Toilet Paper, Lightbulbs ... and Life Insurance?

Could Costco put agents out of business? (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma) Could Costco put agents out of business? (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma)

Frequent Life Insurance Selling contributor Maria Ferrante-Schepis (formerly Umbach) has been warning readers for years now about the possibility of an upcoming “Napster moment” in the life insurance industry — even as recently as our July issue. (See: Is Infertility Killing Independent Distribution?)

A Napster moment, Ferrante-Schepis says, occurs when someone who has no business being in your business swoops in and reinvents your business — putting you out of business. We’ve seen it happen before. Just look at what Napster and, later, iTunes did with the music industry. And the life insurance industry certainly possesses a lot of the hallmarks of a business ripe for reinvention — commoditization, a flight to the high end of the market, a growing underserved market, an imbalance in the supply chain.

Yet, no matter how much Napster moment predictions make sense, it’s easy to write them off. We often pay them as much heed as that downtown loony wearing a “The End is Near” sandwich board. It won’t happen to our industry, we tell ourselves. Or, it’ll happen, but not until I’m long retired. And then we get back to business as usual.

That likely won’t be the case much longer, though. This week’s Time has an article about a new player in the health insurance market — a little company named Costco. The big-box membership club formed a partnership with Aetna in April and is now offering individual health insurance policies to customers in nine states. It plans to roll out the program in additional states later this year.

The health plans aren’t a particularly good deal. They’re about 5% cheaper than the individual policies Aetna sells, but a Costco membership is required to purchase them. According to the article, the deductibles for in-network care on a family plan range from $6,000 to $15,000. And customers are on the hook for $350 if they visit an emergency room and aren’t admitted.

So why would anyone buy one of these plans? Sheer convenience. There’s no need to call an agent, to set up an appointment, to drive over to an office, sit through a sales spiel and wonder whether this stranger has your best interest — or just his commission — at heart. Instead, people shopping for insurance can now head down the block, to a business they already trust, and quickly pick up a health plan with straightforward pricing — and maybe a 10-gallon tub of Spaghetti-Os while they’re at it.

It’s not much of a stretch to imagine Costco adding to its insurance lines if this venture goes well. After all, it’s not a store that’s built its reputation on offering a narrow, carefully curated product selection. It’s a one-stop shop that’s likely not going to see much point in offering health insurance to its customers while sending them elsewhere for life and disability — or even auto and home — policies.

A big-box takeover of the insurance industry doesn’t bode well for agents — or for consumer pocketbooks, either, if those health plan costs are any indicator. I don’t think life insurance agents can afford to wait for a clearer sign that they need to get with the times. We’re past the sandwich-board loony phase now; at this point, the meteor headed for Earth is showing up clearly on our radar.

You still have the ability to save your job and save your customer’s money, but you need to listen to the message here: customers want convenience, likely even at the expense of saving money. Agents have to adapt and make it as easy as possible for prospects and clients to do business with them — and that includes embracing new, more convenient methods for selling and communicating, like building your own website and maintaining a social media presence. If you insist on sticking with the old ways…well, you’re eventually going to look crazier than that sandwich-board guy.

 

For more from Corey Dahl, see:

This Is Why You Matter

Would You Just Listen?

Freebies: Are You Doing It Wrong?

About the Author
Corey Dahl

Corey Dahl

Corey Dahl is Life Insurance Channel/Social Media Editor for LifeHealthPro.com and Managing Editor of Life Insurance Selling magazine. She loves bad puns, has lengthy conversations with her dog and often pretends she knows the words to songs when she really doesn't. Her lifelong ambition is to one day play Plinko on "The Price is Right." Email her at cdahl@sbmedia.com and follow her on Twitter at @LHPro_Life.

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