A few weeks ago I was very seriously contemplating the idea of purchasing a hot tub for the garden. In fact, I had three potential hot tubs saved to favourites on my phone. Not because I really wanted one, but because two close friends we socialise with regularly had ordered one and it fast became the topic of conversation – how our group of close friends would all get together and enjoy a few drinks while relaxing in the bubbles.
Then the Great British weather changed, and with it I changed my mind (as women are entitled to do!). It did make me question why I very nearly made a significant and costly decision to purchase a product I have never been particularly interested in.
The answer was, I am slightly embarrassed to admit, that I wanted to keep up with the Jones’s. Ultimately our close group of friends had influenced my thinking and ultimately my (near) purchasing decisions, because I wanted to fit into the group and not be the odd one out. I suffered a case of FOMO – fear of missing out. This isn’t unusual behaviour (I am reliably informed by Wikipedia). Our decisions are heavily influenced by our peer groups – those who share similar interests, are a similar age, come from similar backgrounds and have similar social status.
This got me thinking about protection and the protection gap. If we are so susceptible to influence by our peers, does the public have enough of what they might class as their peers in the financial services sector? I suspect not – based on the average age, gender, background and social status of the majority of financial advisers in the UK. It doesn’t appear we have appropriate representation for the people we are trying to protect.
It has improved; financial services firms are positively changing. When I joined the industry 20 years ago, the company I worked for was a sea of middle aged white men. There was one female adviser out of around 70. We are an incredibly diverse country. We need to encourage diversity in financial services in order to better engage and serve the public. This means bringing in new blood from different backgrounds. We need to change the perception of our industry and make it far more inclusive and attractive.
The traditional path, the one of least resistance, is to assume that males are our target audience. We assume that men are the highest earners and make the financial decisions. Do we assume too much?
Actually, women aged 25-45 have significant financial responsibilities. Two-thirds have children under 18 and 40% are paying back a mortgage. Research we commissioned also found that should they fall ill or die, they estimate their household could lose up to £25,000 per year (49%) or more (27%), so they have a definite need. The disappointment is that half of the women surveyed have never considered their families’ protection needs and 57% do not have protection in place.
Why are we not tapping into this market? Is there a preconception that women do not make financial decisions in a household? Half (48%) of women aged 25-45 are solely responsible for the financial decisions in their household, yet we do not focus on “who really wears the trousers.” So we have a need and we have a decision-maker, but we continue to do what we have always done and assume we are targeting the right people.
We currently have a 55% male/45% female split in our individual protection book and think that while there is still work to do, we have a good gender balance. How do we accomplish change? People talk about “disruptors”, but do they really exist and what success are they having? Do we need to be disruptive or just creative? We have identified a market and we need to appeal to it. No disrespect, but few 50-something men will understand how to engage with a 25 year-old woman in a way that truly interests them, in language they will respond to.
We want to think differently. We have had massive success in recruiting and combining established and knowledgeable protection specialists with people who have come from outside the industry. They bring fresh thinking. We have ensured the demographic of the advisers we deal with is supported by like-minded people who speak the same language, face the same challenges and can sell protection in a collaborative way. We have shown a diverse approach to age, experience, gender and demographic-matching with advisers’ sales teams is needed.
But we are not there yet. How do we talk about the importance of what we do when we, as individuals, have never been disabled or had a financial shock or been diagnosed with something serious? We think we know and can empathise but actually having people who have had cancer, heart attacks or a physical or mental disability helps us weave a much more relevant narrative.
“I know where you are and what you are worried about. I have the t-shirt and this is what I would do if I were you,” is so much more powerful than ever more stats about the likelihood of dying or having a serious condition. And that is the value and opportunity of diversity. By having more women, more disabled people, more black and ethnic minority employees in our workforces, the more we can make our narratives relevant, appeal to wider segments of potential purchasers and support their specific needs. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
Head of Sales, Individual Protection
This article first appeared in COVER on October 10th, 2018.