During the last year, we have faced unprecedented challenges and proven adaptive and resilient beyond what we once thought possible.
We have also developed a new sense of urgency about confronting longstanding social and economic challenges, many of which were ever more starkly exposed by the lethal coronavirus. As major crises tend to do, the pandemic accelerated changes that were occurring gradually, and we must now capitalize on the positive changes and embrace the progress we have seen. With global vaccine rollouts allowing us to look cautiously ahead to a life with fewer limitations, what lessons and experiences from the past year will endure and prove beneficial?
I see four major trends shaping the life insurance and retirement landscape.
First, necessity often breeds innovation. For AIG Life & Retirement, as for many companies, the pandemic showed us that we can mobilize quickly to innovate on behalf of customers. We can work well as a team even when we’re physically distant from each other and from our clients. Virtual consultations and e-signatures are becoming the norm — a necessary and positive development for customers craving ease and simplicity.
This progress required a lot of collaboration between clients, plan sponsors, financial professionals, and regulators — and we shouldn’t backtrack. We should keep pushing innovation forward by working together to respond to long-term behavioral changes in the marketplace and continue to make our products and services more accessible and affordable.
Second, the pandemic’s disproportionate impact on underserved racial and ethnic groups further exposed the structural inequalities in the way Americans work and live. While many have been fortunate enough to continue working fairly normally during this time — even amid increased childcare demands and health concerns — other workers have not been so lucky.
Thankfully, firms in every sector are making stronger, more concrete commitments on diversity, equity and inclusion to ensure better access to professional opportunities for women and people of color. For example, the American Council of Life Insurers last year launched an initiative to advance economic empowerment and racial equity. The initiative focuses on four areas: Expanding access to affordable financial security protection in underserved markets; advancing D&I within companies and on corporate boards; tackling economic empowerment through financial education and expanding investments in underserved communities.
In addition, a coalition of seven insurance industry organizations has launched an initiative called Help Protect Our Families, which aims to “close the protection gap” by addressing the life insurance needs of the 60 million Americans who aren’t currently covered. These efforts, along with insurance products that help workers achieve retirement security, have the potential to bridge racial wealth gaps and make a tangible difference in the lives of people who have, for too long, felt left out of America’s financial and economic success.
Third, governments have an extremely important role to play in reducing economic insecurity and there is more work to do. While the economy has been more resilient than many expected, we’re still facing trillions in new debt, widespread economic hardship and the daunting challenge of winding down massive stimulus packages at a careful pace. Whichever way we tackle this, it is vital that both parties work together to avoid curtailing innovation or negatively impacting the investments that many retirees rely on.
Bipartisan proposals currently under consideration in Congress, collectively referred to as “SECURE 2.0,” can build on the progress achieved in 2019 with the SECURE Act. Among other important provisions in the proposals, one would allow employers to “match” an employee’s student loan payments with contributions to the employee’s retirement account. This would be an important development for younger workers who need to begin building financial security.
Fourth, the future of financial services and advice is evolving, and the very nature of the relationship between clients and their financial professionals is permanently changing. We think this is for the better.
A study last year from AIG Life & Retirement and MIT AgeLab asked people about the ways in which people’s expectations of their financial professionals are changing. While trusted, successful financial transactions are a prerequisite for client satisfaction, investors — particularly younger investors — now expect their financial professionals to help them access information or resources around broader topics. These include health and future care, housing, future goals and aspirations, work and career transitions and more. We also saw an uptick in the frequency with which clients and their financial professionals interacted, particularly among the younger generation.
This last year has reminded us that opportunities can arise even in the most difficult circumstances and that together we can overcome these challenges. We have every opportunity to learn from this experience and look back upon it as a catalyst to achieve long-term, sustainable and far-reaching positive change.
Kevin Hogan is executive vice president and chief executive officer of Life and Retirement at AIG.
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