There’s a steamy old movie I favor, where a tough cop ruefully notes that in a mad crisis, people can lose direction.
“Everything is just a little askew; pretty soon people start thinking the old rules are no longer in effect,” says Detective Grace in Lawrence Kasdan’s neo-noir ‘Body Heat’.
We see it on the roads. Last year, despite lockdown-cleared highways, traffic deaths zoomed by 8%. Empty roads meant the chance for reckless cruising, the drivers often high on trendy stimulants. We’re in a pandemic – live it up, they must’ve figured. The old rules, though – physics – were still in effect. In 2020, more than 42,000 people in the US took highways to a meeting with their maker.
Traditional ideas about life insurance are making a comeback. This isn’t all pandemic-linked, however. The industry has been pushing hard for years, trying to get underinsured Americans back on a protected track. In 1959, the year I was born, nearly three-quarters of the citizenry was covered by life insurance. Today, only 54% own it.
Interesting fact: according to LIMRA – the Life Insurance Marketing and Research Association, which tells you what they do – 36% of Americans polled who didn’t have life coverage said they intended to buy a policy in the coming year. This survey was conducted in January 2020, right before the pandemic balloon went up. The best laid plans… and a bad time for non-buyer’s remorse. Fortunately, life policies are still available (see: ‘Never Too Late: Life Coverage Available Despite the Pandemic’).
We can debate ‘should have known’, but let’s stick with this: in crisis, people have learned that other people are depending on them. In May 2020, LIMRA found that 53% of Americans felt a “heightened need” for life coverage because of coronavirus. This covers both policyholders with limited coverage and those with nothing at all. I wonder who feels worse?
There’s a curious gender split: 53% of men have coverage, but only 47% of women own life policies. It’s a small gap, although I’d expect the reverse gender-wise. Whatever the case, sisters, if you don’t have life coverage, your wakeup call is ringing.
Why don’t more people have life insurance? LIMRA knows and it’s the obvious suspect: respondents say they have “other financial priorities” – 67%, the top answer.
Life insurance began to lose its historical appeal over my lifetime. That span coincided with the democratization of more lucrative investments. Take term life insurance, the most popular variety: it’s only a good investment if you die.
You won’t spend it yourself and can’t take it with you, so who needs it? Life insurance became the personification of dullsville.
Think of the new things invented in my lifetime. Sony’s Walkman started the trend, cellphones followed, then the whole joint went digital. A lot more stuff was competing for our cash.
Get this: my grandfather walked five miles to school every day. I’ve walked it myself, the humid, hilly route from Galata to the old Orthodox school in Istanbul: he was telling the truth, give or take a kadem. To shock young folk today, wait until they’re playing a game console and remark: ‘When I was a kid, these things didn’t exist’. They won’t think such a reality credible or even survivable.
Another thing: life expectancies were rising; it was in all the glossies. Why, we’re going to live forever. Time to buy another TV.
Following this trend, people complain today (65%) that life insurance is “too expensive.” Did you hear me sigh? A little less stuff and a wee bit more substance. It’s tough selling insurance; we end up channeling granny. Yet choose: family security or, I don’t know, shiny hubcaps. Pandemic says: coverage.
It’s the kids, see. The pandemic rammed it home: people are depending on you. The childless can’t ignore this, as many of us have dependents, too: needful loved ones to consider. Nobody – well, maybe those empty-road speeders don’t care – wants to leave unpaid bills or stick someone with the tab for a coffin.
Oh, that sounded ugly. That’s another reason people don’t like talking insurance. The old folks, my parents’ generation, found it easier to rap on the horrific. The 1920s to 1950s, the best good old days, were deadlier than imaginable, our pandemic aside. My father told hideous stories of the times before safety glass, what it meant in car crashes. Mother seemed fixated on railway disasters and industrial machines that go ‘whoosh! – and she was pulled into the gears’. Good old gothic New England.
They all had life insurance, those old timers; in the 1930s US, there were more policies than people – a curious fact. People were scared, hence ever prepared.
Life insurance is back on the agenda. It makes sense, now that it’s clear we’re all vulnerable. Insurers are open for business: underwriting has adapted to the current reality, and now all can be done remotely. Piece of cake, once you’ve plowed through the forms. You can usually get yourself protected within days.
Let’s finish with another film review: ‘Good Will Hunting’. It takes place in Boston, the home of Red Sox neurosis. The late Robin Williams, in character as a therapist, claims he missed epic Game 6 of the 1975 World Series to ‘go see about a girl’ – the woman he eventually married and lost to untimely death. Life insurance lessons hang over every word I write.
Believe me, now: I can tell near the same story. I didn’t marry the girl, can’t recall her name, though pretty comes back; brown curly hair, a ‘70s girl, big smile, short skirt, intimidating dad. I missed the game. No tickets, but if our home TV had busted, there was a watch party in Holy Cross Cathedral – I mean, I would have caught it. It was my first date, though – even the Sox lost out.
I ditched one opportunity for another, but I got a second chance. I bought the Game 6 DVD (once they were invented) and finally saw it, a scorcher. Luckily, if you need insurance, you don’t need to wait: it’s on sale today, dull as curling, yet stout and redoubtable as – bet you thought I’d say ‘the ’75 Red Sox’? Those beloved softies – triumph took 29 more years. I’ll get around to that one day, 2004, in these pages – bet your actuarials on it.