Americans won't admit they're buying more life insurance

In the months after Sept. 11, the haunting question "What would happen to my family if the worst were to happen to me?" was asked in countless households across the United States.

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Stories of how life insurance helped victims renewed the pride life insurance agents have in the products they sell and the industry they represent.

The increased uncertainty and the economic downturn that was worsened by the terrorist attacks may have more Americans thinking about life insurance and financial planning. According to the MIB Life Index, which tracks searches for medical records undertaken by insurers after a consumer applies for life insurance, applications in the fourth quarter of 2001 hit their highest levels since the beginning of 2000.

Mirroring the MIB application information, initial sales figures for life insurance for the fourth quarter of 2001, although not completely tabulated, are up about 9 to 10 percent, according to LIMRA International, a financial services marketing and research organization.

A Harris Interactive poll conducted for Northwestern Mutual Financial Network also reported 8 percent of Americans bought more disability insurance and 6 percent bought or increased their life insurance within one month of Sept. 11.

LIMRA attributes the uptick in life insurance sales to a newfound or rediscovered sense of "evangelism" among life insurance agents and financial planners. After Sept. 11, the stories of how life insurance helped victims renewed the pride life insurance agents have in the products they sell and the industry they represent, says Bob Baranoff, vice president and head of research for LIMRA. They felt that they were doing well for themselves by doing good deeds in the world, he says.

"The most productive agents are the ones that believe in their product," says Baranoff. "And there are a lot more of those people walking around selling life insurance after Sept. 11."

This enthusiasm, combined with the financial incentive to make sales in an otherwise slow year, mixed with some pent up consumer demand and an America that is more receptive to and aware of life insurance and financial planning, says Baranoff.

Almost twice as many people said they were less likely to talk to a life insurance agent or financial advisor as those who said they were more likely to seek out new financial advice.

Oddly, amid the increased sales, many Americans still claimed they were less likely to seek out new financial advice or buy life insurance, according to LIMRA.

According to a telephone survey of consumer sentiment conducted in November 2001 by LIMRA, almost twice as many people (19 percent) said they were less likely to talk to a life insurance agent or financial advisor in the aftermath of Sept. 11 as those who said they were more likely to seek out new financial advice (11 percent). Furthermore, only 8 percent said that they were more likely to actually buy life insurance after Sept. 11, while 20 percent said that they were less likely to make a new life insurance purchase.

"Probably the No. 1 reason that people responded this way was because of the economy," says Baranoff. "They said they were less willing because they either didn't know they could afford it or because they felt that their job was uncertain."

The anthrax scare may also have made people say they were less likely to want to talk to strangers or open unsolicited mail from an insurance agent, says Baranoff.

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