Signs of life

Getting people to sign on the dotted line has always been a challenge for the financial services industry. Although providers have been able to leave it to advisers to help convince clients to supply that final flourish of a pen, what sort of marketing support do advisers need to maximise their chances?

I wonder if there are any lessons to be learned from my own recent experience as a prospective client and what finally got me to sign.

In the last few months, I have had the forms for new critical-illness policy waiting on my desk. I have been politely nudged to send the forms back by my polite IFA but that did not do the trick.

My wife had helped me fill in the form but it did not get my signature or get sent back until, well, until I saw something on the television.

Being a designer by trade, I am quite a big fan of the programme Grand Designs presented by Kevin McCloud on Channel 4. The programme usually shows a couple breaking from the norm to design their own house, castle, mansion, eco-home or converted windmill to their own plan and follows the trials and tribulations as they strive to achieve that dream.

However, a programme I saw recently did not quite run to the usual formula. As is usually the case, the programme featured a husband and wife team who were hoping to fulfil their dream of building their perfect home. But having completed the design, the husband got diagnosed with cancer.

The programme dealt with all this pretty sensitively but asked some difficult questions about the financing. In one scene, Kevin McCloud asked: “How does this affect your income?”

The wife said: “We have money from the house sale but somebody did not take out critical illness.”

However, they pressed ahead with their plans. The husband said: “The house is a really important thing and it is distracting me from my illness and helping me keep things in perspective.”

But the cancer proved terminal. The programme was made a couple of years ago in 2008 but the team have now returned and the wife is determined to build the house but it would have been a lot easier with the insurance, to say the least.

Anyway, having procrastinated for three months, I signed the form and returned it to my adviser.

I think there is a lesson in this about the marketing and promotion of protection. This was not a soft and fluffy story. I had to be taken to quite a dark place and then I took out the cover. I think advisers will understand this too. You simply cannot have a soft fluffy conversation about life cover.

You have to make people fully understand the consequences if something goes wrong and you do not have the cover.

Therefore, I am not sure that cover is best sold by making a joke of it. It certainly would not motivate me to sign on the dotted line.

Now the recent Aviva advertisement for protection featuring a “deceased” person is a huge step in the right direction. It is a very clever way to bring home the point that protection looks after your family if you die.

In a recent webcast this agency created for Bright Grey with IFA Simon Ereira of Sands & Associates, Simon says advisers need to be prepared to have a difficult conversation with clients about their protection needs.

I think the industry needs to consider how their advertising to consumers can help put this sort of conversation into context.

The protection industry could look at what charities do to get a hard hitting message across. Charities are brilliant at connecting with people’s emotions and getting them to confront things they may not want to confront. There is also the example of public information films warning about driving at speed or convincing people to give up smoking.

They are not to everyone’s taste but they are certainly a lot more hard hitting than the sort of jolly stories and voiceovers we got in the 1970s.

I think there may be scope for a hard-hitting campaign from the industry or even from the regulator. We need to get the message across in no uncertain terms that people are a lot better off with insurance than without it.

There is a risk that you might face accusations of emotional blackmail, particularly when a message is linked to a potential sale. Yet I think there are ways of doing it. If it all gets too fictitious and over the top, you may be criticised but if you use real-life experiences like the unfortunate couple on Grand Designs then, like me, people may well relate it to their own experience. They may think, that could easily be me, pay heed and either seriously think about cover or, like me, sign the form and return it to their adviser.