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People don’t like talking about dying

Everyone who has worked in life insurance for more than a few years knows that people hate talking about dying, but you must make them, to get them to think seriously about managing the financial consequences. Russell Hutcinson provides two strategies to tackle death.

Tuesday, May 13th 2014, 10:18AM

by Russell Hutchinson

That has been confirmed by a survey from the UK recently: The Dying Matters Coalition of care organisations (for end of life care) found that only 21% of people have discussed their end-of-life wishes, and only a third had written a will. The chief executive, Claire Henry, said: "Dying is one of life's few certainties, but many of us appear to be avoiding discussing it or in denial altogether.”

Most advisers would agree.

One strategy favoured by insurers, counselled by their marketing and creative agencies, has been to highlight positive images, not the negative. This is the driving strategy behind a number of choices.

Insurance is a word rarely used; instead words like cover and protection are selected. The fact of death is rarely mentioned, instead advertisements focus entirely on brand, family, or may refer to ‘the unthinkable’ happening.

If a life insurer’s objective is solely to create a positive brand association, rather than any action on the part of the consumer, then the approach is fine.

Put another way: they are relying on you to put the hard question, and hope that all those warm fuzzy adverts made it easier for the client to say “yes” when you recommended their product. This looks like more of the avoidance Claire Henry referred to.

But you don’t have that luxury. Someone must ask the question ‘how will your family manage when you die? What if you die too soon?’ Someone must press the client for an answer, and then create the plan to manage, usually with insurance providing most of the needed money.

The adviser that can do that best is most likely to enjoy the client’s ongoing trust, and therefore business.

The alternative strategy is to meet the issue head on.

An adviser I knew a long time ago talked about backing the hearse up to the living room window – metaphorically, of course – using a powerful and emotive word picture. Another adviser I know uses humour and says “I look at the wife and say ‘I am an assassin, I’ve just shot your husband, how are you going to cope.’” His irrepressible grin means he can get away with it.

But even the disciplined, serious types can be very successful so long as they do not shy away from the question, and keep asking until the client gets serious about the problem, or turns away to keep denying the one great certainty in life.

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