Why aren’t Millennials buying life insurance?

Confusing and complicated policies stymie young consumers

By | 3 minute read | March 2, 2020

There’s a popular expression these days: “Millennials killed [fill in the blank].” Mortgages, marriages and avocados are among the many things that have filled that space.

Now, some want to add life insurance to the list.

Today, 20- and 30-somethings are purchasing smaller and fewer term-life policies and annuities, according to data and industry leaders. Popular explanations include limited resources and lack of dependents among Millennials.

Yet a new survey reveals cost is not the only concern for this cohort when it comes to choosing to buy life insurance. It’s not even their top concern, according to the survey conducted by insurance specialists at IBM iX.

More often, the issues are well within the industry’s control: The complexity, confusion and inconvenience surrounding life policies.

“This generation is worse-off financially than previous generations, but they’re also a very different kind of consumer,” said David Kwon, an associate partner for insurance at IBM iX. “Carriers need to be digital-first and consumer-obsessed, just like Millennials. Millennials are certainly interested in life insurance—as these numbers show. They’re just not sure where to start, or where the value is.”

Of those interviewed, 46 percent cited confusion around policy specifics, and even the general need for life insurance, as the biggest impediment to purchasing it. Cost was a concern for only 35 percent.

Twenty-three percent blamed hurdles involved in getting a policy, with all the paperwork and doctor’s appointments involved. And 28 percent said they could not find the time—underscoring how much effort is involved. (Percentages add up to more than 100 because respondents could select all answers that applied.)

In total, exactly half said they did not have a life policy, while 39 percent had term life and 13 percent had annuities.

“The biggest roadblock with the target population remains a mix of interest, understanding and perceived complexity,” Yoann Michaux, the insurance lead for IBM iX, said.

Carriers certainly need younger consumers, as current industry trends show.

In four of the past six years, premiums and deposits declined in the U.S., according to the Insurance Information Institute. And 2018, the last year for which data is available, only saw a slight uptick of 1.3 percent. That same year, S&P Global Market Intelligence found net income for life insurers fell 10 percent.

Many in the industry point to declining policies among 20- and 30-somethings as a leading culprit.

While younger adults have historically held fewer term-life and annuity policies, companies are reporting a notable drop. According to LIMRA, a finance and insurance research organization, the ratio of insurance coverage-to-annual income for those under 35 was 4.0 to 1 in 2004. It rose slightly to 4.3 in 2010 before falling by a third in 2016, to 2.9. For those in the 45-64 range, their coverage-to-income either rose slightly or was flat.

When mortgages, prescriptions and groceries are all now available with a few clicks, many life insurers recognize they need to make simple, more appealing, more digital products, according to Kwon and Michaux—especially to woo younger consumers.

The challenge remains figuring out how, particularly in a highly regulated, risk-averse industry.

The opportunities are considerable, based on the desires of those surveyed: 70 percent said they’d be likely or very likely to buy life insurance if they better understood offerings and benefits, while 67 percent would if the process were faster or easier.

A number of respondents cited personalized recommendations to either determine the right coverage or compare carriers. Others wanted the ability to increase or decrease coverage more easily over time. Some suggested gamification and tying rewards to healthier habits.

Some were quite blunt: “Provide plain-English plan descriptions,” wrote one person.

A few companies—both start-ups and industry incumbents—are exploring such options to suit consumer demands, including algorithms to vet health risks instead of or in addition to relying on doctors.

“Successful recent initiatives,” Michaux said, “have moved away from emphasizing the life aspect to focus on establishing a daily health and wellness partnership with customers.”

But declining policies suggest it’s not yet enough to reverse current trends.

“This age group has always been a challenge, but they remain the holy grail,” Kwon said. “Get them early and they’re locked in for life.”

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