Too big, and too diverse, to rely on stereotypes and shallow gestures
by Megan RaffertyMs. Rafferty is a senior research associate for Corporate Insight’s Annuity Monitor and Life Insurance Monitor services. She researches the annuity and life insurance industries, examining the online capabilities, educational resources and tools offered to prospects, clients and financial professionals. This article draws on a recent Life Insurance Monitor Report, Marketing to Women. Connect with Megan at [email protected]
As women’s average salaries and business ownership continue to grow, life insurance firms recognize marketing to women as a valuable opportunity.
A thorough understanding of how to work with women is key for advisors who are considering selling to this growing market. With both significant challenges and opportunities in the life insurance market, advisors who can distinguish between misleading recommendations and valuable research will be well placed to grow their businesses with new female clients.
Women make up more than half of the U.S. population and control trillions of dollars in assets, making them a powerful market. Many women are underinsured and, on average, own less life insurance than men, leaving dependents at risk across all income levels. Seventy percent of women value financial services and products oriented toward them, and advisors can address this market by connecting the benefits of life insurance to statistics about women’s financial needs. Advisors who work well with women will have an advantage, as younger generations increasingly inherit wealth. The number of millionaire women continues to grow, and women are projected to accrue $25 trillion by 2030.
Some life insurance firms recognize women’s status as breadwinners and decision makers and the value of addressing their needs with dedicated marketing resources. A July 2017 study from Wells Fargo notes that women are more likely than men to seek financial education from advisors and adhere to an investment plan, making education an effective way to reach reliable prospects. It’s important to note that, like any consumers, women benefit from tools, calculators, detailed product information and thoughtful advice. Firms and advisors may succeed by simply sharing thorough and well-crafted educational materials: women-oriented materials can be helpful, but clear product information and quote tools will benefit prospects of any gender far more than a poorly executed gender-specific marketing effort.
Advisors must also realize that individual women’s financial statuses, experiences and priorities are too diverse to recognize fully in a sales brochure. Advisors who rely on stereotypes and shallow gestures instead of mutual trust and respect will struggle to build meaningful working relationships with clients, and those who apply a single strategy to all female clients will similarly fail. While no educational resource can substitute for a meaningful relationship, well-researched materials prepare advisors to address women’s financial needs with a specificity that can set them apart.
The life insurance industry faces significant challenges when marketing to women. In an industry where more than three-quarters of certified financial planners are men and many women do not trust the financial services industry, advisors may lack experience working professionally with women. Qualitative data from recent Corporate Insight mystery shop studies indicates that female clients tend to receive fewer resources, more conservative advice and less-detailed recommendations than male clients with comparable finances. Advisors who treat female clients as equals, then, will earn an edge over their peers.
Training that addresses women’s needs can help advisors overcome a lack of experience, guiding them to work with female clients respectfully. Resources that rely on stereotypes, however, set advisors up for failure with inaccurate recommendations that risk further damaging both books of business and the industry’s reputation. As long as firms fail to remove inaccurate and outdated materials, advisors who identify and rely on well-researched materials will have a competitive advantage.
Advisors should be wary of poorly researched recommendations, as many industry resources are outdated or shun research in favor of shallow stereotypes. Corporate Insight’s recent report on marketing to women found that while many leading firms recognize the value in marketing life insurance to women, fewer put in the effort to maintain timely and relevant content. 40% of leading firms tracked by CI fail to publish any relevant materials, and of those that do, three have not released new or updated materials since 2015.
The CI report found outdated resources suggesting that advisors connect with women by comparing meetings to weddings, talking about blogging and yoga, inviting them to luncheons or sending them chocolate. In the absence of any connection to the benefits of life insurance, these materials suggest that stereotypes, not facts, are a guide to working with women. Advisors who rely on these misleading instructions instead of researching women’s financial needs will fail to connect with clients who expect a respectful working partnership.
Even when materials cover a range of well-researched topics, advisors may struggle to find and act on them. No firms link to women-focused materials from a homepage or main navigation menu, missing key promotional opportunities. Most firms also neglect to include product page links within women-focused articles, videos and recommendations. Nationwide and Prudential are the only firms that link directly to product pages, empowering prospects to act upon what they have learned by exploring purchasing options. Other firms offer remarkably limited next steps, neglecting to promote quote tools or product-specific brochures on public site women-focused resources.
While advisors may face challenges in selling to women, they can rely on a growing body of well-researched resources. With innovative formats and thoughtful recommendations, some women-oriented resources mark a stark improvement over competitors’ outdated assumptions. Successful resources include information about women’s average incomes and goals; advisors can empower prospects by guiding them to materials backed with clear statistics and research. Nearly all firms assessed in Corporate Insight’s report (89%) provide financial planning advice, and many (78%) connect advice to statistics about women’s financial needs.
Resources from leading firms illustrate the industry’s potential for constructive training and sales resources. Prudential, for example, excels by promoting research-based videos, training, articles and recommendations on both public and advisor sites. Advisors can refer prospects to a rich archive of educational articles, including a detailed comparison that demonstrates the value of specificity. The firm’s detailed discussion of life insurance types stands out among competitors’ resources, many of which recommend life insurance without equipping prospects to navigate the range of policies available.
Prudential’s advisor site resources also serve as a model for well-crafted materials, consistently connecting marketing advice to statistics about women’s finances. Brainshark presentations stand out for addressing a wide range of women, describing how life insurance may benefit such demographics as single parents, business owners and prospects concerned about chronic illness. This specificity empowers advisors to sell life insurance with a more precise understanding of their clients’ needs.
The range of industry resources available is beginning to reflect the range of women interested in insurance. Corporate Insight’s report documents women-oriented resources ranging from brief articles to densely packed books. Pacific Life publishes a free eBook with detailed information about retirement preparation, including improving savings and purchasing insurance. Nationwide’s Financial You magazine includes life insurance along with discussions of women’s Social Security, early retirement and business ownership. Engaging videos from Lincoln and Prudential support women of all income levels and professions with financial planning recommendations. Most firms (83%) assessed in the report facilitate education by compiling publicly accessible resources on a dedicated page.
Firms also address women outside of life insurance as part of hiring, researching and advising. Some firms promote their efforts to hire women: AXA, for example, includes its Women’s Outreach at Work employee research group as part of a larger discussion about creating a diverse and inclusive work environment. Many resources also address women’s retirement income needs, noting that a combination of longer average lifespans and lower average salaries places women at a disadvantage in retirement compared to men. These efforts provide context for life-insurance-specific materials and allow firms to discuss women’s needs holistically. In particular, hiring women can improve a marketing team’s ability to create thoughtful and respectful women-oriented materials.
Opportunities to Lead
While most firms offer generalized recommendations for selling life insurance to women, research on the variety of women’s experiences reveals a wealth of more targeted sales opportunities. Women own one third of small businesses, for example, making them a crucial market for key person life insurance. In an industry that is beginning to recognize the value of affinity marketing, few women-oriented resources address women of color or LGBT women. This gap fails to address the 39% of Asian American female workers who are entrepreneurs, the women in LGBT families who hold $830 billion in spending power or the wealthy African American women who must increase life insurance coverage as their household incomes continue to grow.
Advisors are well positioned to fill this gap with thoughtful ideas about how life insurance can benefit these intersectional audiences. Like all client relationships, working with women of color and LGBT women will require respect, and advisors who move beyond stereotypical or generic advice and make comprehensive, research-based sales suggestions will better serve their clients with effective, bespoke product recommendations.
It’s worth noting that life insurance firms lag behind the rest of the corporate world, which increasingly recognizes gender complexities. As influential companies like Facebook and Google acknowledge their customers’ varying gender identities, simply addressing prospects as women or men is shortsighted and superficial in comparison. As most prospects interact with companies like Facebook far more often than they do with the life insurance industry, these companies set national expectations for more nuanced approaches to client relationships. Advisors who work across generational differences already know that clients’ identities run deeper than simple generational labels, and they recognize the value of challenging their own preconceptions. That same patient and respectful approach will help advisors adjust preconceptions about gender as well.
Tools for Success
Advisors can expand their businesses by reaching underinsured markets but must take care to avoid firms’ inaccurate and outdated materials in favor of well-researched recommendations. As advisors explore the current mix of unfounded assumptions and valuable research, it’s important to identify which materials will best serve clients.When judging whether to share a resource, consider the following questions:
- Does it cite reputable research?
- Does it address women as leaders, business owners and decision makers?
- Does its intended audience include women of color?
- Does it refer to spouses with gender-neutral pronouns?
- Do images feature a range of women and families?
- Does it move beyond generalization to offer specific recommendations?
- Does it recognize overlapping priorities, such as the desire to protect both a business and a family? ◊