How consumers plan to respond to universal financial anxiety
Short-term protections are the priority.
The threats of the COVID-19 pandemic were felt quite close to home. Losing a loved one earlier than expected was the top concern for consumers worldwide, with 76% of overall respondents citing concern. Clearly, this was more than an economic crisis, though the financial stakes were high too. Financial well-being was the second-highest concern, cited by 73% of all respondents.
EY 2021 Global Insurance Consumer Survey76%
of respondents were concerned about losing a loved one earlier than expected.
Consumers around the world also have much in common in terms of their reaction to the pandemic. Three out of four (75%) anticipate making financial preparations in response to the pandemic. Specifically:
- 50% plan to save more
- 30% plan to develop emergency plans
- 23% plan to speak with a financial advisor
The implication is clear: nobody wants to be caught out like this again. Recovery and preparation for another crisis are the immediate priorities, rather than retirement or estate planning.
Significant percentages of respondents are interested in new types of insurance products. They expressed the greatest interest in policies that pay for hospitalization expenses (94% in emerging markets and 64% in developed markets are interested), followed by an add-on feature for life insurance that allows access to funds in case of emergencies (91% in emerging markets and 56% in developed markets are interested). They are also thinking about short-term income protection products, like insurance that funds college education plans or pays for credit card bills in the case of a job loss.
Compared to a similar study EY conducted in mid-2020, these findings show a remarkable consistency. Despite the hopeful signs in the late spring and early summer of 2021, financial worries do not look likely to abate anytime soon. Consumers are keenly interested in avoiding what we call “long financial COVID-19,” a sustained state of financial anxiety due to overall uncertainty and a sense of not being prepared for another highly disruptive event.
The intense impact on emerging markets and younger consumers
Financial distress drives new demand.
Our survey results quantify the varying financial impacts across markets. Consumers in emerging markets felt more severe impacts, but consumers in developed markets were not unscathed. In fact, significant proportions of the latter group dipped into savings or lost income.
Interestingly, consumer responses to financial distress show the differences across markets: 93% of respondents in emerging markets plan to make at least some type of financial preparation, compared to 61% in developed markets. About one in four, or 23%, of consumers in emerging markets plan to purchase new forms of insurance and nearly 42% plan to speak with their advisor about an emergency plan. The desire to prepare for future disruptions is surely prompting these actions.
It’s important to note how demographics correlate to these findings. Typically, emerging markets have younger populations, as reflected in our survey design. In emerging markets, 75% of the respondents were under the age of 45, compared to 35% in developed markets. Among our respondents, only 10% in emerging markets have more than $100k in investable assets, versus 37% for developed markets.
The varying levels of concern across different markets can also be attributed to the relative strength of healthcare systems, social safety nets and access to vaccinations. For instance, in emerging markets, where vaccination rates are considerably lower than in developed markets, concerns about losing a loved one and financial well-being were notably higher. That anxiety remains high more than a year after the onset of the pandemic speaks to the severity and extent of the psychological trauma.
The word cloud below includes the most common comments from our survey respondents in emerging markets, demonstrating the diversity and intensity of their fears. Facing threats of economic instability, along with increased crime and delinquency, this population may require even more protection of their assets
Our analysis of these findings confirms that there is a huge and largely underserved segment of the market that needs — and is ready to buy — new forms of protection. For example, 61% of respondents in emerging markets are interested in purchasing life insurance in response to the pandemic. Consumers in developed markets also want more life coverage, as evidenced by the significant uptick in sales and applications during the last year. Research and Markets1 estimates global life insurance market growth at 16.3% from 2020 to 2021.
EY 2021 Global Insurance Consumer Survey61%
of emerging market consumers were interested in purchasing life insurance in response to the pandemic.
It’s no surprise that the greatest opportunity is with the consumers most impacted by the pandemic, both health-wise and financially. Historically, this has been a tough market to serve profitably. But insurers should view the scope of the growth potential in terms of greatly expanded and intensified consumer interest in their products. The opportunity to bridge the protection gap and build lifelong customer relationships has never been greater.
A new wave of digitally savvy consumers emerges
Desire for new solutions in new ways.
In considering how to take advantage of the demand spike, insurers will of course consider the most cost-effective ways to serve consumers in emerging markets. In this sense, our survey presents good news in that this digitally savvy demographic vastly prefers online channels: 80% are likely to purchase health insurance and 73% are likely to purchase life insurance digitally. Nearly 60% prefer contacting their agents or brokers digitally.
Further, they are ready to share more data, with more than half of emerging markets respondents willing to share personal information in exchange for meeting savings goals or individual health-related goals. They are also open to new buying options — 47% are comfortable purchasing an embedded insurance policy from a healthcare firm or hospital chain.
To connect with these consumers, insurers will need stronger digital capabilities, in addition to accessible and affordable products. Those are the necessary elements to satisfy these customers efficiently and prepare for potential competition from healthcare firms. Insurers will also need to communicate more effectively, demonstrating that they understand what consumers have been through and what they need now.
Some forward-looking insurers are already taking steps in this direction. One Asian carrier developed a new policy with clearly defined benefits — coverage for up to three months of expenses in the case of a pandemic-related hospitalization.
The offering was targeted at younger consumers, with whom the carrier had limited previous engagement. The business case was founded on a few strategic principles: that the firm’s network of advisors would gain access to new customers, that these relationships could be expanded and grown profitably, and that the new offering aligned to the firm’s purpose of promoting financial security.
Our conversations with consumers highlight the demand for innovative products and distribution channels, along with strong customer relationships.
Why great values matter, along with great products
Social commitments count with consumers.
The pandemic, along with other events of the last year, advanced consumer interest in corporate social responsibility (CSR) and raised expectations about how companies contribute to society. A full 59% of consumers worldwide know their insurers’ CSR stance at least somewhat well, with consumers under the age of 45 more aware of social commitments. An average of 56% took at least some CSR-related action involving insurance or other financial products. Reputation is the most critical factor, with a quarter of respondents saying that they have chosen one insurance brand over another due to its CSR reputation.
Consumers in emerging markets are more actively engaged around CSR than their counterparts in advanced economies: 73% say they are aware of the social responsibility stance of companies they do business with, versus 48% in developed markets.
EY 2021 Global Insurance Consumer Survey73%
of emerging markets consumers were aware of their current insurance or financial company’s stance on CSR.
These numbers are consistent with our 2020 consumer survey findings, where we found the most financially impacted consumers are both highly concerned about social justice causes and place a greater value on an insurer’s social efforts in their purchasing decisions.
Other EY research supports these conclusions. The latest edition of the EY Future Consumer Index suggests 43% of global consumers want to buy more from organizations that benefit society, even if their products or services cost more. Nearly two-thirds, or 64%, are prepared to behave differently if it benefits society.
More and more, consumers are choosing brands that share their values, especially regarding urgent societal issues, including climate change, diversity and inclusion, and income inequality. By articulating a purpose beyond profits and amplifying their CSR efforts, insurers can gain traction with a socially active, energized audience. That their products can directly improve financial well-being and facilitate the transition to a greener economy demonstrates how insurers are uniquely positioned to show leadership and differentiate on CSR.
Insurers can live their purpose not just through new protections and solutions, but also by engaging consumers as real people and with genuine concern for their financial and overall well-being.
What’s next for insurers: implications and takeaways
The powerful effects of the pandemic will be felt for a long time, at both the level of the global economy and within individual human lives. The lockdowns and social isolation; the fear of contracting the virus and of losing a loved one; the disruption of jobs, careers and everyday activities; the yearning for a return to normalcy and greater financial security — these are the universal truths of the COVID-19 era. Insurers can respond and help people recover in meaningful ways.
1. Communicate with empathy to build trust: our research, along with other studies, provide a detailed understanding of the new challenges that consumers face, their interests in specific products and how they intend to prepare for future shocks. The first thing insurance companies need to do is show that they understand all the impacts — from financial to physical and mental health.
Next, carriers should connect to their customers on a human level, with warmth and empathy, acknowledging the trauma of the last year. Language matters, especially in the digital channels younger consumers prefer. A human touch is the prerequisite to building trust and becoming a partner in strengthening financial well-being.
2. Innovate around customer value: the huge demand for new protections and financial well-being solutions cannot be ignored after a decade of sluggish industry growth. It must be seized vigorously and creatively, with new solutions and distribution options closely aligned to consumer needs and preferences. The key is to provide relevant guidance and scalable solutions now that will help consumers navigate the pandemic’s lingering financial impact and restore their financial well-being.
3. Strategically engage younger consumers: personalized communications and new solutions are not only for mass affluent and high-net worth consumers. The pandemic opened a door to connect with younger and underserved consumers, a segment that insurers have long struggled to engage. It’s a moment of truth to introduce these individuals to the value of insurance as a means to prepare for future financial shocks and as the basis for long-term financial security. By providing relevant solutions now, insurers can lay the foundation for lifelong relationships.
4. Demonstrate purpose and commitment: many carriers showed their purpose in the immediate aftermath of the pandemic, offering premium discounts and holidays and supporting local communities. Going forward, all operations — starting with products, communications and customer interactions —must be infused with such purposeful commitment and humanity. By linking their products to their core values and purpose, insurers can demonstrate they are good corporate citizens sincerely invested in delivering the protections that individuals, communities and society need now.
To learn more about what our survey findings mean for your company’s product innovation and distribution strategies, please contact your local EY team.
Between May and August 2021, EY Global Insurance and EY QUEST surveyed 4,200 consumers in both developed (US, Canada, Japan, the Netherlands) and emerging (Brazil, South Africa, the Philippines) markets. The approximately 600 consumers in each country reflected the most recent estimates for age and gender distribution.
The objective was to gather insights about how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted consumers in terms of their:
- Financial security and well-being
- Concerns and interest in new insurance products
- Purchasing preferences and behaviors
- Awareness of corporate social responsibility
The 2021 research follows on a similar survey, conducted in mid-2020, of insurance consumers in the US, Canada, Italy, France and the UK. The findings from the previous research are available here.
Show article references#Hide article references
- “Life Insurance Global Market Report 2021: COVID-19 Impact and Recovery to 2030,” Research and Markets, accessed 29 August 2021.
As consumer needs continue to evolve, insurers can simultaneously provide protection to those in need, promote greater financial well-being and build stronger consumer relationships across markets.