Not long ago, a newsletter from an insurance agency landed in my email in box. The content in the newsletter appeared to be targeted at the agency’s personal lines clients. The article was all about coverage issues, which I think is a good thing. I’m all for trying to get insurance consumers to focus on the product they’re buying instead of how much they’re paying for it. The gecko and my gal Flo do plenty to emphasize the size of the premium. When independent insurance agents speak with their clients about coverage, they are doing the industry and the public a favor.
Unfortunately, this newsletter missed the mark. The more times I read it, the more I saw it as an example of what not to do. The author’s intentions were good; the execution was not. If your agency publishes a client newsletter, or regularly communicates with clients in some other way (which you should,) then here are some things to keep in mind:
Avoid using irrelevant terms. The article’s title was When is damage considered an act of God? It describes what it calls “Common Acts of God” exclusions. Are there common “acts of God” exclusions? I just did word searches in the following Homeowners policy forms:
The phrase “act of God” does not appear in any of them. In fact, the word “God” is not in any of them.
Why confuse the matter by using a phrase that’s not in the policy? It just makes people ask, “What do you mean by ‘act of God’?” Better to just say, “Your policy covers a lot of events, but it doesn’t cover everything. Here’s what you need to know.”
If it’s not something that will affect your clients, don’t bring it up. The article states:
"Losses from a hurricane or severe wind or hail storm are often covered by insurance (except for losses associated with flooding), but there may be wind damage deductibles to mitigate the high risk from these catastrophic events.”
This is true on its face. However, this agency is located not far from Rochester. Its geographic area is hundreds of miles from the Atlantic coast. Its clients do not have a hurricane exposure. In addition, the New York State Department of Financial Services has approved insurers’ use of windstorm deductibles only in the Long Island counties, New York City other than Manhattan, and Westchester County. In short, this agency’s clients have to worry about neither hurricanes nor windstorm deductibles. If that’s the case, why mention them at all?
Lay off the industry jargon. After telling the reader that a Homeowners insurance policy may not cover “acts of God,” the author wrote:
"This is why it is important to check which perils are covered and which are excluded from your homeowners policy. In certain instances, you may purchase additional coverage for an excluded peril.”
Quick – call a friend or relative who does not work in the insurance industry. Ask him what “excluded” and “peril” mean in the insurance world. I can wait.
He didn’t know, right? “Excluded” and “peril” have special meanings in the context of insurance policies. Most clients do not speak insurance jargon. An agency that wants to communicate effectively with clients must meet them where they are. The author should have said, “This is why it is important to find out what causes of damage your homeowners policy covers and which ones it does not. In some cases, you may be able to buy extra insurance to cover more causes of loss.” Those are words the average person can understand.
I suspect that the agency licensed this article from a company that publishes newsletter articles. That would explain the mention of windstorm deductibles in an upstate newsletter. If your agency licenses ghost-written articles, review them carefully. In the end, it’s your newsletter, and you have the right to modify the content to suit your audience. If the license for the article does not allow you to do that, find another source of newsletter articles or write the articles yourself.
Newsletters are a great way to build relationships with your clients. Well-written articles can educate and enlighten consumers about products that most of them find mysterious. Poorly-written articles may raise more questions than they answer. Keep your articles short, clear and easy for non-insurance people to understand. They might just prevent some confusion when someone makes a claim.