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Burn the spreadsheet

By: Shaun Urista, Regional Sales Manager, South Central & Gulf Coast

Think about the last time you bought a car, or maybe even a TV. Before you made your purchase, did you make a spreadsheet of the various product features you were interested in? Chances are, you made those decisions on a myriad of factors, not all of which can be captured on a simple table. With that said, why is it that when looking at insurance carriers and their products, brokers and employers want to base their decision on a spreadsheet? 

I understand the impulse to turn to the spreadsheet. It can provide a quick summary or overview of key features of a product and how those features stack up to other products. But, much like you can’t describe the quality of a TV’s picture or the feel of driving a particular car, a spreadsheet doesn’t tell the whole story or can sometimes paint the wrong picture. That’s why I’m inclined to say “burn the spreadsheet!” It’s time to take a common sense approach, especially when there are several ways that “spreadsheeting” can be problematic:

What about service? – Voluntary benefits are just part of a much larger benefits solution. A successful offering requires effective communication, a smooth process for billing, and flexibility in the relationship with your carrier partners. When comparing products on a spreadsheet, you simply can’t account for things like this. A carrier’s culture and ability to make the process of offering benefits simple is, to me, almost more important than the products, but that’s not something you’ll find on a spreadsheet.

Thinking outside the box – A spreadsheet makes an assumption that, for the most part, all products are fundamentally the same. On a spreadsheet, one life insurance product is much the same as another, just with minor variations on the features and benefits. At Trustmark, we pride ourselves on innovation and we’ve found that sometimes the tried and true product designs are in need of a fresh perspective. On a spreadsheet, that means we might not fit the existing categories or standards for the product. In actuality, a carrier may be taking a different approach because they’ve found a better way to protect policyholders. But if you’re relying solely on the spreadsheet, you’ll have a difficult time capturing that.

The race to zero – When making any purchase, cost is always a factor―that’s the plain and simple truth. And especially if, as I noted above, the spreadsheet paints a picture that most products are fairly similar, then cost is going to play an even larger role in the decision making process. This contributes to what we sometimes refer to as “the race to zero.” If price ends up being the determining factor, then many carriers are incentivized to strip out benefits or limit their product in whatever way they can to reduce the price. The drawback is that, in doing so, they’re sacrificing protection for employees. The price may look good on the spreadsheet, but the protection that employees have to live with often isn’t worth the trade-off.

Promoting unrealistic benefits – Trustmark encountered this phenomenon not too long ago when we were looking at critical illness protection. If a carrier covers all kinds of obscure diseases, those are extra rows on the spreadsheet that they would “win” in comparison to other carriers. But, while that may look like a “win,” it’s likely inflating the cost of the policy, or adding little value, because it’s addressing obscure conditions or situations that are highly unlikely to occur. Strictly through the lens of the spreadsheet, however, this makes that carrier’s product look stronger.

A common sense approach

So, why do I say, “burn the spreadsheet?” If not the spreadsheet, what’s the solution? Well, the best solution that I can recommend is for brokers to really take the time to learn about and understand a carrier partner, their products, their service and their company culture. Learn everything that you can about them in order to have a complete picture and a complete understanding of who they are, what they’re offering with their products, and how they operate. 

Consumers aren’t making purchases based solely on hard data and facts. Trustmark’s research has found that it’s actually emotions more than facts that drive their decisions. With that in mind, it’s easy to see how taking a more holistic look at the products and the companies will better equip you to choose the right products and carriers in the right situations. In the end, it means better solutions for your clients. And, as an added bonus, any of those spreadsheets you have printed out can be put to better use as tinder for your next fire.

Posted on September 13, 2018 in Sales

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