The Art of Asking: Trust in the Insurance World

Chances are you haven’t heard much about Amanda Palmer unless you are into some odd music. Her first claim to fame was through the Dresden Dolls, a band that mixes cabaret and punk music, and a second, arguably higher spike, with her record-breaking Kickstarter. The latter earned her articles in Huffpost, The Guardian, and The Verge, not to mention the subsequent TED talk on the matter. Rightfully so, as she raised over $1.2 million for a new album instead of going through a traditional label.

If you read the book or watch the talk (both of which I highly recommend but the talk takes about 10 minutes), there’s a recurring lesson on trust. Amanda does loads of things that most of us would be far too terrified to do, from busking as a living statue as a full-time job, to stripping naked at an album party, to letting people draw all over her in sharpie. All of this is interspersed with couch surfing at people’s houses – people she gets in contact through on Twitter or other social media.

As someone who loves Amanda Palmer, I find all of this amazing and fascinating. As an insurance professional, I find it horrifying. The risks in every single one of those situations seem insanely high – either not having enough income to live off of, having someone do something insanely inappropriate without clothes to protect you, or essentially saying “hey, you can totally murder me if you want, let me show up on your doorstep for it to happen!” And yet, none of this has happened to her. She’s had some odd situations for sure, but she’s still alive, which to my risk-adverse brain makes no sense.

At this point I find myself returning to the core idea that Amanda whole-heartedly embraces: trust in the people around us. Insurance requires us to distrust – we question applications, put in self-protecting warranties, bemoan the Insured as inept, uneducated in our world, and similar. It’s sad when you think about it because, in a certain light, Insureds are coming to us for help. They’re asking us to protect them and paying for it. I’ve heard over and over again in this industry that an insurance policy is a promise that if something bad happens, we’ll be there for them. More than that, it’s trust – trust that we’ll pull through, trust that they have the promise that they need in place, trust that we as professionals do our job well enough to help them when it’s needed.

That trust is hard to feel. It’s relatively intangible, blurred by legal wording and layers of agents, brokers, and underwriters. It’s hard to stare into someone’s eyes when there are three panes of colored glass between you.

This is the current our industry is swimming against – a level of trust that is a core component, but little way to convey that from underwriter to insured with multiple go-betweens. I’m not sure how we can completely bridge the gap. I’m not sure that it’s fully possible. But I think there are ways that we can view accounts as more than applications, more than LLC’s or property owners, and more like people asking for help. By talking to agents and insureds about the realities of their day-to-day lives, what they go through in their various industries, and what they really need from us, we can work to build a level of trust and understanding that isn’t limited by emails and warranty statements. We can work to show a genuine interest in our Insured’s lives and earn their trust, rather than viewing it solely as a monetary transaction.

I know we can’t go out and do the equivalent of what Amanda does given that insurance is a business, but she’s been wildly successful by going against the grain and trusting in humanity. We can’t just take things at someone’s word, but we can be less immediately-critical, more understanding, and hopeful toward the accounts we’re working on or even in general.


Note from Tony: Amanda Palmer’s book The Art of the Ask is amazing, I highly recommend the audiobook version read by Amanda herself.

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.

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