My freshman year of high school, I took a class that was supposed to prepare students for adulthood by teaching us how to do grownup things, like balance a checkbook and eat vegetables.
In theory, I guess it was a good idea, considering most of the kids at my school thought Cheetos constituted a nutritious breakfast. In practice? It was an easy A class, where the teacher, when she wasn’t showing us a video from the 1970s, alternated between dozing at her desk and giving sketchy advice. A typical nugget of wisdom? “If you eat an apple with an entire bucket of fried chicken, it will cancel out all of the fat.”
Most people skipped the class. Their empty seats were filled by kids who were skipping other classes and trying to avoid hall security. Too nerdy to misbehave, I just used the period as a study hall for geometry homework. Food Network eventually taught me how to cook. I took my financial questions to Google and my mom.
It didn’t surprise me, then, that a recent study conducted by Guardian Life and LearnVest found 20- and 30-somethings — Gen Xers and my Gen Y peers — to be woefully uninformed when it comes to insurance products. Of those surveyed, 60 percent didn’t know the difference between term and permanent insurance. And 1 in 5 thought they didn’t need to be covered because their spouse was.
If their high school education was anything like mine, the respondents probably finished the survey and then hunkered down for a low-fat lunch of several pounds of fried chicken and one apple.
In the press release accompanying the Guardian/LearnVest study, Deanna Mulligan, Guardian’s CEO, said the company will soon be launching a pilot financial literacy program in community colleges. LearnVest, for its part, offers educational tools online. These are great, needed steps in the right direction, but … isn’t this also something agents can help with, right now?
Because even if schools work to better prepare students, let’s face it, retention isn’t always guaranteed. Remember all that geometry homework I worked on? I couldn’t tell you how to find the area of a rhombus these days … or even what a rhombus is. Raised to have information retained for us by the Internet (for example, I just googled rhombus), my generation, regardless of education level, needs information and guidance at the point of purchase.
This is actually pretty true of most generations. It’s why seminars are a big hit with information-seeking seniors. It’s why agents exist in the first place. But younger people aren’t interested in hotel ballroom steak. They’re going to go to Google and social networks first.
In fact, the Guardian/LearnVest study found just 27 percent of respondents said they’d turn to a professional for insurance guidance. The rest opted for family, friends and the Internet. And of those who owned insurance, 32 percent said they didn’t consult any source — human or digital — before buying.
Part of this aversion to agent help probably stems from my generation’s distaste for overt selling. But it also has to do with the fact that agent advice is still largely an in-person experience, and we’re an online generation. What we’ve got, then, is a classic distribution disconnect — the umbrella salesman in the Sahara, the suntan lotion store in Siberia, and all those other well-worn business-school examples.
Luckily, the solution is as easy as moving that umbrella stand to Seattle: get online. And not just with a homepage that has your email address and phone number. Provide educational materials. Start a blog. Post informational YouTube videos. Join social networks. Make it easy for someone’s mom or best friend to send your links around and recommend you.
Fundamentally, it’s the same education you’ve been giving clients for decades through power lunches and PowerPoint. You’re just doing it in a way that’s more accessible to today’s consumers.
If all goes well, you’ll be educating a population that desperately needs your help. If you fail to adapt, you’ll risk eventually becoming as irrelevant as those ‘70s VHS tapes my old teacher is probably still playing.
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