There are a number of different ways advisers can leverage the clear opportunity that exists for life insurance advice.
One is to strengthen your offering within your existing holistic advice offering, an exciting opportunity to bring your advice to a much wider audience.
The second is to go full ‘hyperniche’ and choose to specialise in this space, leveraging that speciality to create efficiencies, referral sources and develop new sources of revenue by offering related services such as claims advocacy or estate planning.
Notwithstanding that life insurance is a technically demanding area, the main driver of your ability to successfully leverage this opportunity will be confidence:
In most successful adviser/client relationships, the role played by the adviser is that of mentor, coach, and even counsellor. A study of Australian advisers in 2020 found that, on average, advisers spend 45% of their time talking with their clients about non-financial personal issues.
This is particularly true of life insurance, where the very nature of the product involves discussions around health, family members and other emotionally charged issues.
These conversations, which draw heavily on adviser soft skills, help build relationships which move beyond client satisfaction to true client connection.
When it comes to predicting consumer behaviour and business success, a growing body of research suggests that traditional metrics – such as customer satisfaction – are far less powerful and predictive than the emotional connection between customers and businesses.
One such study, reported in the Harvard Business Review, found that emotionally engaged customers are:
Unsurprisingly, such clients are also more valuable to your practice over the longer term, with the same study finding that fully connected clients are up to 52% more valuable than those who are merely ‘highly satisfied’.
Despite the plethora of advice practice websites emphasising their qualifications, technical strength, and breadth of offering, clients are actually seeking something else in an advice relationship.
Various studies, including the one shown below, have found that clients value soft skills – such as listening, communication, interpersonal skills, and creative thinking, more than they value technical skills.
FIGURE 6: WHAT ADVISER QUALITIES ARE MOST IMPORTANT TO CLIENTS?
The 2022 survey of XY advisers , previously referred to, found a third of advisers agreed that soft skills were more important, and close to two thirds felt they were equally as important. (Only 2% felt technical skills were more important).
Figure 7: How advisers rate importance of soft skills v technical skills
“The fact that I can answer a technical question for my client, yes, they’re happy about it. But they also want to have someone that they can ring. We’ve got one lady, and we recently handled a death claim for her husband. So initially she just wanted to ring and have a conversation. And I was there at the end of the line for her, no matter what she wanted to talk about. But then after a few conversations, she was ready to revisit her own situation, including changing all her own binding death nominations.
“I’ve come across some incredibly smart advisers, very technically strong, but they can sometimes over complicate and over explain things, and that can actually result in the client becoming overwhelmed and just walking away. Using jargon doesn’t impress the client, it actually makes them feel less comfortable about themselves and makes it harder to build trust.”
Whilst soft skills are typically developed ‘on the job’ and are honed with experience, many advisers highlight the importance of mentors and peer communities, as well as the dedicated courses training programs available.
Figure 8: How advisers develop their soft skills
“Getting your head around the difference between the different types of cover is daunting for most clients, as are the decisions about the optimal mix of cover if budget restrictions come into play. One analogy I find helpful is to talk about insuring a car. If you had to choose the most important place to insure, would it be one side of the back seat, or would it be the front and rear bumpers, where most of the accidents are going to occur?
Notwithstanding the overwhelming importance of soft skills – a point applicable to all types of advice – a consistent theme emerging from the adviser research was that risk is not an area to just ‘dabble in’.
Life insurance is technically demanding, with complexity to be found in areas such as
XY research25 shows that while overall confidence levels amongst active risk writers were quite high, the areas where the advisers exhibited less confidence included field underwriting and discussing underwriting outcomes – including loadings and exclusions – with clients.
“Discussing highly personal health matters is part of the role. The way to make your client feel more comfortable is by showing them that you are comfortable yourself. And the best way to do this is to keep it very professional and dispassionate – demonstrate you are confident in what you are doing, that’s when they relax and open up.”
Regardless of whether you aim to specialise in risk, or it is just one component of your overall advice offering, building technical strength is therefore crucial.
Fortunately, many life insurance providers, including Zurich, offer resources through various channels to help advisers to build this strength, including BDM support, comprehensive face to face and virtual educational programs and PD Day presentations.
_ZONE is an adviser education program designed to help advisers unlock their potential and provide value beyond advice. _ZONE includes over 70 hours of CPD content, available through the channels that best suit adviser needs, from online, to face to face, through practical workshops or inspiring keynotes.
1. Client _ZONE: Learning around client engagement, client retention, other communication and soft skills.
2. Growth _ZONE: Marketing perspectives, process improvements, best practice growth hacks.
3. Inspiration _ZONE: Broader industry conversations, forward thinking, innovation ideas, master classes, webinars etc.
4. My _ZONE: Shaping individual skills and capabilities, personal development, personal brand building, leadership skills development.
5. Technical _ZONE: Developing personal and team technical capabilities across all stages of the financial advice process.
Another common trait of the advisers interviewed for this paper was their confidence – borne out of knowledge and experience – to negotiate with underwriters in the event they come back with a decline, loading or exclusion.
Rather than accepting underwriting decisions at face value, they have the confidence and ability to negotiate with the underwriter for a better outcome on behalf of their client. Note, we aren’t talking about haggling or blind refusal to accept a non-standard outcome, we are talking about professional, courteous negotiation that comes from a place of being informed, knowledgeable and experienced in how different risk factors are judged by insurers and reinsurers.
“If you have $5million in force premium with an insurer then you actually have some bargaining power.”