Despite employing close to 150,000 people and protecting the financial security of more than 28 million people, Canada’s life and health insurance industry has trust issues.

According to a report by Environics Communications, which tracks Canadians’ trust in a range of leaders, organizations and information sources, just 28 per cent of Canadians trust life and health insurers to do what’s right for Canadians and society. This places insurers in the bottom two-thirds of the industries measured by the report, including automobile manufacturers, financial institutions, loyalty points programs and the telecommunications and cable industry.

What’s the reason for this lack of trust? While the report doesn’t probe the specific issues that affect trust in particular industries, in the case of life and health insurance, we believe the grudge factor of paying premiums for intangible benefits and stories of denied claims sensationalized by the media are both likely detractors. In addition, we believe the industry likely suffers from what Canadians don’t know about it, such as its contributions to employment, taxes, charitable organizations and infrastructure investment. The industry can address these trust detractors.

Read: Group benefits providers report: Insurers get a boost in the battle against fraud

If we believe Canadians aren’t getting the full picture of the life and health insurance industry, it’s helpful to start by looking at who they do trust. Notwithstanding popular accusations about fake news, Canadians rank the news media as the second most-trusted organization, just behind the not-for-profit industry. When it comes to sources they trust for information about a product, service, brand or organization, Canadians trust their own experience first, followed by a recommendation from someone they trust. But one notch down is editorial content, such as a story in a newspaper, on television or on the radio. When it comes to online sources, search engines are Canadians’ first choice, followed by the websites of traditional news outlets such as the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. or CTV. Only 27 per cent of respondents indicated they trust information shared by a company or organization on social media, but we see a different story when it comes to information shared on social media by a friend or family member. In that case, 42 per cent of Canadians trust it as a source.

Since 27 per cent of Canadians say they trust big business, companies should pay attention to the actions that matter most in driving trust in organizations. Perhaps not surprisingly, Canadians rank local job creation first, listed by 74 per cent (up from 69 per cent in 2016). Open and accessible communication by company leadership ranks second, listed by 71 per cent (up from 67 per cent last year). Third is Canadian ownership at 71 per cent (up from 64 per cent in 2016), while enjoyment of products or services (which includes customer experience) comes fourth, listed by 70 per cent.

Read: 2017 Group Benefits Providers Report: Insurers playing a role amid rising emphasis on mental health

We believe life and health insurance companies already do many of these things, so perhaps communication and customer experience are the areas that require more attention.

Here are some key trust-building tips for the life and health insurance industry:

  • The media is the message: Canadians continue to trust the traditional media, but word of mouth is even more important. That means positive media coverage is important, but creating compelling online content that people will share with their friends and family should be just as high a priority.
  • Segment the audiences: There are significant differences in how Canadians trust the life and health insurance industry. Women and new Canadians are more trusting and deserve attention.
  • Know the hot buttons: All industries need to understand the key issues the public is using as reference points to define that sector and determine if there’s a way to get ahead of those matters. For life insurance, for example, genetic testing has been in the news over the past couple of years and remains a hot button.

Read: Does this genetic testing bill threaten the insurance industry?

  • Play to what matters: When it comes to trust in organizations, there’s a clear ranking on what matters most to Canadians. These trust drivers present both natural and potential opportunities for insurance providers.
  • Choose partners strategically: The most-trusted organizations in Canada are not-for-profits groups. Seek opportunities to partner meaningfully with not-for-profit organizations and benefit from the halo effect.

Josh Cobden is senior vice-president of the corporate and financial practice at Environics Communications.

Copyright © 2018 Transcontinental Media G.P. Originally published on

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