Despite the fact that we all know better, at times we eat food we shouldn’t, we don’t get enough exercise, and we don’t get enough sleep. In short, we put off things that cause us short term pain even though there are tremendous long term health benefits.
Our financial health involves these tradeoffs as well. Retirement planning, insurance coverage, saving for college, and budgeting, all involve short term pain for long term gain. Just as with our health, many fail to do what’s best. For instance, recent GfK research for the Center for Financial Services Innovation (CFSI) showed that fewer than half (45%) of Americans feel confident that they can meet their long term goals and become financially secure. If consumers know that they won’t meet their goals, why don’t they act? One answer is that they feel the short term pain of sacrifice more than the fear of long term consequences.
I started my career in insurance as an agent. What I quickly found was that logic didn’t move people to act. To succeed, I would have to engage my customers in uncomfortable, fear inducing conversations. Only by painting a picture of a family struggling financially after the death of a mom or dad did a life insurance sale happen. It was only after describing the tremendous lifestyle changes that would occur after an accident that disability insurance became a real consideration.
Later in my career, I added investments to my bag of tricks and became successful after mastering the ability to tap into greed. Creating strong emotional pictures not only helped me to sell more, but they prodded my clients to “do the right thing”. For the most part, financial products are sold, not bought. The tension created by the silence as an agent waits for the client to sign the application – this is what creates action. Emotion drives action.
But putting these together has been a challenge. Increasingly, we see that financial services firms are relying on digital channels to sell products and services. There is tremendous pressure to bypass the traditional intermediaries (agents, brokers, advisors) who were always the primary distribution channel. Problematically, the messages we see on websites, banner ads, and emails all rely upon very logical arguments. Rates and returns rule the day. The emotional sell is reserved for commercials, but there is often no immediate call-to-action. There is no one there to create the push to make a decision. The purchase is reliant on a search, the click of a link, or many clicks combined with lots of data entry. Each click, each additional key stroke, provides the cover to abandon the purchase, to put off the decision for another day.
Many questions remain. Can digital channels sufficiently create the emotional push to make the sale? How can financial firms learn from retailers who have been trying to conquer abandoned shopping carts for years? What is the agent’s role in a digital world? Finally, can firms create a digital, intuitive user experience combined with a strong emotional push that can help consumers to buy the products that they really need (even if they don’t know it).
Keith Bossey is SVP at GfK Financial Services and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.