Putting the Power of Storytelling Behind the Power of Life Insurance

Penn Mutual

By Penn Mutual | March 21, 2017

The life insurance industry has not done a very good job at telling its story effectively. Although people recognize the importance of having life insurance, few fully understand what it can do for them, or even how much they need. One way to close this gap is to use storytelling through the experience of advisers and clients.

People relate to stories. Storytelling resonates with people, partly because they can put themselves into the shoes of the person telling the story and say: “That could be me. What would I do if I was in a similar circumstance?” People love stories and they range from sharing great achievements, making a difference in someone’s life, or getting through hardships and coming out stronger. Yet businesses so often fall into “corporate speak” when describing how they help customers. In life insurance, we use strange terms like premiums, dividends, indexed universal life, illustrations, and riders. If a person is overwhelmed with arcane terms how can we expect them to be engaged and take an action?

Life insurance is part of life, and at Penn Mutual, we are talking about it in a way that connects with people in their own lives and through their experiences.

Let me tell you about my life insurance story. I’m a beneficiary of life insurance. It was a typical Monday; my dad went to his office in downtown Manhattan. He had an interest in stocks and as he did some days, went during his lunch break to the observation deck at the New York Stock Exchange. While there he had a massive heart attack and died on the spot. This loss took our family by surprise as he had no signs of heart disease. He was only 46.

At the time, one of my brothers and I were in college. My middle brother was about to go to college, and my youngest brother was six days away from his Bar Mitzvah the following weekend. My father’s death was tragic and completely out of the blue. I remember my uncle pulling us into my parents’ bedroom. I said to him with some trepidation, “Are we going to be kicked out into the street? Are we going to lose the house?” And my uncle said, “No, no. Stay calm. Your dad had a life insurance policy.”

My dad was a man of modest means and had never made a significant amount of money, but he was smart enough to have a life insurance policy to bridge those years when my mother had children living at home. I can tell you, if he didn’t have that policy, we would not have been able to stay in the house and my brothers and I might have had to give up our dreams of getting a college degree.

I recently told that story for the first time to a room full of seasoned advisers and it wasn’t easy to do. I told them, “There’s not a single person in this room, not one, who doesn’t have a story to tell about how you helped a family continue on with their lives or be able to maintain the lifestyle they had because of a life insurance policy.” I knew I had everyone’s attention – there wasn’t a single person that was checking their email or using their mobile device. Later that day one of the top leaders in our organization told me, “Jeff, every time you do a presentation, it’s good. This was, by far, the best I’ve ever seen.” That’s the impact of storytelling – it makes a connection and people will listen.

Yet the world doesn’t seem to know about what Maury Stewart, who’s been in the business for 60 years, calls “the miracle of life insurance.” The message doesn’t get through because there’s confusion about life insurance, what it is and what it is not. I don’t think many people understand the versatility of what life insurance can do. That’s the story of life insurance, and it’s a compelling story. Life insurance enables people to keep their homes, fund college degrees, donate to charities, have a source of tax free income in retirement, and yes leaving a legacy when the inevitable happens.*

The challenge is to change how we convey the message and the way we tell it using personal stories. This will put the focus on educating people about the power behind life insurance and how they can use it throughout their lives. Once people understand what life insurance can offer in terms of financial security and the connection it has to their life, we will break down barriers and have more meaningful conversations.

*Any guarantees associated with a life insurance policy are dependent on the ability of the issuing insurance company to continue making claim payments. Life insurance policies are subject to certain costs, limitations and restrictions.


  • Bravo Jeffrey! When I teach advisors how to use public speaking to bring in business, one of the main things we cover is storytelling. Life Insurance is not about life insurance. It’s about real people having peace of mind in the best case and a better quality of life and time to heal without worrying about money in the worst case. Every advisor needs to tell stories when selling or education the public about life insurance. Facts and stats won’t motivate consumers to do much but a heart felt story? Now you’re talking!

    • Avatar Jeffrey Fleischman says:

      Deirdre – Thank you for sharing your thoughts on pivoting from facts and figures to telling the stories that resonate with consumers. The more people understand just how versatile and important life insurance is, the more likely they will be open to learning more. I’m convinced that there are a large percentage of people that would view it differently if they better understood what it can do during one’s life. Storytelling is a way to make a connection, increase an interest to learn more, and in some cases, is the catalyst to ensuring that they don’t end up without the financial security they so greatly need and want. Given that one of the biggest influences on wellness is stress and that stress may be caused by financial insecurity, we have an opportunity to address this directly. Financial fitness is as important as physical fitness – many people exercise and relate to its benefits for their health, yet ignore financial fitness. My belief is that stories will make this connection in ways that more traditional methods have not.

  • Avatar Katharina Klaassen says:

    This is an eye-opening read, reminding me of the power of relating a true story of the power of life insurance- love insurance. Thank you for sharing.

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