It's always encouraging to read about what insurers are doing to enhance their public image, especially when stories of the opposite nature are more common. For that reason, I was pleased to read about Allianz Life's $600,000 commitment to financial literacy as part of a partnership with Junior Achievement. There is nothing new about this kind of activity, but social media creates new opportunities for spreading the news more effectively than in the past.
Education for basic financial competence is desperately needed, so Allianz Life is sponsoring something truly important and useful. Also, while I've spoken in terms of public image, a contribution of $600k is a real contribution, not a mere gesture.
No sooner had I read about Allianz Life's effort, I read about a the New York Life Foundation's donation of $750,000 to a humanitarian cause:
The New York Life Foundation today announced $750,000 in support to 21 organizations serving grieving children across the country. The grants will be given over a two-year period and range from $10,000 to $100,000. This is the second year of the Foundation’s Grief Reach Program where support is given to grief providers to expand their services to reach diverse and disadvantaged youth across the country.
Reports of such acts of generosity, humanity and corporate good citizenship no doubt reach influential people close to the efforts, and press releases may be picked up by the occasional news outlet. However, insurance companies can reach a wider audience by tweeting and reporting through company social media sites — and even by employees, such as company volunteers to Allianz Life's Junior Achievement partnership, when company policy and regulatory compliance requirements permit.
Furthermore, to the extent that community outreach efforts are ongoing, they may provide good material to be tweeted, posted and blogged about as they develop. For example, Allianz Life's communications professionals or volunteers could report on their interaction with students in ways that respect those students' privacy.
Insurers should not be afraid to interact robustly with critics about these or other activities who may see such efforts in a more cynical light. The insurance industry often gets a bad rap because it's social function is poorly understood. More honest and open interaction with the public can help to address this deficit — provided competent professionals are entrusted with the communication.