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What would Steve Jobs do?

Ah, August, the dog days of summer. And what better way to catch a bit of relaxation than a lounge or hammock in the shade, some sweet iced tea and killer tunes on the iPod? Yet as I tap through my various playlist options, what I really want to know is whether the sound files are stored in MP3 or AAC format (or, heaven forbid, WMA)--last thing I need is a codec conflict, right?

Yeah, right. What it really comes down to, Mr. Jobs: I buy your device, you give me my tunes and no one gets hurt.

We all instinctively get this. For decades sales folks have heard, "They buy the sizzle, not the steak. Focus on benefits, not features." Or my personal favorite from way back in the '70s when I started as a John Hancock agent: "Last year Sears sold millions of 1/4-inch drill bits; yet no one wanted a drill bit, what they wanted was 1/4-inch holes."

So why does the world around us, including insurance, still seem determined to get it exactly backward?

For example, when the iPod appeared, tech pundits disdainfully dismissed it as yet more proof of Steve Jobs' long fall from his once true engineering genius to mere purveyor of popular tunes. How sad that his little white gimmick would soon crash and burn in the marketplace, easily swept aside when the truly intelligent users realized under all that style was simply an "inferior" MP3 player. Wait until they saw the newest model from Creative or Sony!

When Windows and Apple first introduced graphical interfaces, the masters of all things ASCII howled that anyone who preferred clicking on "cute little pictures" to the ability to crank a slash-filled execution statement directly into the DOS prompt command line must be an illiterate sheep unworthy of access to the wonders of the computer world.

These are but two of the ongoing confrontations in between "intelligent purists" and "ignorant laypeople." Remember "Windows versus OS2"? "VHS versus Betamax"? "Hulk Hogan versus The Ultimate Warrior"? And lest we forget, an insurance equivalent: "risk of loss versus policy language"?

Just like the engineers and programming geeks in the tech world, our industry often seems to award the highest levels of esteem to the master of the mundane, the policy wordsmith extraordinaire and the coverage interpretation guru. From our pre-licensing and CE courses to our most exalted designation programs, the clear if not sole emphasis is on mastering coverage technicalities. If Descartes had been an insurance philosopher, his famous phrase no doubt would have come down to us as "I know exclusions, therefore I am."

Full disclosure requires I admit to some contribution to this state of affairs. Heck, I like mucking about in the coverage details. For me, a new and creative drop-down provision may elicit a quiet moment of analytical pleasure commensurate with a child stumbling upon a heretofore unexpected cloud of summer fireflies. Why, I've even been known to wax poetic over the implications of the Civil Authority provisions within the business income form--and not the one including extra expense either, baby!

But fortunately in an earlier life I was blessed with years as an agent, actually tasked with selling said highly complex and technical products and services to mere laypeople possessing little of the secret knowledge of the mystic forms. My frustrations with the great unwashed public grew ever greater as I spent far too much time dashing myself against the often E&O-seminar-inspired "careful and complete explanation of all key policy provisions" rocks to so many obviously uninspired and uncaring ingrates. Didn't they understand how crucial understanding why a water well-drilling rig is mobile equipment and not an auto, even if permanently attached to a Ford pickup? How the unawareness of such a critical detail had the potential to wreak real havoc with the coordination of coverages between their BAC and CGL, to say nothing of their excess layers? Until, of course, ISO changed the auto and CGL policy definition to say it was an auto, depending upon the licensing, compulsory liability, financial responsibility or other motor vehicle insurance laws affecting its state of licensing or principal garaging. Seriously, prospective clients, you need to clear your schedule for the greater part of the month, because I haven't even gotten to the sections on subcontractor exceptions to the "your work" exclusion, unless the carrier has eliminated that exception through the seemingly mandatory "optional" endorsement. And impaired property will rock your world!

Finally, my brain coalesced the vapors of consumer reality and the truth dawned: with few exceptions, they really didn't give a rip about all that technical geek speak. Basically I kept trying to interest them in how to build an iPod, when all they wanted was a clean, easy way to get to their tunes.

Don't misread me and think I'm saying that the detail and complexity is unimportant. It matters a great deal, but only as a means to an end--mitigating or eliminating the risk of loss.

Take our computer geeks. They seem to assume that people who can't appreciate the technicalities are stupid or unworthy of making the proper choices, and thus mere babes set to be taken by the swindlers and con artists. "Linux rules, Windows drools!" is their cry.

Quite the contrary. Users and consumers may be the only ones who truly understand that great architecture and technical achievement only matter when they deliver something of value. And value is always in the eye of the beholder. What Steve Jobs seems to have mastered is the ability to see what a user will value, and then create a company that can master the technical details to deliver that experience. As another example, I only care about the building materials and the talent it took to build my home in relation to how much it makes me happy to live here. I don't have to know anything about construction skill sets to understand that drafty doors, leaking pipes and shoddy workmanship lead to pain, expense and misery.

Note this also encompasses the "it's all just price" mantra heard everywhere these days. If true, how does Apple consistently charge more--in many cases significantly more--for devices the technical "experts" often rate as equal, or even inferior to, other similar products, and still be so successful? "Hype or consumer ignorance!" claim the technocrats. "I love the way this is a thing of beauty and just works!" responds the consumer, as they open their wallets for the latest and greatest.

For example, wireless phone companies almost universally offer deeply discounted phones only in exchange for a 2- year agreement. You want a new phone before the agreement is up? Then pay full price or pay a significant penalty. But when Apple introduced the new iPhone, AT&T was hit by tsunami of demand from current customers to allow an immediate upgrade or suffer the consequences. Result? AT&T did the unthinkable (for phone companies) and caved.

When was the last time an ISO forms revision created a flood of clients rushing to your doors, filling your e-mail or crashing your Facebook page demanding an immediate upgrade to the newest versions, even if midterm in the policy period? Yeah, that's what I thought.

Bottom line: Somewhere between those who are incredibly talented in technical coverage and policy language analysis creating great coverage scenarios few will understand enough to buy, and great sales people who terrorize E&O underwriters by pushing whatever sells, lies a dream. That in our industry are those like Jobs, who can claim that middle ground with the best of both worlds: the ability to connect with what the consumer wants (protection from financial loss), and sufficient grasp of the technical details to deliver it. It is the ability to take every policy language detail, whatever its complexity, and answer the most basic of all consumer questions: "So what?"

If we can use our technical prowess to answer that question, in the words of Queen, "We are the champions, my friend!" If, however, we are seduced by our industry's incessant focus on coverage detail into thinking mastery of same is somehow the point, then we risk our perhaps vast knowledge being best described by Shakespeare: "Full of sound and fury, and signifying nothing."

Speaking of Led Zeppelin versus Blue Cheer, back to the iPod. Rock on!

By CHRIS AMRHEIN, AAI, president, Amrhein and Assocs.

Chris Amrhein, AAI, is an insurance educator and speaker with more than 30 years in the industry. He also is chief fun officer of and author of "Yes, Virginia, There is Insurance." Contact Amrhein at
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Title Annotation:Policy Issues
Author:Amrhein, Chris
Publication:American Agent & Broker
Date:Aug 1, 2010
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