Many insurance companies have been chasing after the people who have a lot of money to invest and protect-high net-worth individuals. But the Principal Financial Group has taken a leap for "the little guy'-middle-class consumers who probably don't have enough life and disability insurance to protect their families."We were getting a steady chant from our advisors that we weren't doing enough to support them at that basic level-selling life insurance and disability protection," says Jerry Patterson, vice president of marketing for the life & health division of The Principal Financial Group.

As a result, the Des Moines, Iowa-based insurance company has spent the past 18 months developing a multimedia campaign designed to educate middle-class consumers about life and disability insurance, and help them close the gaps with The Principal's products.

Called "From Here To Security," the campaign consists of educational booklets and CD-ROMs that provide definitions, examples, statistics and personal worksheets to help consumers understand their life and disability insurance needs. The CD-ROMs also contain links to Web-based life and disability needs assessment calculators.

Offering three choices

At this point, online insurance calculators are not ground-breaking inventions in the industry. What's different about the Principal's campaign is that it goes a step further by recommending an appropriate type of insurance and offering three optional levels of coverage-from a basic safety net to financial security, according to Patterson.

"It gives you choices. And we don't see that anywhere else," he says.

Offering consumers different coverage levels was important to The Principal in planning this program, because focus group research uncovered a drastic difference between what most calculators and tools tell consumers they need and what people know they can afford.

"Consumers told us, 'I walked out of a meeting with an advisor and he made me feel like a low-life because he said I needed this insurance and if I didn't buy it, I didn't care about my family. But I don't have enough dollars to fund what everybody in my life tells me I need.'"

The Principal's research also showed that consumers are incredibly suspicious of people who sell financial products-and that they investigate their options-often on the Web-even before they meet with an advisor.

In fact, 79% of consumers surveyed by The Principal said they preferred to receive information on life and disability insurance before or during their first meeting with a financial advisor.

As a result of consumers' preferences, the insurer tried to build "empathy" and "engagement" into its "From Here to Security" program, says Patterson.

For instance, the company used government statistics on estimated income and disability requirements-instead of industry research that might seem biased-wherever possible.

Desire to be engaged

In addition, the Principal's educational booklets, CD-ROMs and Web-based tools are designed to involve the customer early in the process.

"Consumers can get price transparency as well as advice transparency on the Web now," Patterson notes.

"There are so many calculators, engines and tools to find out what insurance somebody thinks you need. So when an advisor sits down with a customer and says, 'You need X, the customer says, 'Well, I went to another Web site and it said I need Y.'"

Consumers' desire to be engaged earlier in the process came as a surprise to some producers, Patterson says.

"Some advisors said they would never give these kinds of tools to clients before a meeting, because that's not how the sales process works."

That was an alarm bell that producers need to change the way they do business, he says. "This educational package is designed as a prospecting and educational tool. We enable consumers to come to their own conclusions, which makes the advisor's job that much easier. If the tools are used properly, the consumer is already three-quarters of the way there in their decision."

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