Women in Insurance – A History – the 1990s

Life Insurance advertisement circa 1995

The 1990s were generally a decade of peace and prosperity in the US, with some notable exceptions. The economy was in a relative state of expansion after the recession in 1990. The stock market was booming, and unemployment rates remained low for much of the decade.

Bill Clinton was in office for most of the decade after winning the election in 1992, taking over from George W. Bush who had been in office since 1989. Notable events during the decade include the official end of the Cold War in 1991 with the collapse of the Soviet Union, the signing of NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) that went into effect in 1994, and the formation of the WTO (World Trade Organization) in 1995. In addition, Operation Desert Storm (the First Gulf War) took place in 1991, the Rodney King trial was held in 1992, and the US suffered several high-profile bombings at the World Trade Center in 1993, the Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995, and the Centennial Olympic Park in Atlanta in 1996.

Technology advances exploded during this decade. The World Wide Web made its debut in 1991 and quickly took the world by storm. By the end of the decade, the dot-com boom was in full swing. Advances were also made in the area of genetics with the birth of Dolly the sheep, the first cloned animal. Both of these advances would have a significant impact on the life insurance industry.

In general, women were doing better economically than they had in previous decades. A Korn/Ferry study published in 1994 reported that 67% of companies responding to their survey indicated they had at least one woman appointed to their boards, up from 59% in 1989. The overall numbers, however, were still low – only 6.2% of the Fortune 500 company board seats were held by women in 1994.

A major national survey of working women conducted by the Women’s Bureau in 1995 revealed important truths about women in the workplace at that time (Nussbaum, K., New York Times, 1995). Over 79% of the women reported liking or loving their job. Nearly all of the women, however, reported the need for improvements in several areas. These included:

  • Pay equality – women with similar educations were making 71.5 cents to every man’s dollar
  • Access to male-dominated professions – 60% of working women were siloed in traditionally female dominated professions where the pay was significantly lower
  • Access to senior-level positions – over 95% of senior managers were white males
  • Retirement funds and other benefits – a vast majority of the positions held by women did not come with benefits

During the 1990s, life insurance sales declined. A report in 1992 showed that 46% of men and 40% of women carried life insurance, a significant decrease from past decades. In 1997, reports showed 11.1 million policies sold, a 37% drop from 15 years prior. According to an A.M. Best report in 1998, less than half of American households held coverage beyond the minimums provided by employers.

One new area of sales that opened up and grew quickly only to fall off dramatically near the end of the decade was the viatical sales market. In this market, viatical companies would purchase life insurance contracts from sick (often those suffering from AIDS) or elderly policy holders who either needed money right away for hospital or treatment costs, or no longer had a need for the policy death benefit. These companies would then continue the premium payments and collect the death benefit when the policy holder passed away. They were, in effect, gambling on the death of these individuals. On the flip side, this provided much needed money to those in need.

In 1996, there were roughly 60 such companies who bought between $400 million and $500 million worth of policies annually. Near the end of the decade, some traditional companies fought back against these viatical companies through their design of the Accelerated Death Benefit, a rider that offered policyholders a way to access their death benefit early when a doctor had certified that death was imminent.

The traditional life industry had become highly competitive, not just within the industry but from forces outside the industry. Mutual funds and other investments were diverting sales. In addition, the arguments over whether to buy term or permanent insurance raged on, with term winning in most advice columns during the decade due to the strong economy bringing lower premiums to the companies. Certainly, during this time of economic boom, higher returns were easily found outside of the permanent insurance space. In addition, people were living longer lives which in turn helped them to postpone thoughts on mortality and therefore purchases of life insurance.

The Life Insurance industry’s reputation took a significant hit in the 1990s. This was largely due to the competitive pressures put on the sales agents by the economic forces in play. Life insurance sales representatives began relying on unscrupulous tactics to make their sales. Many resorted to the sales practice called “churning” where they used the cash value built up inside an insurance policy as a loan to buy another policy for their clients. These policies were sold as a “no cost” way to purchase additional insurance coverage. At the same time, these policies generated additional commissions for the agents and bonuses for their sales managers. Unfortunately for the client, often all of these policies would eventually run out of money, and all coverage would lapse leaving the client with no coverage at all. Or worse still, upon the death of a loved one, an insured would find that the loan on the policy would nearly (or entirely) eclipse any death benefit left, leaving them with little or no insurance.

Another common sales practice of the times was the “vanishing premium” policy. In this case, a life insurance sales representative would produce a policy illustration that showed the need to pay premiums on a policy for a set number of years. In reality, these illustrations were often based on unrealistic interest rates and returns, and policy holders would find themselves paying premiums for many years more than originally planned.

Due to the fallout from these sales practices, nearly every major company found themselves paying significant settlements to their customers. Metropolitan Life alone paid over $100 million in fines and restitution. This amount was increased to $1.7 billion in 1999. New York Life settlements were estimated at $65 million, State Farm at $200 million, Nationwide at $100 million, John Hancock at $350 million, and the list goes on. Quite obviously, these suits did significant damage to the reputation of the industry.

Near the end of the decade, the larger insurance companies took action to address the concerns of the public and organized the Insurance Marketplace Standards Association, a compliance organization built to address unscrupulous sales practices. Another measure many companies took was to severely reduce their sales forces. Prudential reported cutting from 20,000 agents down to 9,000.

Companies were also dealing with some significant high-profile harassment lawsuits. In one case in 1997, two female employees of CNA Life Insurance alleged significant harassment from the president of the company, who was then forced to resign along with his deputy. Comments from news articles at the time claim that just a few years prior, the company would have likely swept such an incident under the rug. Another major suit alleging rather sensational harassment claims was settled in 1997 against Monumental Life in the US District Court in Maryland.

Another byproduct of the slow-down in sales was a consolidation in the industry. This included mergers and acquisitions along with many insolvencies. In the first half of 1991, 12 companies went under including Monarch Life, Mutual Benefit, and Mutual Security Life, among others. Many companies sold divisions that were non-core businesses in order to focus their concentration. In 1995, over 20 deals were made involving non-core business sales. Analysts that year estimated that a full 20% of the 1500 companies in existence were facing consolidation.

As mentioned above, technology brought about a major change to the industry. Carriers began selling term life insurance on the internet. Several quoting engines popped up on the scene giving consumers the ability to shop for low-price term on their own. Suddenly the long-held belief that life insurance had to be sold, not bought, was put center stage and debated fiercely in the media. One of the biggest disrupters in this area was Charles Schwab, a company that introduced both online sales and a toll-free number customers could call to purchase insurance. Only a very few traditional insurers joined in the online sales in these early days, including USAA and Ameritas.

Women and Life Insurance During the 1990s

The number of women in the workforce continued to grow. In 1993 there were over 58 million women in the US workforce representing 45.6% of the labor force. This growth can be attributed to the changing desires of women who wanted to forge their own careers, the economic pressures on families, and the continued increase in the divorce rate.

Women-owned businesses were on the rise as well. Estimates made in 1998 showed that women were on pace to head 1/3 of all family firms by the end of the century. Only ten years prior, women would not have likely risen to the top of family owned businesses, instead seeing male relatives put into that position. In fact, women-owned businesses were the fastest growing segment of the US economy in 1998. Times were changing, which meant that more women needed insurance.

In order to bolster sales, the industry again turned to underserved markets, including the women’s market. In 1993, the American College joined with the Life Underwriter Training Council to hold several seminars across the US to discuss the opportunities to be found in marketing to minority groups, referring to these groups as a “growing demographic trend.” One study reported that only 14% of men pursued women as a market.

It was still the case that during the 1990s women were underinsured compared to men. An article from 1992 cites a LIMRA (Life Insurance Marketing and Research Association) study that shows that on average women were purchasing $52,000 of coverage while men were purchasing $103,000 of coverage.

American Demographics, Vol 18, Iss 1 (1996)

Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company in 1994 launched a program called WINS (Women in Nationwide Sales) in an effort to recruit women as sales agents. The program intended to appoint women to at least 1/3 of new agency manager positions.

Several companies simply added female-targeted advertisements, including a Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance ad that read, “All the women who won’t outlive their husbands don’t need to read any further.”

In 1997, Cigna rolled out their program, “Achieve: a Financial Independence Program for Women.” The program included nationwide seminars and written materials intended to help women better plan for retirement.

A study in 1996 by the IIAA (The Independent Insurance Agents of America), conducted to understand the women’s market, concluded that women were not confident when it came to making financial decisions causing them to often avoid the subject entirely. Less than half of the women surveyed indicated they had contacted a financial representative for help in the last year while 76% of them indicated that working with a professional would be beneficial. There is no data on how these numbers compare to the corresponding male population. Another omission of note – there is no data on how often these women were contacted by a representative offering advice.

An article in Best Review (Feb 1999) entitled “The 51% Niche Market,” opens with the following sentence, “As life insurers continue to focus on ever smaller marketing segments, some are rediscovering the largest segment of all: women customers.” The article details several new marketing efforts, nearly all of them less than two years old. The article quotes a sales manager from one company who is responsible for training on the women’s market: “It was hard for the [sales agents] to pull back and look at something new. We asked them, ‘How many women business owners do you currently do business with?’ Many of them did not know.”

This same article outlines the differences in working with women:

  • “Women use a different buying process. Men are transaction-oriented buyers while women are relationship-oriented buyers. They want to trust the person selling to them and know the relationship will continue after the sale.
  • Women covet information. They seek advice and insight from others such as a qualified agent, but will often stop to consider their decision before they commit. However, if the agent follows up, the sale is usually made.
  • Women are often more loyal customers, but that loyalty depends on maintaining a relationship.”

Some other tips given to attract the women’s market included:

  • “Don’t tweak the product or put it in a new package and call it new and improved. Change how you create business relationships instead.
  • Don’t think only female agents can reach this market.
  • Don’t sell life insurance only to the husband; consider the wife as a breadwinner too;
  • After spending lots of money on advertising to attract the female market, make sure your organization treats them as economic decision-makers.
  • Don’t assume all women are alike. That will get you into trouble.” (Best’s Review, 1999).

A LIMRA survey in 1996 indicated that 72% of life insurance companies felt that diversity programs were some of their most important objectives. Approximately 44% of life insurance companies stated that they had these objectives in written form. The reasons the companies gave for the creation of these objectives included it being the right thing to do and to help them increase their market share. Most of the programs shared in the survey targeted cultural minorities with bilingual services/non-English language marketing materials. None of the programs targeted women directly (Managers Magazine, 1996).

Women’s fraternal societies were still in existence, serving the women’s market directly when other companies struggled to reach this market. In 1997, Royal Neighbors was the largest with $548 million in assets and a board of directors that was exclusively female. Other women-focused fraternals included Loyal Christian, Women’s Life, Degree of Honor, and Catholic Ladies of Columbia. Many of these fraternals credited their on-going success to their personalized service to the women they served, along with their ability to offer other services that built strong relationships with their members.

Women in Life Insurance Sales

Several surveys, including one conducted by LIMRA in 1995, showed that women in life insurance sales sold largely to women. This resulted in income disparity due to the fact that women, as mentioned above, were purchasing roughly half the amount of insurance as their male counterparts. It was also the case that in general, female producers did not sell to high-income earners, further reducing their incomes.

A study conducted in 1997 by the National Association of Insurance Women shared some insight into why this might be. Their survey concluded that “women working in insurance sales are more likely to be motivated by a need to meet the needs of their customers, than by the challenge of the job” or the pay afforded them in this career (Esters, 1997). The compensation women earned was significantly higher for those working in insurance compared to other vocations.

Women reported difficulty in making the important business connections in order to grow their businesses. In one article, women discussed the advice given to them by many men to “learn to play golf.” These women found that even after learning to play, they still had trouble integrating with men in a meaningful business way at the sporting events. Women found it difficult, no matter what, to break into the old-boys network.

Despite the challenges they faced, the retention rates for women in life insurance sales were on the rise throughout the decade, with one-year retention rates often higher than those of men, and four-year retention rates nearing those of men.

At the turn of the century, women had made considerable in-roads into the life insurance industry, but still had a long way to go to reach parity with their male colleagues. The female side of the equation had once again been rediscovered this decade, but whether the attention paid to it would have meaningful results is something to be investigated in the next article.

Sources:

Anonymous (1998). “A Rich Heritage Since 1989.” Atlanta Daily World, Oct 18, pg 3.

Anonymous (1997). “Cigna pitches annuities to women as route to financial independence.” Best’s Review / Life-Health Insurance Edition,Vol. 98 Issue 5, p86.

Anonymous (1993). “Cultural Diversity and Its Impact upon the CLU/ChFC Movement.” Journal of the American Society of CLU & CHFC. Mar1993, Vol. 47 Issue 2, p88-88.

Anonymous (1996). “Diversity the focus.” Managers Magazine, Jan/Feb 1996, Vol 71, Issue 1, pg. 4.

Anonymous (1998). “Why Women are Different.” US Banker, Feb 1998, pg 13.

Bailer, D. (1997). “Fast-Track Group Offers Help to Women.” New  York  Times, Jan 12, pg WC4.

Bell, A. (1997). “Monumental settles harassment lawsuit.” National Underwriter, Vol. 101 Issue 40, p52.

Bell, A. (1997). “Women’s fraternals appeal to a niche within a niche.”
National Underwriter, Vol. 101 Issue 14, p7. 2p.

Christensen, B.A. (1994). “A look at the relationship between income and insurance.” Trusts and Estates, Mar 1994.

Esters, S.D. (1997). “Insurance women surveyed.” National  Underwriter  Property & Casualty – Risk & Benefits Management. Jul 21, pg 4.

D’Ambrosio, M.V., Hinchcliffe, R. (1995). “Female producers.” Managers Magazine, May 95, Vol. 70, Issue 5, pg 7-8.

Dunlap, D.W. (1996). “AIDS drugs alter an industry’s path.” New York Times, 30 July.

Geer, C.T. (1992). “Gender Gap.” Forbes, March 16, 1992.

Gilbert, E. (1994). “Nationwide targets female market.” National  Underwriter Property & Casualty -Risk  & Benefits Management, Aug 15, 1994.

Goch, L. (1999), “Marketing Traps to Avoid.” Best’s Review, Feb, pg 43.

Goch, L. (1999), “The 51% Niche Market.” Best’s Review, Feb, pg 40-43.

Hitchcock, C. (1992). “Why life insurance agents can’t work for you?” Consumers Research Magazine, Oct92, Vol. 75 Issue 10, p17.

Myers, G. (1996). “She works without a net.” American Demographics, Vol. 18, Issue 1, pg. 18.

Nelton, S. (1998). “The Rise of Women in Family Firms: A Call for Research Now.” Family Business Review. Sep pg 215.

Nussbaum, Karen (1995). “Women in Business: Working Women: Unfinished Business.” The Washington Post, Oct 17.

Quinn, J.B., Ehrenfeld, T. (1995). “Churn, churn, churn.” Newsweek, Mar 6,
Vol. 125 Issue 10, p46.

Quinn, J.B., Wilson, V. (1991). “Is your insurance company really safe?” Newsweek, 7/29/1991, Vol. 118, Iss 5, pg. 38.

Quint, M. (1995). “In Sales Pitches, Life Insurers Revive a Focus on Death.” New York Times, Sep 29.

Pasher, V.S. (1996). “IIAA spotlights cross-sale opportunities via survey.” National Underwriter, Vol 100, Iss 27, pg 1-2.

Pitz, M. (1999). “Metropolitan Life Insurance Settles Suit Alleging Deceptive Practices.” Pittsburg Post-Gazette, 8/19.

Ramirez, A. (1996). “Investing It: A way to cash in as insurers get the urge to merge.” New York Times, 21 Jan.

Sherrid, P. (1996). “Enter the virtual agent.” US News and World Report,
Vol. 121 Issue 13, p64.

Shook, D. (1998). “Fraud Suits Make Life Difficult for Major Life Insurance Providers.” The Record, 12/13/1998.

Treaster, J. B. “Death Benefits, Now for The Living.” New York Times, 27 Sept. 1998.

Treaster, J. B. “Life Insurance Loses Ground As Investment Options Grow.” New York Times, 8 June 1998.

Vatter, R.H. (1994). “Women in the labor force.” Statistical Bulletin-Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, July-Sept 1994.

Women in Insurance – A History – The 1980s

 

met life advert 1980s

From the disillusionment of the 1970s, the 1980s moved America to the right with the conservative politics of President Ronald Reagan. Elected by an overwhelming majority in 1980, despite his conservative views, Reagan oversaw the nomination of the first female Supreme Court Justice (Sandra Day O’Connor), saw the first American woman to go to space (Sally Ride), and ushered in the end of the Cold War with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. When Reagan left office in 1989 he had the highest approval rating of any president since FDR.

Inflation that had risen significantly during the 1970s continued to rise in the 1980s. In 1982, the United States experienced the worst recession since the Great Depression. While the economy recovered rather quickly, another stock market crash on October 19th, 1987, highlighted to investors that the economy had entered a new era of volatility.

In terms of women’s rights, the legal battles over discrimination continued. In 1984, the US Supreme Court found it illegal for clubs such as the Kiwanis and Rotary Clubs to discriminate based on sex. In 1986, the Supreme Court found in the Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson case that sexual harassment was a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and as such was a form of illegal job discrimination.

In 1980, the first woman was elected to Congress without following a husband or father into the position. In 1981, Sandra Day O’Connor was appointed to the Supreme Court. In 1984, the first woman was nominated to be vice president on a major party ticket.

The 1980s saw the rise of the yuppie, the emergence of MTV, the introduction of the blockbuster film (E.T., Return of the Jedi, Raiders of the Lost Ark, to name a few), and the birth of the 24-hour news cycle.

LIFE INSURANCE DURING THE 1980S

The demographics of the US were changing dramatically during this decade. The traditional family, with the husband as the primary (and only) breadwinner was gone, and in its place were single-mother families (approximately 33% of all households in 1984), divorcees, new immigrants, people who chose never to marry, married couples with no children, and retirees. The population had grown 60% since 1960 to 236 million people. These demographic shifts had a marked impact on an industry built on the foundation of the traditional family with a father who needed to protect his family.

Life insurance sales had been flat throughout the prior decade, and the trend continued into the 1980s. In 1960, 64% of all individuals in the US carried some form of life insurance; in 1984, it was 63%. In 1960, 72% of all households owned life insurance purchased through an agent; in 1984 this had dropped to 56%.

In 1981, $371 billion in individual life insurance was sold. Group life insurance sales brought the total to $544 billion. Products shifted during this decade. The “family plan” policy that was popular in the 1960s virtually disappeared. Term insurance took on significant popularity. Due to the increase of women in the workplace, families covered by group life jumped by 12 million between 1976 and 1984.

One LIMRA study showed that replacement activity (dropping one policy in place of a new policy) jumped from 36% of all households in 1980 replacing a policy to 56% in 1984. This marked increase was attributed to agents working their existing market and neglecting new, hard-to-reach markets. Another contributing factor was the industry tendency to recruit existing agents that were more likely to sell to their existing customers rather than reach out to a new market.

Inflation continued to be a major issue for the industry. Loan activity was higher than ever, with policy holders able to earn significant gains by withdrawing their funds from their whole life policies and investing them elsewhere. This inflation along with the recession saw many consumers turning to term insurance and shunning the whole life policy that had been so popular for decades prior. Early in the decade, term insurance accounted for over half of the volume of life insurance sold.

Hotly debated during this decade was the tax-free build up of the accumulating cash value within life insurance policies. President Reagan’s tax plan would have eliminated this provision, and the life insurance industry would have “died a slow death” (New York Times, 1985) as the value in purchasing cash value life insurance dried up. Fortunately for the industry, after all the debate, the cash value was protected from taxes.

In 1985 the news was dominated by the debate in the insurance industry over the use of gender to determine insurance rates. That year, the National Organization of Women filed a lawsuit against Metropolitan Life Insurance Company accusing the company of discrimination in both life insurance and disability insurance pricing. Organizations throughout the industry took sides, and legislatures across the country debated this hotly contested issue.

In March of that year, the American Council of Life Insurance took out a full-page ad in the Boston Globe and other newspapers across the country in order to defend the industry against NOW. The advertisement read: “Some people would charge women more than their fair share for insurance and call it equality. Sound like a good idea to you? We hope not.” The implication here is that if unisex rates were to be implemented, women would have to pay more to compensate for the higher mortality rates of men. Advocates for the unisex rates and NOW’s lawsuit claimed, “The insurance industry is the only industry that practices sex discrimination overtly [by setting rates based on gender].”

Montana was the only state to have implemented the unisex rates when the Massachusetts legislature began to seriously consider mandating unisex rates for all types of insurance. It is important to note that this issue was larger than just life insurance. At the time, women were paying higher rates than men for health, accident, annuities and disability income insurance, but lower life insurance rates. In the end, likely due to the intense lobbying efforts by the industry, Massachusetts did not include life insurance in the legislation it passed. In 1987, a similar law was struck down in New York.

In 1987, the AIDS epidemic hit center stage for the US and for the life insurance industry. In that year, a test was developed for life insurance applications, and rules were set regarding when and where such a test could be required. Companies added new questions to their applications regarding AIDS, and a new era of medical testing was introduced.

In that year, AIDS-related claims reached $487.2 million, a 67% increase over the year prior. This was thought to be an understatement of the effect on claims given that insurance companies rarely investigate the cause of death beyond the incontestability period (usually the first two years of the policy). In terms of claims counts, in 1987 1.2% of all individual life claims were attributed to AIDS, up from 0.9% the year prior.

The advent of AIDS introduced the industry to “living benefits,” although the concept was already in the introduction phase when the epidemic hit. The ability and willingness to pay out a portion of the life insurance proceeds to aid a person who is terminally ill came about at the end of the decade. Initially these benefits were offered to those with cancer, Lou Gehrig’s disease, and complications of AIDS. There were some initial concerns over this benefit, with many companies worried such a payment would be subject to taxation, that medical diagnoses could differ between doctors, and that some beneficiaries may disagree with the arrangements. Despite these concerns, this practice quickly became standard in the industry.

WOMEN IN LIFE INSURANCE DURING THE 1980S

In the beginning of the decade, over half of all adult women in the US were employed, and the vast majority of them were employed full time. The number of single women delaying marriage and/or having children was growing, as was the number of single mothers. This, in turn, meant that the number of female heads of households were increasing, reaching 7.7 million families in 1980. In 1981, women made up 54% of the workforce, and the numbers were increasing.

While women had started to climb the corporate ladder, they were well behind men in terms of pay. A study conducted near the opening of the decade showed that in the 1,000 largest industrial companies in the US, 28% of the officers were women. However, nearly two-thirds of these officers were earning less than $50,000 per year, and a third of them were paid less than $30,000 per year. The average business woman in 1982 earned $10,000 per year, while the average man earned $17,000 according to a report from a study done in Chicago. In 1984, 64% of the largest American companies still had no women on their boards, and only 8% had two or more women on their boards.

In the insurance industry, a study by the ACLI in 1987 showed that only 2% of the women working in this industry made more than $25,000 per year while 42% of the men did. Reasons given for this phenomenon included the possibility that men at the highest ranks of the companies had not yet grown comfortable with women in leadership roles, and that women in life insurance may have concentrated themselves in self-segregated groups, keeping them from the mainstream where jobs paid more.

One important issue causing trouble for working women was that childcare options were not keeping up with the change in women’s status. As more moms went to work, they had to battle a system that simply had not kept up. The number of daycares was extremely low, many had inconvenient hours, and the cost, if a woman could find one, was prohibitively high.

As women continued to gain access and higher level positions in the work place, they were still, in terms of life insurance, underinsured or in many cases not insured at all. In 1980, 65% of all adult women held some kind of life insurance, but this was nowhere near the 80% of adult men who held life insurance. In addition, the average face amount for women’s policies was $7,680 compared to men’s at $29,000.

The Life Insurance industry continued to recognize the importance of the women’s market. In one article the author stated, “Women are important enough as buyers and decision makers for insurance companies to be concerned with them” (Wexler, 1980). A marketing magazine suggested that the women’s market was a “special” market, and as such, deserved “special treatment.” Although what this treatment would entail is not defined, the author does indicate that there is a difference between single women and married women.

Nearly everyone was saying the same thing about the Women’s Market – it was new, it was something separate from the “mainstream,” and it was something worth paying attention to. The Boston Globe announced, “For the industry, there’s the prospect of an almost entirely new market.” A representative from Travelers Life stated, “We noticed the status of women had changed. Women were economically more valuable. They had a life insurance value” (Saltzman, 1980). Manager’s Magazine wrote “The last great untapped market is the women’s market” (Myers, 1983). Metropolitan Life was quoted as saying, “We think its [the women’s market] going to be a tremendous market…Traditionally insurance companies would talk to the so-called head of the household, the breadwinner…but with more women in the workplace…the distinction between earner and dependent has often ceased to apply” (O’Connor, 1981). The Globe Mail stated “Many industry insiders still consider women an untapped market…It would be utter folly to ignore such a vast market potential” (Stinson, 1982).

Some strides were made in reaching the women’s market. In 1981, John Hancock Mutual Life sold 32% of their policies to women, up from 20% in 1971. In 1989, AIG Life launched their Women’s Group, a network of female agents challenged with reaching the women’s market. While they do not present statistics on how effective the effort was, they did report that the first printing of their marketing material went out of stock extraordinarily quickly.

Sun Life introduced a product named HER, the main feature being that the rates were based on a separate mortality table for women instead of the setback method used in decades past. These new tables claimed to save women up to 40% on their life insurance premiums. Sun Life was not alone in adapting pricing for the new mortality gains recognized for women. Equitable Life Assurance developed a new classification for women based on new mortality tables, and Manhattan Life instituted discounts on the male 3-year setback for women.

An article in a 1983 edition of Manager’s Magazine encourages salesmen to avoid female stereotypes such as (1) women are basically emotional; (2) successful women are tough, pushy and less than feminine; and (3) woman’s place is in the home (Myers, 1983). Women were, in fact, looking at life insurance differently. A focus group in 1989 revealed that the main reason women purchased insurance was to help fund the education of their children. Women wanted more information on their options and how their life insurance would help them reach their goals.

WOMEN AS LIFE INSURANCE SALES REPRESENTATIVES

A prediction from an article in 1980 claims “During the 1980s, women will play a greater part in the distribution of insurance products…Currently the percentage of women in the agency forces has increased dramatically, due primarily to social and government pressures and good experience with women in sales” (Weech, 1980).

In some places, women were finally being seen the same as men. One author wrote, “Women will generally fail and succeed in the same ways as men, provided that they are selected in the same manner that is used to select males.” The women that were successful reported great satisfaction with their jobs. One agent for Metropolitan Life, June Visconti, said insurance sales was “one of the most financially and personally satisfying careers a woman can embark on.”

In 1980, Mutual of New York’s Pittsburgh agency formed a Women’s Unit, and found it to be a success. The company found that by capitalizing on the natural skills of women, including teaching, listening, nurturing and influencing, women were successful in reaching female customers. In 1981, 13% of the sales agents with both John Hancock Mutual Life and New York Life were women. In 1982, Sun Life of Canada, a company that had stepped up recruiting efforts in the women’s market, boasted 24% women in their new recruits.

One report stated that in 1983, there had been a significant increase in US women selling life insurance. A LIMRA report from 1984 stated that 12% of the agency force was female at that time. By mid-1986, it had risen to 18%. The reasons given for the increase in the number of female agents included the fact that no particular education level was required for the profession, that the pay had no ceiling and was the same regardless of gender, and that life insurance was rewarding for those who were looking to doing something good for other people.

In the 1980s, the retention of women agents increased to equal that of men, however most of the women entering the field were new. According to the 1984 LIMRA report, 40% of the women agents that year were in their first year of selling.

There was recognition that selling life insurance to women would require a different approach. Women typically needed more information and more time to make decisions. Companies and agents alike were called on to provide additional information and services in order to attract the female market. Women also were believed to trust other women, and were believed to be the decision-makers in the home when dealing with financial concerns.

As we move closer and closer to present day, it will be harder to generalize on the women’s market. We will try, however, to look at the 1990s next.
Sources:
Allen, Frank (1980). “Women Managers Get Paid Far Less Than Males, Despite Career Gains.” The Wall Street Journal, Oct 7, pg 35.
American Council of Life Insurance (1985). “Advertisement: Some People Would Charge Women More.” The Boston Globe, Mar 25, pg 5.
Anonymous (1983). “Did You Know?” Atlanta Daily World, Jul 15, pg 3.
Anonymous (1989). “Life insurance cash for terminally ill.” Chicago Tribune, Jun 15, pg 9.
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Anonymous (1980). “Recruiting Women Agents.” Manager’s Magazine, 55(8), 32.
Anonymous (1981). “Rewarding career for women.” New York Amsterdam News, Jun 13, pg 22.
Anonymous (1981). “Tells WLUC of Disparity in Cover for Women.” National Underwriter, 85(37), 14.
Arndt, Sheril (1986). “WLUC Exec Says Role Models are Key.” National Underwriter, Life & Health Insurance Edition, 90(40), pg 2.
Barnes, Don (1987). “The Woman in life Insurance.” National Underwriter, Life, Health, Financial Services Edition, 91(2), pg 17.
Brostoff, Steven (1989). “AIDS-linked claims jump dramatically.” National Underwriter, Life & Health – Financial Services Edition, 10, pg 1+.
Brozan, Nadine (1980). “Insurance: New Policies Toward Women.” The New York Times, Sep 22, pg. A24.
Burrows, Julie A. (1987). “Start Selling to 50% of the Population!” Insurance Sales, 130(12), pg 20.
Gerstenberger, Paula P. (1981). “The Women’s Unit.” Manager’s Magazine, 56(10), 29.
Jamison, Kent S., Retzloff, Cheryl D. (1987). “What the Numbers Show.” Best’s Review, 88(4), pg 36+.
King, Carole (1984). “Female agents: a progress report.” Best’s Review – Life-Health Insurance Edition, 85, pg 132+.
Kleiman, Carol (1982). “A Portrait of Chicago’s Working Women.” Chicago Tribune, Mar 7, pg J22.
Knox, Richard A. (1987) “AIDS test readied for life insurance.” The Boston Globe, Sep 12, pg 17.
Landes, Jennifer (1989). “AIG Women’s Grp. markets ins. to working mothers.” National Underwriter Life & Health – Financial Services Edition, 50, pg 7+.
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Women from the history of Life Insurance, Part 1

 

I have been doing quite a bit of reading on the history of the life insurance industry in the US. This is due in large part to the fact that I work in this industry, but also because I find that it is fascinating story filled with countless inspiring individuals. I think we can find heroes anywhere if we just simply look, and the life insurance industry is no exception.

A few quick points on the early history of the industry to help orient you:

  • The concept of life insurance can be traced back to ancient Babylon where it is found in the Code of Hammurabi – the family of merchants killed by brigands were awarded silver1
  • 1583 – The first recoded life insurance policy, a 1-year term policy that paid out a 400 pound sterling benefit2
  • 1759 – The first life insurance company in the US is established in Philadelphia: The Corporation for Relief of the Poor and Distressed Presbyterian Ministers and the Poor and Distressed Widows and Children of Presbyterian Ministers
  • 1839-1840 – States pass the Married Women’s Property Act which allows, among other things, life insurance proceeds to be passed to a widow without being subject to the demands of the husband’s debtors3

Women have played an important role in this industry from nearly the start. In this post, I’d like to share two important women from the early years of life insurance in the US.

The first is Bina West Miller.

Bina West Miller (1867-1954) was an incredible pioneer and entrepreneur. She saw a problem, understood how to fix it, and put her plan into action. She did this so well that the company she founded is still here today.

Bina began her career as a young school teacher in Michigan. Through her work, she witnessed first hand the struggles a family went through when the mother of two children passed away while the children were still young. The father carried life insurance on himself, but at that time, no company would cover women – in large part due to maternal fatality rates during childbirth. The father, left with no means to care for his children was forced to send his children to foster homes where they were sent out to work.

Bina saw the injustice in this situation and took bold steps to address it. In 1892, Bina founded the Women’s Benefit Society in 1892. Her objective was to be “The Largest, Strongest, and Most Progressive Fraternal Benefit Society for Women in the World. Offers more opportunities to women than any other fraternal insurance society.”5 Her organization offered women more than life insurance; it offered women a support network and a way to connect to their communities.

Bina successfully served as the CEO of her company for over 56 years. In 1996 the organization was renamed Woman’s Life Insurance Society, (I have linked to the company page on their history) and remains in business today. There is quite a bit of research out there on Bina West – I will list a few sources at the end of the article and I highly recommend you take a look.

The second woman I would like to introduce to you is Minnie Geddings Cox. Minnie’s story is rather different than Bina’s, but like Bina, she was a pioneer, an entrepreneur, and an important leader in the history of the life insurance industry. Much of what Minnie is known for revolves around what is known as the Indianola Affair. Minnie, serving as the first African-American postmistress in Mississippi (serving in Indianola), was forced to flee her city due to racial tensions and personal threats. When she attempted to resign from her post, President Roosevelt refused to accept it, and instead closed the post office for more than a year. Eventually, Minnie did return to Indianola.

Minnie was born in Mississippi in 1869 to former slaves. She attended Fisk University, and initially set out to be a school teacher. After her return to Indianola in 1904, she and her husband opened a bank, the Delta Penny Savings Bank, only the second African-American owned bank in Mississippi.

Shortly thereafter (1908), Minnie and her husband started the Mississippi Beneficial Life Insurance Company, the first African-American owned life insurance company in Mississippi. This life insurance company and the bank were described by Minnie’s husband as “monuments of protest to the injustices inflicted upon him and his wife.”6

When Minnie’s husband passed away in 1916, Minnie immediately stepped into the leadership role of the bank and the insurance company, and began improving the company. She expanded the company to nearby states, added training programs, and organized and held district meetings for her agents. Despite significant hurdles, Minnie was a rousing success. She passed away in 1933. The company no longer exists today, but was swept away in a variety of acquisitions by larger insurance companies.

There is an excellent paper written by Shennette Garrett-Scott on the story of Minnie Geddings Cox and her life insurance company, and I am linking it here. I encourage everyone to give this a read – you will not be disappointed.

To know that in 1892, a woman started her own life insurance company, and in 1916, an African-American woman was running her own life insurance company, should give us considerable hope for the future. We need to talk about these women, celebrate these women and recognize all of the female role models we have in this industry.

As always, keep it positive and smile!

1: Anonymous. “Life Insurance – It Goes Back a Long Way.” Nation’s Business, Jan 1975, p. 24

2: Walford, Cornelius FIA (1885). History of Life Assurance in the United Kingdom. History of Life Assurance, Jan, 114-133

3: Jones, Bernie D. (2013). Revisiting the Married Women’s Property Acts. Journal of Gender, Social Policy & the Law, 22(1), 1-57

4: Anonymous. “Bina West: Founder of the Woman’s Life Insurance Society.” http://www.historyswomen.com/socialreformer/binawest.html Accessed 3 May 2018.

5: https://fee.org/articles/bina-west-miller-pioneer/

6: From the Mississippi Historical Society: http://www.mshistorynow.mdah.ms.gov/articles/421/minnie-geddings-cox-and-the-indianola-affair

Additional source on Bina West Miller:

From the Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame website: http://www.michiganwomenshalloffame.org/Images/Miller,%20Bina%20West.pdf

Additional source on Minnie Geddings Cox:

From blackpast.org: http://www.blackpast.org/aah/cox-minnie-m-1869-1933