The Insurance Industry Has An Image Problem

When discussing generations it’s impossible not to generalize. This article won’t apply to all Baby Boomers nor to all Millennials only to those that share some characteristics that have been documented as common in each generation.

 

The insurance industry has an image problem. From the outside, it looks boring, stiff, greedy, and exclusive. In the past it didn’t matter as much because insurance is also stable, profitable, and a relatively easy job. Millennials care far less about those factors, so it’s up to insurance to show that they can adapt and provide what Millennials want.

But what is that? Answers range from calling them selfish and undeserving, to noting that they work hard and are motivated to advance. None of these get at the core issue – what Millennial’s view as worth their time, literally.

Let’s start with previous generations. They viewed work as a 9-5, punch in, punch out, get your paycheck and support your family occupation. That distinction has been relatively well established through all the articles on Millennials taking their work home with them, work/life balance, and how work and life tend to bleed together these days as opposed to previous 9-5 jobs.

But further, this illustrates how Baby Boomers look at a job. As long as it supports your family well and you do your job, you are a successful person. It doesn’t matter if you are a businessman or a janitor – your paycheck justifies the fact that you spend much of your time doing something that you are not emotionally drawn to or even invested in in some cases.

At base, Baby Boomers are willing to exchange their time for money.  They view this as a fair exchange, since with that money they can go on to pay their mortgage, buy a car, and take vacations. They felt successful because of the lifestyle they were able to provide.

 

So now let’s jump to Millennials. They want a job that is fulfilling in and of itself. It’s generally not about what you get out of your paycheck – we’re consistently in debt, and unless we’re making fantastic amounts of money that isn’t likely to change. We were also raised to, yes, be a bit selfish. Watching our parents lose their jobs and houses, we learned that when you take away those things you only have yourself. You need to be a good person because if we are financially destitute, we can gain satisfaction out of the things we felt were worthwhile.

If you get nothing out of this article, please take away this: for Millennials, they are not trading their time for a paycheck. They’re trading their time for meaning. Money is not an equal exchange for time, but meaning is. For Baby Boomers, they got meaning out of what they could do with their paychecks, rather than the actions at their job.

Let me illustrate. Imagine Katy, a hardworking woman with a solid job at an agency. She works hard, pulling in 60 hours a week, joins organizations to get business, and makes a solid paycheck. She has a nice place, a decent savings account, is paying down her student loans and keeps her credit card usage in check. She doesn’t take vacations because she feels it’s too early in her career.

Now, I’m not saying this is true of everyone, but imagine that Katy does not enjoy a lot of her job. She grew up wanting to be a vet, but was deterred by the difficulty of school and the delay on starting a career, not to mention the wide variance in pay scales for vets. So, she was practical and is doing well at this job. It allows her to do other things, but she wouldn’t call it her “calling”, and she doesn’t feel like there’s much beyond building a book and then retiring.

 

For our last scene, let’s imagine that the economy crashes. People are losing their houses and cars, so they are not paying insurance bills and certainly not getting new insurance. Katy loses her job because there’s not enough premium to keep her there, especially when she’s losing so much business. She ends up defaulting on her own loans, which aren’t terrible, but she is financially ruined.

Now imagine Cathy. She has the exact same aspirations as Katy did, but she follows them. She goes to Vet school, she graduates and becomes a full Veterinarian with sub-average pay. She genuinely enjoyed school and enjoys her job, even despite the tough days. She is emotionally invested and cares deeply about her work.

Then, the same financial crisis that ruined Katy hits Cathy too. She’s also left in ruins; no job and even more student debt.

Before you get angry and ragequit this article, let me point out two things. Firstly, there’s how Millennials are going to view this. Katy managed to get some good things going for a little while – she had some cool stuff and was good at her job. Cathy, on the other hand, did something meaningful. She helped animals and stayed true to herself, so even if she is in even worse shape than Katy after the crisis, she’s really not. She can look back on her previous career and say “I did that, and I’m proud of it.” Whereas Katy can only look back and say “it got me a lot of stuff I don’t have anymore because I relied on the economy instead of myself.”

Secondly, you should be angry at this point if you’re an insurance professional. It is not at all a fair characterization of working in insurance to say that Katy only did it for material things and didn’t help anyone or do anything worthwhile. Agents do great things all the time.

Sadly, those points aren’t what get noted if insurance comes up. Millennials’ interactions with insurance are relatively brief and, if something does come up, it’s usually bad (newspaper articles about shady agents, horror stories from friends, etc.). They also tend to pay higher premiums when they’re younger, so they’re likely to have an unfavorable impression from the get-go.

If this situation happened to a Baby Boomer, as it did, it wasn’t that they failed or they did anything wrong. They traded their time for something they felt (and still feel) is worth it.

And let me clarify – I’m not saying one view is better than the other. I think there is not enough focus on the balance between meaning in your job and what it allows you to do outside of work, and it’s something I struggle with as well.

That said, as an industry, Insurance needs to illustrate what is meaningful and worth a Millennial’s time. Right now that image is filled with suits, white faces, and money-grubbing patina. We need to change that, and here’s a few ideas to get started:

 

Focus on what insurance does for communities

This is huge because insurance already has a huge impact. We need to draw more attention to that by giving detailed descriptions of how people were helped. I don’t mean in a sales way, because Millennials can smell a sales pitch from miles away. Providing stories without any sort of sales pitch would be a fantastic way to showcase what insurance can do and how Millennials can be a part of that. Ads are an easy way to accomplish this – share a moving story, and at the end put “brought to you by

 

Encourage employees to be vocal about why they like their job

This is similar to the previous point, but if you give employees an outlet for expressing their good experiences working in the industry, that could be a great way to improve the image. Provide employees a Twitter hashtag, encourage them to submit stories to be featured on the company website, and also share these with other employees in the company. It might help others see what they’re a part of, even if they don’t actively have their hands in that pot.

There’s been a shift in what matters in a job, and insurance is not doing enough to illustrate that they can shift as well. Millennials want something different than their predecessors in a job, and the insurance industry needs to be cognizant of that and respond accordingly.

About Taryn Haas

I'm a philosophy nerd turned Associate Underwriter at Vermont Mutual. While I won't find Wittgenstein in CG forms, the language and logical constructs make both studies interesting to decipher. Occasionally, you'll find me playing my keyboard and singing passionately with my fiance at local cafes, or tucked into a corner writing sci-fi/fantasy stories.

2 thoughts on “The Insurance Industry Has An Image Problem”

  1. Worth mentioning that Boomers were able to “punch in, punch out” because college cost a nickel and all it took to get a job was some gumption and a nice shirt. Meanwhile, Millennials are tasked with trying to re-knit social safety nets, maintain what’s left of the environment, AND keep Gen Z from eating Tide Pods while managing amounts of student loan debt that Boomers can’t even fathom.

    Insurance is definitely something that can be spun as a social and economic positive, it just needs to be framed as a risk assessment and management role, rather than “those people who the ambulance chasers blame for everything”. The less it is about sales and the more about security (and cost stability on the commercial side), the more appealing to Millennials IMO.

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