Tornadoes ripped across Tennessee early March. The storms shredded buildings and buried people in piles of rubble. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey) Tornadoes ripped across Tennessee in early March. The storms shredded buildings and buried people in piles of rubble. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

In an industry built on predicting risk, not even the most sophisticated tech can help us forecast big weather events with 100% certainty. It follows that insureds are anxious about the damage they could sustain in a natural disaster.

At The Zebra, we recently conducted a survey to gauge consumer sentiment and behavior regarding weather events and insurance. We found that people are uninformed, under-prepared and worried about their ability to recover.

As we head into what could be a rougher-than-normal hurricane season paired with ongoing economic uncertainty, insurers face a mounting opportunity to provide consumer education that can help close the knowledge gap and reduce anxiety.

Worried about belongings

Seventy-five percent of survey respondents told us that they fear their homes, cars or other belongings could be damaged by a natural disaster in the next year. Despite their anxiety, many people remain unsure about the details of their insurance coverage.

Only one in four survey respondents was able to correctly identify which disasters their insurance policies covered, and almost half (42.5%) said they were worried they had inadequate or incorrect insurance to protect them in case of a natural disaster.

Twenty-nine percent admitted they didn’t exactly know what their car insurance covers.

Insurance learning curve

This isn’t new, but these findings do illuminate the opportunity that insurance professionals have to better equip policyholders to become less nervous about, and better prepared for, disasters if and when they do hit.

Here are some ways that insurance professionals can better aid their insureds:

Identify specific pain points. Our survey found that in the western United States, earthquakes are a chief concern. In the Midwest, it’s tornadoes; hurricanes in the South, and severe thunderstorms in the Northeast.

There are misconceptions nationwide about flood insurance. Consider that while 28% of respondents believed their property was covered, only 12% of condo owners and 18% of homeowners had purchased flood insurance.

Focus on what concerns policyholders. This is not only the most common or headline-grabbing events. Knowing what’s making your customers most anxious — and then offering them resources that can help them better understand these issues, how to prepare and what their policies cover — could go a long way in making them feel better prepared.

Encourage incremental fixes. Thinking about disasters can be overwhelming. It can cause some people so much anxiety that they’re rendered inactive. One in five survey respondents reported that they’d taken no steps to prepare for a severe storm or natural disaster. And another 20% reported having no emergency fund to help them recover from one.

Sometimes even the smallest of moves toward preparing for something as potentially damaging as a natural disaster — creating an emergency preparedness kit, socking away a few dollars per paycheck — can make people feel much more prepared to face the uncertain, and empowered to do even more to protect themselves. Share tips for how to make little changes; they could go a long way.

Meet people where they are. Provide “always-on” educational content that can help consumers learn more about their coverage before disaster strikes. You already know the importance of offering these materials in clear, easy-to-understand language, but make sure you’re also sharing it via a variety of media. Some people prefer to learn from video; others, printed materials; some may find it helpful to listen to a breakdown of common weather prep tips via podcast during their commute. Use multiple touchpoints all year long, not just during a particular season.

Let your human element shine during (and after) a disaster. Education isn’t just about prep work. And losing property or belongings during a weather event is, for the majority of those who experience it, largely uncharted territory; be sure you’re providing resources and support when people need them most. How can your claims department share information to aid those affected through a difficult time? Is it providing a list of local organizations, beyond your own, who can help immediately? Offering support as people look to rebuild in the immediate aftermath? Providing advice for how people can look toward the future? Resist the urge to flip to “all business mode”; a little humanity can go a long way.

The upshot: Eighty-one percent of survey respondents said they’d taken at least one step to prepare for a disaster — whether that was putting money aside to pay for repairs, assembling an emergency kit, or making home improvements to better protect their belongings. To me, this demonstrates a willingness to act on the anxiety about severe weather, by learning more about what policies cover and how to best prepare. And who better to provide that education than insurance professionals?

Jessica Scelzi is chief commercialization officer at The Zebra. To reach this contributor, send email to [email protected].

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