S&P Global: The pandemic ‘wake up call’ and selling life insurance while social distancing

S&P Global: The pandemic ‘wake up call’ and selling life insurance while social distancing

► While technology is vital to the life insurance application process, many potential customers do not know enough to buy policies online

► The life insurance industry could do more to make it easier for independent agencies to sell their products

Erin Ardleigh thinks the COVID-19 pandemic provides an opportunity for people without life insurance to think about buying policies, and she has marketed virtual applications to address that need while society is social distancing.

Ardleigh’s path to ownership of New York-based Dynama Insurance is unique in that she began in marketing. Ardleigh recently spoke with S&P Global Market Intelligence about the rewards and challenges of selling as an independent broker, the promise and limitations of technology and other topics. The following is an edited transcript of that conversation.

S&P Global Market Intelligence: Some insurers are publicizing the breaks and sacrifices they are making in this pandemic. Is it a sensitive time to push for sales of life products?

SNL ImageErin Ardleigh, founder and president of Dynama InsuranceCourtesy: Dynama Insurance

Erin Ardleigh: Unfortunately, there are a lot of procrastinators out there that are now realizing that they are not in an ideal place should something happen. And so I actually think if there’s a silver lining to any of this, it’s that maybe people will take charge of their personal financial plans, and their estate plans and address these issues that so often people think they can deal with later.

I think what we have here is a call to action. It’s unfortunate that it takes something this frightening, but I do think that as the professionals in the field — the attorneys, the insurance brokers — we should not be saying, “It’s too sensitive, don’t talk about it,” but instead say “How can we help you?”

You know, I’m sorry it got to this point, but let’s talk about it. Let’s talk about the risks of losing our jobs or getting sick or passing away.

You believe the ability to apply for life insurance online is an important development, but do you think the average customer understands life insurance well enough to actually buy policies that way?

No. The problem that we see when clients try to go online is they don’t understand the difference between the companies that they’re looking at. So you take a very simple product like term life insurance in New York. If I go online and I type in “I want $1 million and a 20-year term,” I’m gonna see 15 companies that I could choose from. And if I’m left to my own devices, I am just going to choose the cheapest one.

The problem with that is I have no idea whether it’s worth paying a few dollars more for option No. 2 or option No. 3, and there are times when that would matter. Many companies allow you to reduce your coverage over time and therefore reduce the premium that you’ve had. Some companies don’t. Some companies allow you to convert to a permanent insurance product later should you need it. And some of the companies will have stronger portfolios of permanent products. That might be meaningful to some people.

The insurance technology sector is growing fast and offering a number of services to life insurance companies and their customers. What have been some helpful innovations?

I think the insurance industry is woefully behind with technology. The vast majority of companies still want to do things with paper. I always joke that when I have millennial clients, and I have to explain to them that their policy is being printed and bound, they don’t even know what I’m talking about.

The Standard has a completely online delivery process. Once your policy is ready, I can click on “approve the policy,” and the client gets an email. They can click on the portal, accept the policy, pay for the policy, download a copy of it and there’s no mail involved. But that is all too rare.

What are some of the challenges you deal with?

I think the independent brokerage model best serves the client, but it is certainly the most difficult model as a business owner. The fact that every company has different paperwork, different requirements, different portals, different systems means that for me to train a new member of my staff is much more complicated than if I simply worked for one company and said, we always do it this way. The industry does not help support the independent brokerage model, which I think is a shame.