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July 12, 2016

Why We Need a Consumer Bill of Rights

Summary:

The Consumer Bill of Rights is based on the simple premise that agents, wholesalers and companies should place the consumer’s interests first.

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As common as insurance is, most people do not understand this complex financial instrument.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics Consumer Expenditure Survey (2014), insurance is a consumer’s fifth highest monthly expenditure behind housing, transport, food and pensions. For many Americans, if you add up all types of insurance (auto, health, etc.), monthly total premiums can surpass housing costs.

But the insurance industry has its fair share of participants (companies, agents, wholesalers) who thrive on complexity and make sales that do not fit the client’s need. There has been a tendency — especially with annuities, life insurance and long-term-care insurance — to introduce insurance products with more options. And each time an option is added, it becomes more challenging to understand that product.

Often, this complexity is not a matter of intent; it is simply that even those within the industry or those who participate in the insurance procurement and review process (third party advisers such as financial planners, CPAs, etc.) do not understand insurance. The majority of people and companies do a good job, but there is a significant gap in insurance literacy in this country.

See also: Best Insurance? A Leadership Pipeline

The Insurance Consumer Bill of Rights was created to provide simple, easy-to-understand guidelines for everyone involved in the insurance ecosystem, including consumers, insurance agents, wholesaler, insurance companies and financial advisers.

The Insurance Consumer Bill of Rights is based on the simple premise that insurance agents, wholesalers and companies should place the consumer’s interests first, to the best of their abilities. The Insurance Consumer Bill of Rights provides simple, clear and reasonable guidelines to accomplish this goal. It is a standard of excellence for all in the insurance industry.

The importance of this movement is that, for many years, insurance has been a black box, something people know they need, although they have no real, unbiased information about it. And most people do not have the right coverage to fit their needs.

In my 30-year career, starting as an agent before making the transition to a fee-based insurance consultant/litigation consultant/author/consumer advocate, I have seen that the situation behind the scenes is often not pretty. However, the majority of these situations could be avoided if all members of the insurance industry followed the Insurance Consumer Bill of Rights.

Insurance consumers should have the right to receive any information that they request in a timely fashion. They should also be provided with all relevant information needed to make a decision in an easy-to-understand fashion. The goal is to not flood the consumer with something like a mutual fund prospectus; rather, it is to provide them with useful information.

It is always a win-win situation when all parties come out ahead and are on the same side of the table. Truth always has a way of coming out, and, to get ahead in this digital world where there are fewer secrets and more information and choices, those who strive to provide the highest-quality service and information will thrive.

See also: Fast and Slow: the Changing Landscape

For many years, consumers have ended up with insurance they don’t need, with premiums they either cannot afford or really see no value in paying. It is time to change the conversation so that consumers end up with coverage that fits their needs, with premiums they can afford into the future.

The Insurance Consumer Bill of Rights is a playbook for consumers, agents and companies to follow that puts everyone on the same page.

Monitoring an insurance policy and making adjustments to an insurance portfolio is something that is almost always overlooked. Insurance needs change. Sometimes, the change is as simple as getting a new car, while other times it can be more complex and overlooked, like having a new child who is not added as a beneficiary to an existing life insurance policy.

This is where the Insurance Consumer Bill of Rights matters. Making these adjustments, just like having regular maintenance done on your car, is what will ensure that a consumer has the right coverage in place at the time of making a claim. If the right coverage is not in place at claim time, what is the point of having insurance?

While it is not a panacea, and there still would be bad actors and inappropriate sales, the Insurance Consumer Bill of Rights is a call to action and gives guidance to consumers on what to look for, what to expect and what they have the right to.

Knowledge is power, and the power should be in the hands of the customer. Having and knowing your rights will protect and benefit consumers, along with calling the insurance community to task when needed and helping consumers and agents optimize insurance coverage and minimize premiums. Join the Insurance Consumer Bill of Rights movement!

The Insurance Consumer Bill of Rights movement is gathering momentum, and I want to thank all of its supporters. Recently, the Insurance Consumer Bill of Rights has received numerous mentions in the press:

  • Featured Article: It’s Time for An Insurance Consumer Bill of Rights — a reflection on how the Department of Labor Fiduciary Rule is a pre-cursor to the Insurance Consumer Bill of Rights.
  • As part of a joint effort with Chris Huntley’s Whole Life Rebellion that called for signing the petition, Forbes.com’s Barbara Marquand stated: “Sign the ‘Insurance Bill of Rights,’ a petition created by Tony Steuer from InsuranceLiteracy.org. Among other things, the bill says agents should act in consumers’ best interest and recommend affordable and appropriate coverage. (Click here to view the article.)
  • In an article on PTmoney.com titled “The Truth About Whole Life Insurance — Ethical Obligations and the Insurance Consumer Bill of Rights), it states, “Doctors take the Hippocratic oath and financial advisers the fiduciary oath. These are ethical codes professionals swear to live by in the execution of their duties. As of today, the life insurance industry has no such code, which is a travesty. Tony Steuer (InsuranceLiteracy.org) has created the Insurance Consumer Bill of Rights on Change.org, which seeks to implement a similar code of conduct in the insurance industry requiring all agents to act in the consumers’ best interest. The desired result would be agents targeting consumers’ specific needs to provide them with the most affordable and appropriate life insurance for their unique circumstances. Insurance agents should be held accountable for the advice they offer.” (Click here to read the article.)

And that is just some of the talk. So, what’s the next step? Please continue to share the campaign via email and on social media. And you can now contribute to the Insurance Consumer Bill of Rights movement through the petition page on Change.org, or you can support the Insurance Consumer Bill of Rights movement on Indiegogo.

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About the Author

Tony Steuer connects consumers and insurance agents by providing “Insurance Literacy Answers You Can Trust.” Steuer is a recognized authority on life, disability and long-term care insurance literacy and is the founder of the Insurance Literacy Institute and the Insurance Quality Mark and has recently created a best practices standard for insurance agents: the Insurance Consumer Bill of Rights.

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