In today's uncertain economy more married women have found themselves thrust into the role of breadwinner as their husbands encounter job loss or a drop-off in pay. Moreover, many of these working women are highly compensated decision makers.

When selling disability insurance, advisers need a marketing strategy that connects with them effectively. "Targeted marketing around [disability insurance] has been pretty generic, and this has all occurred at a time where more and more women are in the workforce - and more importantly, they are in significant positions of responsibility and are earning more income," says Thomas Klett, VP of disability business development for American General Life Companies.

When selling disability insurance to women, Klett urges brokers to begin by looking at demographics: There are more women in the workforce today, and they are in positions with greater responsibility and pay, which meets the profile of an individual who needs disability coverage.

Missed opportunity

Klett feels that the industry as a whole has missed opportunities to target disability coverage specifically to women - and more importantly, to highly compensated women.

Typically, he notes, women purchase disability insurance more than men do. In many instances a female employee is the family's breadwinner and her partner is relying on her to provide not just the preponderance of compensation, but benefits as well.

"I think women in the workforce - particularly in higher-level positions - face a lot of challenges that men don't experience. Also, they are more tuned into policies for themselves and their families' needs," says Klett.

With women making up a larger portion of the workforce and serving in more senior positions, marketing techniques must change, Klett believes. "I think there has been kind of an ignorance of this change and the fact that women are the buyers of a lot of this stuff," he says.

What kind of changes? Says Klett, "Advertise to women, find what gets their attention. They are smart and will ask, 'Is this something I need?' Then take it from there. That is where the gap exists today."

The role of the trusted adviser is key, according to Barry Petruzzi, vice president of Guardian's group benefits division. "There are a lot of different types of policies from a number of companies so it's good to have someone walk through the similarities and differences of the plans," Petruzzi says.

Maternity leave

In both the individual and group disability insurance markets, brokers have not been effective in terms of really focusing on women's unique needs and roles, Klett believes. In the group market especially, one thing that the industry has overlooked is short-term disability.

Klett also cites the opportunity for "doing something interesting" in the way brokers use maternity claims.

For example, the circumstances surrounding maternity disability claims are completely different than in other disability events, Klett notes.

"Many women decide not to come back after they have a child. But many others do make an effort to go back to work, and there's less of a transition there than you would find with a different condition," he says.

Education is key

Klett points out that sometimes a successful sale may not be a result of how the product that advisers are selling is designed, but how the message is communicated to plan participants.

When selling disability insurance, advisers have to realize that education is everything. "There isn't nearly the knowledge surrounding disability insurance that there should be," Petruzzi says.

More education is needed - especially when dealing with employee-paid voluntary plans.

"It's very understandable that throughout their day women think about their families, their jobs and their paychecks. When it comes to health care they think first about their medical insurance, then dental and life, but in reality what they need to insure is their income. That should be higher than any other need they have. People don't necessarily understand that," says Petruzzi.

If a costly medical issue arises, people who do not have disability insurance might have to sell their house or turn to a line of credit. Thus, insuring the head of household's income should be a top priority. But employees "don't want to think about that," says Petruzzi.

"If you're 25 years old, there's about a three in 10 chance that you will be disabled for more than three months before you reach age 65," he says. Typically the coverage costs a plan participant $4 to $5 a week for a policy that covers them for years. Advisers can compare this to the cost of one gourmet coffee a week. "The cost really isn't that significant given the protection it provides," he adds.

Multi-life approach

Sean Dauber, senior vice president at Medical Arts Insurance in Orland Park, Ill., prefers the multi-life approach when selling to highly compensated women.

"I am a big advocate of multi-life enrollments for white collar professionals," Dauber says. This can be particularly attractive for women "not only due to the multi-life discount, but also because the multi-life structure creates unisex rates and therefore both females and males are rated under one sex-distinct format."

This can generate substantial savings for women. To illustrate the savings, Dauber points out that under multi-life enrollment, 35 year olds who receive a 25% monthly unisex discount would save $220.91. Without the unisex discount, monthly premiums for men (with an 18% discount) would be $269.98. But women can take advantage of a 45% discount and save $402.50.

Better tools needed

Although women are very receptive to coverage, they may need better educational resources and tools to help them make informed decisions, according to a study by the Council for Disability Awareness. Women in their 20s view planning as important, the study found, and are more likely to admit they need help understanding disability insurance coverage.

The study, "Worker Disability Planning and Preparedness," found that 25% of women compared to 16% of men are likely to say they do not understand the disability program well. Overall, about half of employees say they understand their long-term disability plans "somewhat well."

Enrollment materials are important too. For example, employers in the education and health care markets tend to have a higher proportion of women. During the enrollment process at employers in those markets and others where women play a more significant role in the workforce, Guardian frequently uses personalized information and tools, according to Petruzzi.

In particular, enrollment materials have to be easy to read and understand, says Barry Lundquist, president of the Council for Disability Awareness, in a Guardian-sponsored Web seminar. "Meeting with plan participants face to face will promote you and drive home the need for benefits and help with personalization," he says.

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