in line with an insurance product.

What’s A Safe Investment?

It’s certainly understandable that people would seek a safe haven at a time when many are losing faith in their political and economic systems. However,  given that there are few safe investments to turn to considering the low returns that interest-bearing products have been offering, the allure of gold was perhaps understandable:

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Investopedia’s “4 Safest Investments Right Now” – which includes TIPS, I-Bonds, Short Term Bond Funds, and Bank CDs –  have such modest returns that they essentially just aim to preserve principal. Investopedia states:

Any one of these options represents a low-risk low-return solution to preserving principal. You won’t earn much in returns with these securities though. In most cases it will be just enough to keep level with inflation. If you need capital appreciation over the long term, you’ll have to take on more risk.

A Different Approach to Wealth Preservation

One financial vehicle that has recently been enjoying a resurgence of interest is permanent life insurance.  life-insurance-age-range

2012 was a very big year for permanent life insurance sales according to research and consulting firm LIMRA, :

  • Total individual life insurance new annualized premium grew 6% — the third straight year of growth.
  • Total individual life premium grew 12% in the fourth quarter — the largest growth recorded since the downturn.
  • Life insurance policies sold grew 1%  — the second consecutive year of positive annual policy growth.

The fourth quarter of 2012 was the biggest quarter for life insurance sales in a very long time – in fact, there hasn’t been a quarter in which all of the major product lines experienced growth since 2006. And the last time individual life insurance policy count increased two years in a row was back in 1980-1981.

Creating Certainty In An Uncertain World

Why the sudden resurgence of interest in life insurance? LIMRA’s Product Research senior analyst Ashley Durham attributes growth to a few different factors, including a continued attraction to guarantees and growth potential. What differentiates permanent life insurance from other financial vehicles are 3 unique benefit features:

1. Competitive Return Potential

high returnIn today’s volatile markets, secure financial vehicles that provide competitive returns are hard to find.  In an environment of such low returns, permanent life insurance’s cash value provides an interesting alternative.    and  put it this way in Advisor One:

Considering the premium placed on stability in recent years, investing in a permanent life policy might be the best bargain on the market.

2. Lifetime Guarantee

In addition to providing a cash value savings element, permanent life insurance provides a feature that other financial vehicles doLifetime-Guarantee not: lifetime guarantees.

Given increased life expectancy and declining health over time, there is no guarantee that the money you put aside for your beneficiaries will ever reach them. You are likely to need it first for medical or other expenses. However, if you own permanent life insurance, you can access policy cash values without surrendering the death benefit. There is also little chance of outliving a permanent life insurance policy, because permanent life policies can remain in force to age 100, and with some policies, to age 120. And, although you may be living on a fixed income as a retiree, life insurance premiums remain fixed for life, or can be paid up in advance.

3. Potential for Explosive Growth

A Wealth Multiplier: The transfer of risk is essential to life insurance. The risk of  a payout to you at death isn’t retained by you alone, but  spread out among all policyholders that the insurer does business with. All customers contribute money to the general account, which is invested, and then claims are paid from it when an individual dies. As a result, the  annual or monthly premium you pay is a small fraction of the benefit that will be paid to your beneficiaries at death.

Chart_SideBySide

Example: The chart shows a 65-year-old man who purchases of a policy with a $1,000,000 death benefit for a $26,000 annual premium. In the year of his life expectancy the adjusted Internal Rate of Return (IRR) of his death benefit is 5.88%, or, since he is not taxed, 8.17%.
If he passes away earlier, his IRR will be higher – as high as 108.28% at age 79.  
  • In other words, you don’t have to be a big saver to leave a substantial legacy to your beneficiaries. The death benefit paid to your beneficiaries can be many times what you paid into it.
Tax Efficient Transfer: The policy proceeds bypass the often lengthy and costly probate process, and are released to your beneficiaries immediately – which is when they are likely to need it the most – without taxation.

Short on Glitter – Long on Performance

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This resurgence of interest in life insurance is a reminder of the uncertainty of our times, and an indicator of changing consumer attitudes. Consumers are more knowledgeable, and LIMRA research indicates that more knowledgeable people are on the subject, the more likely they are to own life insurance. LIMRA found that:

Respondents who knew the most about life insurance. citing multiple sources of information attributing to their understanding of life insurance, either owned life insurance themselves or had heard about it through work, a seminar or financial planner. Most were older, more educated and viewed life insurance as important.

It seems that the smart money is leapfrogging gold.  Life insurance may lack the psychological appeal and rich associations of gold – no pirate ship ever went down with universal life insurance contracts in their hold – but what it lacks in luster, it makes up for in substance and performance:

  • Many gold investors bought high and sold low. However, life insurance is actuarially designed to be bought low and sold high – the premiums represent just a fraction of the proceeds.
  • While the price and value of gold fluctuate subject to general economic conditions and investor sentiment, permanent life insurance usually offers a guaranteed level premium and a guaranteed death benefit.
  • For your beneficiaries, life insurance represents “inevitable gain” tax free.

A dull, plodding performer, life insurance nonetheless provides dependable benefits – it provides down payments to help young families buy their first homes, college educations to launch bright careers, hard cash to pay bills when the earner is not there to provide.

Gold certainly may have a place in your portfolio. Financial planners typically recommend that you allocate a small portion of your portfolio to it to serve as a hedge against financial risk. However, consider how much more protection investors would have by placing a portion of that into permanent life insurance.
Commentary by Joel L. Franks

Kaneman_fotoApril 10, 2013–

This past week, I had the unique opportunity to attend and hear Daniel Kahneman discuss his best-selling book, Thinking, Fast and Slow, during a speaking engagement that took place at a Barnes and Noble Bookstore in New York City. Many of you may be familiar with the Nobel Prize-winning psychologist and his ground-breaking work with Prospect Theory and behavioral economics. His most recent book addresses two modes of human thought: the quick, emotional kind and the pondering, logical type. In the book, Kahneman shares his views around several heuristics and biases from anchoring to framing to, of course, loss aversion. But during his discussion at this New York City event, it wasn’t what was written in the book that captured my attention as more the learning lessons he conveyed from his own life experiences.

While there were several fascinating anecdotes Daniel shared with the audience that night, there are two points I found of particular interest and unexpected. One is what he believes captured the attention of the public in his early studies of psychology and second is what he feels is an error in our society with the pursuit of measuring happiness.

How do you challenge rationality in the face of hardline economists?

The moderator asked Mr. Kahneman about the early impact of his work and why others experienced such a profound curiosity in his field. Kahneman attributes the interest in his research and behavioral economics as a direct result of HOW the study was published in Science magazine many years ago and perhaps not as much on the content.

The way we presented on the theory was by having questions in the body of the text…which means the reader can appreciate their own reaction to the question as they [experience] making the errors something that they experience [too]…it’s the fact that they are prone to make errors and they come to recognize it. It is a personal experience and a personal response. This [written] work had more impact than most other psychological work at the time because there is hardly any other psychology studies [published] that will generate from the reader of your paper a personal experience that validates what you are conveying.

We thought we were writing in a fun way to write, but it turned out to be the key to the impact of the theory.

Unbeknownst to Kahneman was the profound concept of “framing” in the way he conveyed his own research—the simplicity of introducing a study in terms of dialogue.  Is this not where we find the field of marketing today?  We once categorized marketing as either a push or pull strategy, but it has been replaced by the conversation age, which has proven to be far more impactful when it comes to building relationships with customers (or in Daniel’s case, interest in his readers). Think about marketing today and your own personal experiences; it’s all about dialogue. Tell me one company in one industry that does not have a social media plan in place seeking to engage consumers in a conversation.

Stop Focusing on Happiness

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The second revelation during Kahneman’s discussion was his view on using measures of happiness as an alternative to economic measures on societal progress. He sees a fundamental issue with regard to how we spend a great deal of time, energy and money on the pursuit of happiness.

I think the focus on happiness is misguided and I think the focus on happiness in part is an accident of language. We measure length and not shortness, we measure depth and not shallowness, and we only see in dimensions that are marked on the one side we are thinking of. We should be measuring suffering. And we should act as a society to reduce suffering… I am much less concerned about happiness and [in favor of] reducing human suffering.

Based on the round of applause he received in response, I think the general audience would tend to agree. Kahneman expressed these thoughts on the coattails of how society would reap greater benefits if we put more effort toward such an endeavor. I cannot help but put on my own behavioral finance spin on these sentiments. I believe that many people exclaim that they are in the pursuit of wealth (which they may equate with happiness and what money can buy), but maybe all they really want is not to be poor (and avoid financial suffering and the inability to acquire essential needs)?

Of course this is a leading question, but hey, the idea is to be engaging, enrich the conversation, and hopefully have others share their personal views.

 Joel L. Franks is a Behavioral Finance and Financial Marketing Professional. His background in behavioral economics and his extensive experience in banking, brokerage and insurance has enabled him to combine both the science and the art of creating innovative marketing strategy, create positive customer experiences and the ability to sell more product, to more people, more often.

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 in Life Health Pro writes about some of the cognitive errors that lead to bad financial decisions. It looks like a 2-part series, so look for more of her at the above link.

1: Loyalty to an Underperforming Financial Advisor

This is an investment mistake that I have mentioned in the past – Status Quo Bias. Kerry provides the following study that illustrates the potency of this error:

William Samuelson of Boston University showed clients three investment options: one stock with a 50 percent chance of staying the same, another stock with 40 percent of staying the same, a U.S. treasury with a 9 percent return and a municipal bond with a 6 percent tax-free return. Which to choose?

Forty-seven percent of those who were told they already owned an investment stuck with the investment they already had. This study showed that people are inclined to stay with what they have no matter how bad the performance. This also explains why some seniors will stay with a bad advisor.

2:  Reluctance to Reallocate After Losses

Rational individuals who realize that they have made an investment that is costing them money would dump the investment for a better one, right?  Actually, no. There is a documented tendency to stubbornly hold on to the bad investment because “I’ve put so much into this that I can’t just give up on it so easily.”

So people tend to throw good money after bad, like gamblers on a losing streak. It’s a form of denial, driven by the pain of loss. This is the “Sunk Cost Fallacy.” The You Are Not So Smart Blog offers some illustrations:

Have you ever gone to see a movie only to realize within 15 minutes or so you are watching one of the worst films ever made, but you sat through it anyway? You didn’t want to waste the money, so you slid back in your chair and suffered.

Maybe you once bought non-refundable tickets to a concert, and when the night arrived you felt sick, or tired, or hung over. Perhaps something more appealing was happening at the same time. You still went, even though you didn’t want to, in order to justify spending money you knew you could never get back.

What about that time you made it back home with a bag of tacos, and after the first bite you suspected they might have been filled with salsa-infused dog food, but you ate them anyway not wanting to waste both money and food?

If you’ve experienced a version of any of these, congratulations, you fell victim to the sunk cost fallacy.

Sunk costs are payments, investments or costs that can never be recovered. A rational thinker would understand that sunk costs can’t be recovered by seeing a thing through to the end, and would not take sunk costs into account in making a decision. The rational investor would cut their losses and move on. However, since loss aversion is one of the strongest human drives,  many people stubbornly go down with the ship rather than face up to the fact of loss.

Studies Show The Power of Emotion Over Reason

The Bad Ski Trip Test: An experiment conducted by Hal Arkes and Catehrine Blumer  in 1985 demonstrates the power of this illogic. They asked subjects to assume they had spent $100 on a ticket for a ski trip in Michigan, but soon after found a better ski trip in Wisconsin for $50 and bought a ticket for this trip too. They were asked the following question: If the two trips overlapped and the tickets couldn’t be refunded or resold, which trip would you choose, the $100 good vacation, or the $50 great one?

The result: over half of the subjects chose the more expensive trip – obviously not because it  promised to be more fun, but because the loss seemed greater.

The sunk cost fallacy prevented the subjects from recognizing that the best choice is to do whatever promises the better experience in the future, not the choice that negates the feeling of loss in the past.

The Lost Ticket Test: Kahneman and Tversky also conducted an experiment that also demonstrates the power of the sunk cost fallacy. They asked subjects how they would respond to 2 hypothetical scenarios:

Scenario 1: Imagine you go see a movie with a $10 ticket price. When you open your wallet, you realize that you’ve lost a $10 bill. Would you still buy a ticket?

  • The result: only 12% of subjects said they would not buy another ticket. An 84% majority would buy another ticket and see the show.

Scenario 2: Now, imagine you go to see the movie, pay $10 for the ticket, but just as you are entering the theater, you realize you’ve lost the ticket. Would you go back and buy another ticket?

  • The result: 54% said they would not buy another ticket. Only 46% would buy another ticket and see the show.

The 2 hypothetical scenarios yielded different responses, and yet, the loss was identical in each case – ie. you lose $10 and then consider paying another $10 to see the movie. Yet, somehow, the second scenario feels different. Because it seems more as if the money was allocated to a specific purpose, the loss is felt so much more.

Regardless of the differing outcomes of the two tests shown above, the results in each case illustrate that logic doesn’t always prevail over emotion in decisions in which people feel they have a vested interest. Because people do not always make rational decisions, it is that much more important to frame their choices in ways that can help guide them to make decisions that are in their best interests.

How Widespread Are Poor Decisions?

A variation of the scenarios given above will serve to illustrate just how pervasive these kinds of irrational decision making are today:

The Great American Gun Control Bugaboo: Statistics conclusively show that the more readily available guns are, the less safe people are. Yet, people cling to the notion that they need these guns to protect them from armed perpetrators, and even from the overreach of the government.  In fact, the opposite is true: guns make us less safe. It can clearly be seen that those states and nations where guns are less plentiful have significantly lower rates of gun violence.

This, too, is partly a form of the sunk cost scenario – people have invested so much emotional commitment to an idea that no amount of proof to the contrary can easily sway them. The loss here is not economic so much as the giving up of a cherished notion.

Beyond Persuasion: Choice Architecture

Financial planners know that no amount of logic can persuade a prospect to make the more logical financial decision when that prospect’s mind is set on something else.

And insurance agents know all too well that some prospects simply won’t purchase a much needed life insurance policy because the fear of the loss of the cash (even if they can afford the premium) is too great.  The hard reality that these people will eventually face is the fact that death is a 100% certainty, and it creates financial hardship for one’s beneficiaries. Ironically, clinging to the percentage of income that would have purchased a life insurance policy results in a much greater loss when that income is lost.

For marketers and sales professionals, it is imperative that the presentation be framed in such a way that it is easier for the client to make a more rational decision.  The challenge marketers face is to reframe the decision process to influence the consumer to make the choices that are in their best interests.  Market testing can verify that an approach can be more effective in guiding consumer decisions. Marketers need to combine a strong sense of fiduciary responsibility for the customer with the principles of behavioral economics to overcome cognitive biases that lead people to make the wrong financial decisions.

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Saving to Keep Up With the Joneses

In the Wall Street Journal, Carolyn T. Geer highlights recent surveys of investors by entities including T. Rowe Price and ING.

The Question: Does the knowledge that your friends and neighbors are saving more than you cause you to boost your savings?

The Answer: It works, but the effectiveness varies very much with the approach.

The “Lake Wobegon Effect”

People have a natural desire to avoid being average and ordinary. This phenomenon is known as the “Lake Wobegon Effect,” named after a fictional town created by writer and radio host Garrison Keillor, where:

All the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average.

The question is for financial consumers is: Will consumers be more inclined to maximize their 401(k) contributions or increase their insurance coverage amounts if provided peer comparisons?

What the Studies Show

Matt Fellowes, founder and chief executive of HelloWallet, which works with employers to provide financial guidance to their employees via the Web and mobile devices, confirms that peer comparison is one way that economists and others are attempting to modify financial behavior. He believes that cluing investors in on their peers’ financial decisions can influence the decisions they make about their own money, if you show them convincingly that what they’re doing doesn’t meet the norm, but “it doesn’t work for everyone. It’s not a silver bullet.”

According to an ING study of U.S. consumers:

  • More than half of respondents say they would be motivated to save more for retirement if their sagings didn’t measure up to those of their peers.
  • Yet one-third say they would not be motivated to save morel.

Why the mixed results? Apparently, the approach can be quite effective if done right, but the wrong approach can also be demotivating. Stanford University economist John Beshears and colleagues say that when some employees are told of their co-workers’ higher savings rates, they are actually less driven to save. But the companies that have studied the effect also say that the approach can be fine-tuned to avoid demotivation, which I will explain below.

Marketing Applications

Web-Based Tools: ING has created a free, Web-based tool that lets investors measure themselves against others on a range of saving, spending and personal-finance matters called INGCompareMe.com. Deb Dupont, director of the ING Retirement Research Institute, conducted a test market of the concept with employees of several of its retirement-plan customers, that yielded the following results, which were promising enough to launch the tool:
  • 21% increased their contributions or joined a plan.
  • HelloWallet members showed similar results, according to Matt Fellowes.

The Right Approach: Two Important Variables

The right approach needs to take into consideration two important variables:
1. Don’t Demotivate: Fellowes explains that you must be careful not to use “shock and awe” tactics that demotivate consumers:

We’ve tried: ‘You are $5 million behind on your retirement savings! What is your problem?’ But emotionally what happens is people shut down and move on.

2. Don’t Set The Bar Too Low: One problem with peer comparisons that reference  average workers is that it can set the bar too low.

To strike the perfect balance, “HelloWallet has reframed the issue for consumers as follows:

You are making $5,000 a month now. In retirement, you’re only going to be making $2,000 a month, based on your current savings rate. On average your peers will be making $4,000, but the very best savers among them will be making $7,000.

This highlights what the best, most financially healthy people in a peer group are doing and provides a more realistic target, while piggybacking on the natural desire to avoid being ordinary.

Assisting Complex Financial Product Decisions

Having applied this approach in product comparisons, I have found that the approach can be a valuable aid in helping consumers make complex financial products. In particular, I find that when presenting consumers with their choices, it is even more helpful to include not only a comparison to average consumers but a “best practice” comparison. For example, employers considering an employee benefit program can be shown what kinds of benefit plans their most successful competitors are adopting. Individual consumers considering a plan of insurance can be shown what kinds of options successful peers have chosen.

Choice Architecture: Marketers and sales professionals can improve the effectiveness of their approaches by making use of an effect known in behavioral economics as “choice architecture.”

Marketers and sales professional should be aware of certain behavioral tendencies that tend to impede decision making involving complex insurance and other financial products.  Consumers are reluctant to make a switch to a different insurance carrier or among different plans when the choices are complex – something known as status quo bias. Inertia, or the tendency not to change, is especially significant when choices are complex.

Other studies show that by reframing the choices for the consumer, you can help guide decision making for consumers facing complex decisions in selecting better plan options.

Implications For Financial Marketers

The implications for companies in crowded markets such as insurance and investment products and services are great. It can mean steering consumer toward decisions that will ultimately save them and the company money and improve consumer outcomes.

Companies like Progressive Insurance, for instance, use comparison shopping tools to differentiate themselves in a crowded field as a more consumer-oriented and trustworthy choice. Their “name your own price” message conveys that the consumer can save time comparison shopping through the use of their online tools. Their perky spokesman, Flo, and her price gun personify consumer values such as friendly, good spirited personal service and a personal touch. This is all intended to break down consumer resistance to switching companies, and has generated incredible recognition.

The response to these advertisements demonstrates that the message can generate strong brand associations with core consumer values that can be illustrated in sensory terms.  But an important question remains – how to turn brand recognition and leads into conversions?

In other words, once the consumer reaches out to their local agency or makes an online query, how can the sales professional better parlay this into a consistent consumer experience that results in conversions to more profitable product lines and cross selling opportunities/share of wallet.

This is where choice architecture can be vital. In providing comparisons with other carriers, the sales professional has invaluable opportunities to more effectively clue in consumers on their peers’ financial decisions and influence their buying decisions.

Related Articles:

For more information about how behavioral economics can help guide consumers’ buying decisions, with research results from Sibson Consulting, reference my related articles below.