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'Sorry, we don't have time for questions'


If you were asked to attend career day at a local elementary school to try and explain what an insurer does, where would you begin?

Would you start by telling them that insurance is a global industry that protects people and businesses from financial ruin due to unforeseen risks? You could, sure, but the rest of your presentation would be greeted by dozens of glazed-over eyeballs, some drooling, a few thuds from heads hitting desks and maybe a spitball whizzing past your head.

Remember, you likely are also competing for their hearts and minds with other parents, who may be dentists, firefighters, bullfighters, molecular biologists and plaintiffs attorneys.

Would you capture the imagination of these young minds with a PowerPoint presentation on how mathematics is the foundation of actuarial science, which helps insurers assess risk and establish premiums? Bo-ring. For a few minutes, you could perhaps dazzle them with some actuarial parlor tricks like predicting the life span of members of the audience, based on their current rate of consumption of Happy Meals or time spent on the monkey bars during recess or the number of vaccine booster shots they have received in their young lives? But basing your presentation on when the audience is statistically likely to die is probably not going to get you an invitation back to the classroom.

You could try to win them over to insurance by asking them if they've ever seen a talking gecko or a squawking duck on TV, but then you'd be faced with the prospect of a few hands raised in earnest, by kids who want to know how insurers trained these animals to speak and if the insurance industry has any other talking animals.

Perhaps you could cut to the chase and talk about claims, and how insurance pays for things like medical care when someone is hospitalized. But no doubt more than a few kids have overheard their parents muttering darkly about HMO claims hassles and will describe those conversations with near-perfect recall to the delight of their classmates and the embarrassment of you. Awkward.

If the facts of how insurance works are too challenging to deliver in an exciting and engaging way, you could instead try to scare the wits out of them.

Provide a dramatic description of the danger and destruction caused by natural catastrophes, such as the forces an F4 tornado applies to an average mobile home, the effect of black ice on a highway during rush hour, or tell what happened in New Orleans when Katrina overwhelmed the city's levees and resources.

Describe the consequences of having a job that does not provide health insurance when one becomes seriously ill. Or what might happen if someone trips over their toys littering the sidewalk and mommy and daddy didn't buy enough liability insurance.

This approach might be satisfying when you finally have their undivided attention, but when the crying starts and the nightmares follow, you could find yourself the target of unwanted parental attention.

You could keep it simple and say that insurers are there to pay people for a new home after it is destroyed by a fire or toxic mold, or when a car is damaged in a crash or stolen. It's simple and may convey the basics of insurance claims, but it might also start these children down a false path toward the belief that insurance means a free check, without any responsibility on their part--such as copayments, deductibles, a duty to try to avoid such losses and higher premiums after a loss. Probably better not to sugar coat things at an early age, lest it come back later to haunt the industry with a generation of irresponsible and unrealistic policyholders.

It's a difficult situation, and one I am thankful not to be in. Maybe the best approach is to volunteer to take the last slot on career day and then describe how not one of the other parents could do their jobs without insurance: The dentist, the lawyer (especially the lawyer), the pilot, the journalist, the firefighter and, yes, even the teacher would not have a job without the insurance that your profession provides.

Dazzle the kiddies with the power of insurance and, if you're lucky, none of them will ask for details.