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Drugs Trump Life Insurance in Parent-Child Conversations

“It’s hard to talk about dying, and that’s the natural place that talking about life insurance will go,” said Nancy Behrens, a vice president at State Farm who oversees product development and pricing. Photographer: Dana Neely/Getty Images
“It’s hard to talk about dying, and that’s the natural place that talking about life insurance will go,” said Nancy Behrens, a vice president at State Farm who oversees product development and pricing. Photographer: Dana Neely/Getty Images

Sept. 3 (Bloomberg) -- Parents in the U.S. would rather talk to their kids about drugs and alcohol than life insurance.

Just 38 percent of parents said they’re extremely comfortable talking about insurance, while 55 percent are fine discussing the intoxicants, according to a survey released today by State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co. Three in 10 parents said they’re extremely comfortable chatting about sex and puberty, or “the birds and the bees.”

“It’s hard to talk about dying, and that’s the natural place that talking about life insurance will go,” said Nancy Behrens, a vice president at State Farm who oversees product development and pricing. “It’s uncomfortable for people to have that conversation, maybe especially with their children.”

The findings highlight the challenge in selling a product that many consumers would prefer not to discuss. State Farm, the largest U.S. auto and home insurer, said it wants to spark a conversation with the survey results. The company already advertises its offerings in a commercial showing a father and daughter talking about providing for loved ones over the grave of a pet goldfish.

State Farm collected $3.87 billion in life-insurance premiums and was the 10th-largest provider of the coverage in the U.S. last year, according to data compiled by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners. MetLife Inc. is the biggest, with more than $16 billion in premiums.

Harris Interactive surveyed more than 2,000 U.S. adults over the Internet in June to compile the data for Bloomington, Illinois-based State Farm. About half of those who responded had kids.

No Coverage

About 30 percent of U.S. households lack life insurance, according to industry group Limra. Among the top reasons for not having life insurance are that people don’t have any dependents or are single, State Farm found. Forty percent of those without the coverage said they couldn’t afford it.

Life insurance may not be a high priority. About a quarter of those surveyed said they were very likely to adjust their budgets to make room for life-insurance payments. That compares with almost half who said they’d scrimp to afford cable television and Internet.

MetLife is working to make it easier for customers to purchase life insurance and interact with the company. Clients given good service may recommend the company to friends and relatives, Chief Executive Officer Steve Kandarian has said.

“We have very complicated products, and often times, for a good reason,” Kandarian said in May. “We sometimes made the experience more complicated, more difficult than it needs to be for our customers.”

Parents aren’t the only ones avoiding life-insurance talks. About three quarters of couples said they rarely or never discuss the coverage, amid stress from day-to-day money worries, State Farm found in a survey in 2010.

To contact the reporter on this story: Zachary Tracer in New York at ztracer1@bloomberg.net; Noah Buhayar in New York at nbuhayar@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Dan Kraut at dkraut2@bloomberg.net

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