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The Disconnect in What Insurers Say vs. What Consumers Hear

In a recent episode of the ABC sitcom Modern Family, Gloria wanted her son Manny to continue taking Spanish in high school, even though he preferred to study French. Manny turned to his stepfather, Jay, for help, and Jay agreed to sign the permission slip allowing Manny to transfer to French, much to Gloria’s dismay.

Why was she upset? Gloria is from Colombia and was pushing Manny toward Spanish so that she could communicate with someone in her own home in her native language. She has difficulty speaking English, and often what she intends to say and what she actually says are two different things. This causes a disconnect between what she says and what others hear.

How does this sitcom plot tie into financial services? LIMRA and Maddock Douglas collaborated to study and test the relative understanding, emotions and associations that consumers make, compared with the typical communications found in company websites and marketing materials.

We found that when companies and advisors use industry lingo and jargon, they might as well be speaking in a foreign language. Consumers don’t “hear” what is being “said.”

In face-to-face discussions with consumers, we learned that they often understand words and phrases that are in layman’s terms (Table 1). But when we introduced words and phrases commonly used in the financial services industry, we witnessed a disconnect (Table 2).

Companies devote significant effort and resources to improve the customer experience and their level of engagement with consumers. Communication ties right into this. Consumers seek authenticity and relevance from the companies and advisors with whom they do business.


Yet despite the industry’s best efforts, life insurance ownership is at its lowest level in 50 years. On the retirement side, only one in four non-retirees feels “very confident” that he or she is saving enough for retirement. This tells us that the industry is not connecting with consumers, and the gap between effort and desired results is glaring.

Our research uncovered a key factor to this disconnect with consumers – communication that lacks authenticity. More than just using everyday language and layman’s terms, authentic communication also includes relatable visuals and attainable goals. We’ve compiled six elements of authenticity for use by home office executives, field leaders and sales professionals. The idea is to recognize areas of improvement and incorporate changes that will aid effective selling and the customer experience.

The Six Elements of Authenticity
[1] Easy to understand – Language that we use every day
[2] Down to earth – Images that feel realistic
[3] Memorable – Communication that is interesting
[4] Positive – Messages that are warm and comforting
[5] Credible – Sources of information that are trustworthy
[6] Relevant – Communication that says the company understands consumers and who they are

At first glance, this list may seem overwhelming. However, it is not necessary to master every element in order to find success. Organizations that can improve just two or three may discover a greatly improved customer experience. Because communication is a part of every consumer touch point, it may take a new mindset to accomplish real change. For some companies it could lead to a cultural transformation.

At the end of that Modern Family episode, Jay understood why Gloria was upset and realized his mistake in letting Manny study French. To make things right, Jay hired a tutor to learn Spanish himself in order to speak the same language as his wife. How can you apply this lesson to your business?

Scott Kallenbach is associate research director for LIMRA’s Strategic Research. He is responsible for identifying strategic issues that can impact the financial services industry, and for helping member companies develop strategies to meet these challenges. [email protected].

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