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Peter Le Beau: Don’t blame consumers for the apathy towards protection

In the last few months, I have looked at quite a lot of data on consumer perceptions of life insurance, particularly protection insurance.

This can be a frustrating business because it can often make you feel as if you have been wasting a large part of your life trying to get messages over to the public which, it is quite clear, they have not appreciated. How inconsiderate and, frankly, ignorant of them.

Our industry can get very defensive about negative perceptions of research. I have seen eyes raised to heaven as we jointly bemoan the fact that consumers have not bothered to try to understand what we are offering or that they patently do not trust us when we all know what a trustworthy industry this is.

But all of this angst about lack of consumer appreciation is really only the fault of one party – us!

We cannot act as if our product is such a rational and worthwhile purchase that any sane person should be biting our hands off to buy as much as possible.

I understand why we get frustrated when we see people preferring to go on expensive holidays, spend large amounts at weekends in bars and nightclubs and purchase new cars, when the sensible thing to do is to buy life insurance.

But that is the way people are and we have to deal with it.

People, particularly in a recession, often decide that they need to spend their money where they will get the most enjoyment and that usually means it will not be used to buy protection cover.

Frustrating as this can be, we have to accept that we are trying to persuade people to make a grudge purchase and one that does not usually fill them with satisfaction when they have made it.

It is up to us to get their attention and then their trust, and it’s worthless to point at other industries and to say we are better than them.

I have often written about America where there is much more advertising of life and particularly protection cover. Companies over there make a long-term commitment to get their message and brand in front of customers and they also have a much greater number of agents who build relationships with clients.

I think that is part of the solution but the other huge part is educating and engaging customers.

That is a challenge for all of us, whether we be provider or adviser, but it is a challenge we need to approach with an open mind and not the perception that we are dealing with a load of dummies who just do not know what is good for them.

The customer is not always right, despite the maxim, but neither is the industry.

Peter Le Beau is managing director of Le Beau Visage


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