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Life Insurance and Millennials: What the Industry Can Learn From a Day at Facebook

Near the entrance to Facebook’s headquarters in Menlo Park, California there’s a stone that greets visitors with the company’s logo engraved on its front. On its back, there’s another engraving – the Sun Microsystems logo, which used to mark the entrance to what was once the headquarters of one of the hottest companies in Silicon Valley. It’s there to remind Facebook employees leaving for the day that no matter today’s momentum, everything can be upended tomorrow.

That’s just one of the learnings I took away from a day-long visit to Facebook, following an invitation extended to CEOs of major insurance companies. Unfortunately, only three CEOs took Facebook up on the offer to tour its campus, meet with Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, and gain an inside perspective of the company’s expansive growth in just over 10 years.

Too bad more of us didn’t take them up on the offer. There was much to learn, especially for the life insurance industry, which today is being criticized for its unwillingness to accept change and re-evaluate its own business model. As Facebook grows, the life insurance industry struggles with its own relevancy, unable to find a story or value proposition that resonates with Millennials and attracts young, passionate financial professionals on whom our future depends. 

Facebook faces no such obstacles. The world would seem their oyster. Yet, that’s not the way they act. That’s not the purpose they demonstrate. No. Visiting their offices, you would think it was Facebook that stands in crisis. In every way, Facebook disrupts convention. Their ceilings are kept open, wires and plumbing exposed over employee desks. The intent is obvious. Mark Zuckerberg wants everyone to know that their work will never be done. There’s always room to grow, to imagine, and to reinvent. Completion breeds contentment.

As the largest social network in the world, with more than one billion users, Zuckerberg is far from content. What began as platform for simple online engagement is now where the world spends 114 billion minutes each month. And while Google today dominates online keyword advertising, Facebook is coming on quickly with new, cool ways for advertisers to infiltrate your life with their marketing.

But that’s Facebook, right? An island unto itself. The insurance industry could never emulate any of its success. Or could we? On my flight back to Philadelphia, I realized our industry can learn much from Facebook. Such as:

Understanding Millennials and how they work.
What they prize. At Facebook’s office, collaboration prevails. There are common areas for brainstorming. Open, clustered seating designed to engage. Teamwork trumps individual effort. It’s how Millennials were programmed from the outset. In elementary school, they sat in pods of four facing desks. In high school, it became group projects. In college, their problem sets and case studies were given to teams, which created a source of communal pressure that assured performance. Remarkably, that’s counter to our industry’s very culture. Even our language still glorifies the individual financial professional. If we are to succeed in the future, we have to realize that Millennials don’t want to stand alone in their effort. They seek the comfort of the pack. They want mentors, leaders, support, teamwork, and team building. And it’s incumbent on us to create models that meet their demands.

Understanding Millennials and what excites their passions.
What excites Millennials? Perhaps, all you have to do is, well, go to Facebook. Among the 3 million messages posted to Facebook every 20 minutes, few are focused on material possessions. Rather, Millennials are enthralled and excited by experiences. That might be the mud run they just finished or the new beer they just homebrewed or the hike they just took through the Costa Rican rainforest. Our industry offers those experiences, through the living benefits of life insurance that delivers the opportunity to tap the cash value of a whole life policy, in order to fund a business, leave a job, and live a dream.

Yet, we’ve let others take away that story, talk down the value of life insurance, and undermine its noble purpose to protect and open possibilities. We need to take back that conversation and use it to align ourselves with the very thing that excites the next generation of buyers — the ability to live and fund life on their terms, ready, willing, and able to control their life experiences.

Embrace the hard work and uncertainty of change.
Life circumstances, perhaps more than any other factor, have made Millennials certain of only one fact: Change is inevitable and manageable. They are the generation who watched families divide, merge, and extend. They witnessed parents lose jobs, rethink retirement, and make concessions based on new economic realities.

Facebook is a living testament to the speed of digital change. Today’s a world where updates and revisions are inevitable, and version 1.0 leads to the inevitable 2.0. We, the Baby Boomers, would never have stood still for such erraticism. Millennials are drawn to it. They revel in change. Our industry? Not so much, and instead we choose to operate within the same paradigms as our predecessors and mentors, slow to force the issue and adapt. We do so, however, at our own risk. Today, the life insurance industry faces a looming cliff of aging financial professionals who will soon retire and the inevitable stagnation that will be triggered if replacements are not found. There’s still plenty of time to change. But we have to embrace uncertainty and put it to work for us in a world that accepts the notion of constant, unrelenting evolution.

So what did I learn from a day at Facebook? Most importantly, I learned that our worlds are not as different as it might first appear. Not if we, as an industry, are willing to learn from their ways, steal, and adapt in order to emulate their success while it’s still our game to win.

This post is for informational purposes only and should not be considered as specific financial, legal or tax advice. Depending on your individual circumstances, the strategies discussed in this presentation may not be appropriate for your client’s situation. All opinions expressed in this post are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Penn Mutual, its affiliates or employees. The information in this material is not intended as tax or legal advice. Always consult your legal or tax professionals for specific information regarding your individual situation.
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