Insurance Academy

Please Stop Speaking Insurance

By | July 11, 2018

There are a lot of reasons that consumers don’t like insurance. Sorry, but you know that it’s the truth. If you think about it from before your insurance days, you already know why people don’t like to buy insurance. They are the same reasons that certain companies market to price, and others market to simplicity.

One major reason that people don’t like insurance is because they don’t understand it. There are three ways that we don’t help much. We aren’t very helpful when we don’t know the policy. We are even less helpful when we don’t know the policy and we’re too embarrassed to admit it, so we make stuff up. One other way that we don’t help much is when we know the policy, but we can’t explain it in clear, plain language.

Let’s talk about words.

Words are important. If it weren’t for words, you wouldn’t be reading this blog today. Enough of that. We all know that words are important. I spend a great deal of time thinking through what I’m going to write. It may be on blog day, promo day, or just writing an email any day. I concentrate so hard on what I’m writing that I actually have to change playlists on my phone when I’m writing anything longer than a short response or request email.

Like it or not, we speak a different language in insurance. We talk about deductibles, retentions, exclusions, dec pages, and other insurance words that no one else uses. There’s actually a cool word for that. Do you know what it is? Yep, jargon is the one that most of us think of. Good thought. I like that answer a lot, but I like another answer more.

Gobbledygook (yep, it’s a real word)

That’s my favorite word from high school English. Here’s the definition from “language characterized by circumlocution and jargon, usually hard to understand.”

Isn’t that a fantastic word? I like it too. That’s what people hear when we use insurance speak. It reminds me of a personal injury lawyer’s commercial where a patient asks her doctor a question. The doctor’s answer is priceless, “Mumbo jumbo. Mumbo jumbo. Mumbo jumbo.” So, when you start talking about the concurrent causation exclusions on your customer’s policies, that’s what they hear, “Mumbo jumbo. Mumbo jumbo.”

Putting the donuts where they can get them…

I learned an important principle in the Army. Whenever I received a new piece of equipment, I would get what you could call the user’s manual. Every end user manual that I ever read was written at about a third-grade reading level. This was so that everyone could read, understand, and put their equipment to use.

You don’t have to speak at a third-grade level to your customers. That might get you hit in the mouth. You do have to speak to people in a way that they can understand. I don’t mean that we talk down to people, but you have to understand that your experience, licensing, training, and daily conversation all make it so that you speak differently than your customers do. Your customer knows what you’re talking about when you mention their deductible, but what they don’t get is that their new homeowners’ policy has a 25% increased ordinance or law limit.

What’s wrong with telling them that they have some extra coverage if the city says that they need to upgrade their house’s electrical system (or HVAC or plumbing) because their house is 25 years old and the building code has been updated since the house was built? One of the biggest parts of our job (as insurance people) is as a babel fish. We get to translate the insurance gobbledygook into the plain, simple English that we all speak.

Can I be really straightforward for a second? Is that ok? No one cares how smart you are. They care if their stuff is going to be replaced. They care that you’re getting them the best deal to protect their stuff the best way possible. They care that you care enough to make sure that they understand.

Where do you start?

You have to understand how to read a policy. That means the you really need to do two big deal things. First, spend time reading policies. It doesn’t have to be all day, every day. I mean, how would want to do that, right? OK, I really would, but not for long, just a week or two. Spend some time reading the policies that you commonly use and when you read, ask questions. Ask your peers, your supervisor, or a claims person what it means. By the way, there’s no shame in looking up words, either. I do it.

The other thing you should do is spend time learning how to read policies. Whether that’s a class that gives you a general idea how to read a policy or it’s a class on how to read a specific policy, you should spend time with someone explaining policies to you. The classroom is a great place to learn how to read a policy. Take notes. Ask questions. Ask the question that you think might be simple. You’d be surprised how many other people want to know the same thing. Reading insurance policies takes practice.

Learning to translate.

As you learn to read policies, you’ll start to get used to the language. Once you’re used to the language, you can translate it into terms that are useful for your customers. Again, we don’t have to make it understandable for a 7-year-old, but we do have to make it understandable for a small business person, or a 20-year-old college student who is buying auto insurance for the first time.

By the way, it’s worth noting that more people are starting small businesses without a college degree now today. People are taking their hobbies and passions and are learning to make money at them. People are skipping college and jumping into entrepreneurship.

It’s also important to know that there is a generation that is starting to buy their first homes, start their families, and get into professions that have a different language that they use on a regular basis. They need insurance speak translated into something that they understand.

The work never ends.

You’re going to have to keep it up. Once you start reading policies, keep reading them. Once you start translating insurance, keep doing it. Policies change from time to time. New policies are published by any and all carriers that you work with. New customers come in, looking for a new coverage. You never know it all. You will never run out of things to learn about.

About Patrick Wraight

Patrick Wraight, CIC, CRM, AU, is director of Insurance Journal's Academy of Insurance. He can be reached at

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