Taking a glimpse into the not-too-distant future of selling life insurance, it appears as though actual live, face-to-face interaction with clients may become largely a thing of the past.
This may not be the case so much with affluent clients, but it is very likely to be the case with everyone else.
Already today, nearly 1 in 4 life insurance policies are sold without face-to-face interaction between an agent and customer. That fact, from a recent LIMRA/LIDMA (Life Insurance Direct Marketing Association) study, was trumpeted by speakers Pat Wedeking, LIDMA chairman, and Byron Udell, JD, CLU, CFP, ChFC, president/CEO of AccuQuote.com during a breakout session (“Perceptions and Misperceptions About the Direct Marketing Business”) at the NAILBA 31 conference in Orlando in November.
Wedeking and Udell mentioned that they continue to see buying habits changing and trending this way, but reminded the audience that agents are still involved in these sales — just not face-to-face.
Udell said people are “more comfortable than ever” buying things over the phone, and that everyone who buys life insurance through AccuQuote does so by talking to an agent on the phone. “Nobody can buy without talking to us,” Udell said, noting that his agents are trained to ask questions to ensure customers buy appropriate products. He added he doesn’t see a time in the future when the agent is eliminated from the picture because customers need input from agents about their specific situations. “You can’t buy life insurance from a vending machine,” he said, making the point that a 100-percent online sale doesn’t benefit the customer.
I realize there remains a strong demand from consumers for traditional face-to-face interaction with agents when buying life insurance, but I also realize that Gen Y consumers, the next generation of life insurance buyers, are already very comfortable with virtual purchasing for just about everything they buy. They won’t feel the need to invite you into their kitchen or visit your office to go through the process of buying life insurance if it can be done online, over the phone or even via video conferencing, such as Skype or Facetime.
They are already accepting of technologies such as electronic signatures and would prefer to have their policies delivered electronically as opposed to waiting longer to be handed a packet of paperwork they’ll likely never read. Producers who hope to succeed with Gen Y clients had better be able to meet their expectations.
You can read a lot more about this topic in the sixth and final installment of our series on threats to the independent distribution channel, which focuses on emerging technology. That article starts on page 16.
As for the potential of the face-to-face meeting with middle-market clients becoming a thing of the past, I see it as bittersweet. Being in the same room with someone making an important life decision and then sealing the deal with a handshake is very rewarding. But how many more people can you help by handling it over the phone or by video conference?
Byron Udell told NAILBA breakout session attendees he looks at it this way: “When I get in someone’s house, it took me three hours to get out of there – that’s just who I am. I can [close the sale] a lot faster on the phone, and so can my agents.”