Is pet insurance worth the cost? Do you need renters insurance if you're the one renting your home to someone? Is it normal to have trust issues around life insurance agents?
These are the kinds of insurance questions the guys at Listen Money Matters had, so they invited our CEO Jennifer Fitzgerald on their podcast to provide some expert answers.
In addition to answering those questions, Jennifer explains how disability insurance works and talks about why it makes financial sense to go through a broker when shopping for life insurance.
If you're a complete newbie when it comes to shopping for insurance, this podcast is a great place to start.
You can listen to the full episode here, or read the transcript below.
Listen Money Matters
Inside PolicyGenius with Jennifer Fitzgerald
Transcript [starting at 3:13]
Matt: Today we have Jennifer Fitzgerald on the show and she is from PolicyGenius.com. So Jennifer, how are you today and what are you drinking?
Jennifer: I'm great. At the moment, I'm just drinking water. I just had a large cold brew coffee, which I didn't know was hyper-caffeinated, so my hands were shaking for about 10 minutes.
Matt: Oh really?
Andrew: It's perfect for podcasting though, right?
Matt: A large cup of cold brew coffee is perfect.
Jennifer: Exactly. Especially if you're talking about insurance.
Matt: Yes. Got to make it exciting somehow, right?
Matt: I want to talk about policygenius.com, because I...when you first log on...it's like I said, it's a beautiful site. And what is the...what are you trying to get with this site? What is the idea behind it?
Jennifer: So the idea is to make insurance more friendly, more digital and just more 21st century. Most insurance is still sold face to face by agents. Which, most people don't manage their financial lives like that anymore. So we wanted to bring it online. Make it more approachable, plain English, nice design. And you know, just in line with how you do the rest of your financial life. So that's what our objective was in designing and creating all the content around PolicyGenius and for all of the products we have on our platform.
Matt: Right and you guys...I'm looking at the site now and you deal with different types of insurance. So we have done an episode on life insurance. But we have never done episodes on pet insurance or renters insurance or disability insurance. You guys kind of do it all.
Jennifer: Yes. So we started with those 4 products, 4 products most young people generally need and that, before our site, were difficult to have a good experience shopping online. We will probably add more in the future, but those are the products we have right now on the platform.
Matt: So walk us through the process of like, let's say somebody is looking for life insurance because we know we get a lot of questions about life insurance. And yes, you said that most of it is done face to face. And I know of, I have a friend of mine who he did, he sold life insurance for a very long time. Mostly to the elderly. So how does this, you know, when is it a good time to get life insurance? Let's just talk about that for a second, because I want to get into the other areas. But when is it a good time to get life insurance? How easy is this to use? What is the process? Where do I even start? Who qualifies or who needs it?
Jennifer: Sure. So it's a great question. Not everybody needs life insurance. We will get that out of the way. You typically need life insurance when there would be, not to be morbid about it, somebody would be affected if you were to die, right? So you...
Matt: Yes, right.
Jennifer: That is typically when you have a dependent spouse or you have a kid. You incur some big debt like a mortgage. That's typically the trigger that gets people to think about life insurance and that is generally when you need life insurance.
Matt: Right. And then, how does your service go through that? You guys don't offer life insurance. You are not a life insurance company.
Jennifer: No, we are not a company. So we don't have any branded policies. We help you navigate the policies the top life insurance companies out there. We have like Metlife on our platform, Prudential, and all the life insurance companies you're familiar with. We are an independent broker, so we can help you find the best policy of the ones on the market.
Matt: Can you book through your guys? Like can you sign up through the site?
Jennifer: Yes. So and then what happens...so you are looking for life insurance, you have no idea where to start. For all our products, we have a navigator that guides you through the decision-making process. So for life insurance, you have no idea how much you need. We've got a handy navigator that walks you through all the decision points. If you have kids, we capture the ages of your kids. If you are married, if you have debt, what your assets look like, because all of that affects how much life insurance you should get. And then we look at all the facts and then it also suggests how long you need life insurance for. And then from there we collect health information because that really determines the price and the rate that you qualify for life insurance.
Matt: Yes. It is like a wizard. It is like a whole walkthrough system.
Jennifer: Exactly. You guys have used TurboTax?
Jennifer: We like to call ourselves the TurboTax of insurance.
Matt: Yes. I really like this. And you can book. I say book like it's an AirB&B. You can buy the life insurance policies directly through the site and is there...can you sign in and kind of manage everything through that?
Jennifer: Yes. So what happens with life insurance, you know you can't really buy right away. You have to apply for it and then go through underwriting, typically. So that process typically takes a couple of weeks. You might need to take a quick medical exam. Which is paid for by the insurance company. So it is not an immediate transaction like you are buying an investment. It will take a couple of weeks, but we manage that process and try to make it as easy as possible for the person.
Matt: I see. I like that, but I can tell you right now...Andrew, do you have life insurance?
Andrew: I do have life insurance.
Matt: Through your work, though?
Andrew: Yes, through my work.
"What the #@$!%! is pet insurance?"
Matt: See, I don't have life insurance, mainly because I have no dependents. It is just me. So I don't need life insurance. But you guys offer other insurance bits and the one that jumped at me, I actually have these other 2 insurances. I...no, I'm sorry. I do have a pet. He does not live with me anymore, but that was definitely something the vet offered. So what the hell is pet insurance and is it like health insurance for your dog or cat?
Jennifer: That's exactly what it is.
Jennifer: Yes. You know vet bills can be expensive and so pet insurance is to help defray the cost of vet bills. It is similar in a lot of aspects to human health insurance. The big difference is you can use whatever licensed vet that you want, so there is not any complicated networks. So you take your dog to the vet if they are sick or they had an accident. You pay the bill and then you submit that to the pet insurance company as a claim. And you can get reimbursed depending on the plan that you picked, up to 90% of the vet bill cost.
Matt: What's the typical amount per month for pet insurance?
Jennifer: It depends on the features you select and the breed of the dog. The average cost for a insurance policy for a dog is about $37 a month.
Matt: Holy shit. Are you serious?
Jennifer: Yes. Does that seem high or low to you?
Matt: That seems incredibly...like, I take my dog to the vet once a year. To get his shots or whatever.
Jennifer: The thing about pet insurance, it is you buy it for the worst case scenario. Just in case right? Most of that suggests that for life-saving care, the minimum cost for that is typically 3, 4, 5 thousand dollars. So pet insurance is really designed to prevent what is called "economic euthanasia," where the cost is so high to save your pet's life, you might think about putting your pet down because you can't afford it. That can easily run several thousand dollars for live-saving care. A lot of people will pay it. Pet insurance is really designed for that, rather than the routine of taking them to get a vaccine or for their annual check up.
Matt: Oh, well. That brought me down. I'm just thinking do you...
Jennifer: I know it's insurance, so we have to talk a lot about death.
Matt: Yes, you are right. I had to put a pet down and it was not the funnest time I have ever had. But what came to my brain was when you went through the process of your wizard to setting up pet insurance. Do they ask if your dog is a smoker?
Matt: I don't know why I thought of that.
Andrew: I have pet insurance for Abby.
Matt: You do?
Andrew: Yes. I think it is a lot cheaper. We got it through a shelter and it was like some discount thing.
Andrew: What I'm like super interested in, and I think the lack of having or my lack of knowledge has already affected me is, renters insurance.
Matt: I have that actually.
Andrew: Yes but you are a landlord. And I was more concerned when I was a tenant. My impression was that I would have to change the policy every time I move to a different apartment. It just seems very dramatic and I didn't go much further than that. What is the story there?
Jennifer: Renters insurance is probably the best deal in insurance. Average policy is like $15 month. And so it does 2 things. One is it protects your belongings from damage or theft. The other thing that a lot of people don't know about is the liability coverage, right? So if somebody gets injured in your home, it will cover the medical payments for that person for the liability that you have there. A slip and fall in your home. If your dog bites somebody, renters insurance will also cover that as well.
Jennifer: Yes. It is like homeowners insurance because homeowners protects both the home and provides liability protection as well. Renters insurance does the same thing for renters.
Matt: Wait. So who gets renters insurance? The renter or the person renting our the place?
Jennifer: No, the renter. So if you live in an apartment and you are a renter, you get renters insurance.
Matt: Oh, then maybe I have home owners insurance then.
Jennifer: Yes, as a landlord you would have...do you rent out your property to a tenant?
Jennifer: Yeah, you would have like a homeowners dwelling policy. Which protects the structure but it does not protect the tenants' belongings. The tenant should have renters insurance.
Matt: Right. That is what I have. I don't actually know if he has renters insurance or not. That's his deal though right?
Jennifer: Yes, Exactly.
A hypothetical renters disaster
Andrew: So say, hypothetically...or actually I got a great scenario. So Matt owns a property and I'm renting Matt's property and I'm living there. My bedroom is all good and great. And all of a sudden water just starts coming through the ceiling and it kind of just ruins the room, maybe my bed, whatever. In that scenario, if I have renters insurance, I'm guessing it's covered, but wouldn't I just sooner go to Matt and like you know, "Your place ruined my stuff. I want money from you."?
Jennifer: You could. But depending on the situation, Matt, your landlord, might not be responsible for that. So it's much easier to, instead of trying to extract the money from your landlord, who may or may not be liable, just to submit a claim for the damaged bed and for whatever happened in the bedroom.
Matt: And then my rates go up astronomically?
Jennifer: No, not at all.
Matt: Really? I'm looking, see, one of the things you guys offer is the expert stuff. So you can talk to somebody, if you want that because that is where, I mean, look, if I needed, right now I am trying to think if I need any of these things. You even offer long term disability insurance and I want to talk about that in second. But if I needed one of these things. I kind of feel I need to talk to an expert. Because I don't know anything.
Jennifer: We've got a lot of content on the site. We designed everything on the site for the people who are starting from scratch in terms of insurance knowledge. But if you just want to pick up the phone or get on chat and talk to an expert, then you can do that too.
Matt: Does it cost money to do that?
Jennifer: No. That's the other thing that a lot of people don't know about insurance. When you are an agent or a broker, the way that we are compensated is commissions on sales. So if we sell you a renters insurance policy, we get a commission on that. Now the good thing is that a lot of people don't know is that those commissions are paid for by the insurance company and they are already baked into the price of insurance. Like I as an agent or broker can't arbitrarily tack on an extra commission. It doesn't cost any more to go to a broker than it does to go directly to an insurance company. Because all those prices are filed with each state regulator. So the price of getting a Metlife insurance policy from me versus going to somebody else is going to be the exact same for you.
Matt: Interesting, but you just made it easier and more for people who like the internet?
What is long-term disability insurance?
Matt: I want to talk a little bit about long-term disability insurance. What is that and who needs that?
Jennifer: Most people who are working and can't self-insure if an illness or injury kept them out of work for a long time, need it. So disability insurance is probably the most misunderstood insurance.
A lot of people think about health insurance and the cost of medical bills. What they don't think about is if that illness or injury actually keeps them out of work and keeps them from earning a paycheck for several months. The risk of disability during your working life is like 4 times higher that the risk of premature death. There was a study done a few years ago that saw that disability was the leading cause of personal bankruptcies. Because most bankruptcies' underlying cause is illness. And it is not medical bills that drive people to bankruptcy, it's the fact that they have lost their sick leave, they still can't work. Suddenly they don't have a paycheck for 6, 7, 8 months. And most people can't self-insure for that amount of time out of work. So that's what disability insurance does.
Matt: All right. I know, I have a friend who has disability insurance, but I think it is through work. Is that usually, I mean, this is not one of those, this is not for somebody who can have stuff through work.
Jennifer: So most people who do have disability insurance have it through their employer. But unless you work for a company that's bigger or has a pretty rich benefits package, you may not have it through work. In which case, an individual policy is really recommended.
The custom insurance check-up
Matt: Interesting. I'm actually...like...what I find fascinating is this whole wizard that you've set up through the...you know...you could just...because you can go on the site right now and do a, what do you call it, like a check up?
Jennifer: Yes, a check up.
Matt: So this is...because I'm like...now I want to check up on myself, and say like: All right, do I...is this going to tell me if I need insurance in any single way?
Jennifer: Yes, that is exactly what it tells you. We look at your age, your family situation, what you have through work, how much money you have saved. And then we've developed a recommendation engine to tell you whether or not you need the different types of insurance.
We want to give honest unbiased advice. So if you're sitting on ten million dollars in your savings account, you don't need a lot of insurance, because you can self-insure for pretty much any big risk that happens to you.
Matt: So your service will then not recommend insurance if that was the case?
Matt: Oh wow. That's awesome.
Jennifer: If you take the check up and like you said you don't have any dependents, you don't have any co-signed student debt, we will tell you, you don't need life insurance right now. Even though we would obviously make money if we told you, you did need life insurance and we sold it to you.
Matt: Right. But it's a program, so it's easy to get through. And step 2 is, are you a worrier? That was one of your...and I like how you put things in a language I understand and I guess that had a lot to do with it.
Jennifer: Yes, it did. And we tested different ways to do it. Because we really want it to be easy and even just a bit enjoyable. As you are going through this to get some advice. And we look at a lot of different things because even people who probably could self-insure if they worry if they are very risk adverse, some insurance policies might still make sense for them.
Matt: I'm just...it's super. This is really interesting. I like this. Is there anything, do you guys offer or have the plans to offer auto insurance or homeowners insurance?
Jennifer: Eventually. We'd like to bring that same experience to auto and homeowners as well.
Matt: What made you start this?
Jennifer: My co-founder and I, we both worked, we were consultants for big financial services companies. So we did a lot of projects for the big insurance companies in the U.S. And we kind of saw that it was a big old fashioned industry that's not really consumer friendly, that's still pretty old-fashioned in terms of how they sell these products. And we just started kicking some ideas around and decided it was worthwhile to leave corporate America and to start something.
Matt: But you both have a background in insurance sales?
Jennifer: We started selling insurance a couple of years ago when we left to start building this business. But before then it was more higher level like strategy and growth products for insurance companies.
Matt: Ah, okay.
Andrew: How long ago did you start this and did you start it before...I mean obviously you started before you were making money, but did you leave your corporate America gig, before you were making money or how did that kind of...
Jennifer: We did. We both took a leave of absence for about 6 months to really do the research on it to see what the opportunity was, what the landscape looked like, to really understand the problem and the consumers. And then we left, and we were going a while without making any money before we even had a site built. Because it took a while to...you have to get licensed, you have to develop relationships with insurance companies. You have to build the whole site and the whole platform. So we actually only just launched about 3 months ago. But we have been working full time on building everything and putting everything together that you see on the site for the past year.
Andrew: And what are some of the bigger problems that people have with just getting insurance or even knowing? What did you guys find out through your research?
Jennifer: We found out a couple of things. One is there is just a lot of misconception about these types of products. Like life insurance. People think that life insurance is 4 times more expensive than it actually is. So it's really important when somebody is thinking about it to give them some price anchoring right away. Because they think it's really much more expensive than it is. And it's an ah-ha moment when people say, "Oh, it will only cost me $15 a month to have $500,000 of coverage," for example. That's one of the things.
And the second thing is just how to capture somebody's attention on a financial priority that is usually at the bottom of the list. Most people are more concerned about their paycheck, savings, retirement and investments. Insurance is typically at the bottom, so we had to think about an experience that would capture people and engage people on a topic that they don't think about all the time.
Matt: Right. I guess that's really the tough part because again we're talking about it here and now. But how do you get the word out to people and in what stage do you do that?
Jennifer: Yes. It's a great question. So it's really around capturing people at their triggers and life events, where they start thinking about insurance. Open enrollment in the fall at work is one because people start thinking about benefits and insurance. When people get married or buy a home or have a kid, that's another good trigger for when they are thinking about their overall financial life and insurance.
What's been great for us is the initial press we got at launch and then just a lot of word of mouth. People really like the experience. They tell people and that's actually...it's given us good momentum so far. It's still early days, but so far so good on that front.
Matt: So what's next?
Jennifer: What's next is we are still building out and just streamlining the processes for disability insurance and life insurance. And then we would love to add more products. A lot of people who have used our site e-mail and they're like: "Can you do this for health insurance? Can you do this for auto insurance?" So we are looking at which products we want to do next to add onto the site.
Matt: That's awesome. I mean...like I said, I wish I could use this because I really do like the layout, I really do. I know that when the time comes, I probably will have to get renters insurance sooner than I will get anything else. Because I do plan on renting forever. And leaving my home just to be there, just to collect renters. I think when the time comes I will definitely have to do, I'll definitely have to use your site, because like I said, to me as a younger person who doesn't want to think about it, also doesn't want to talk to anybody... I actually don't really trust insurance salesmen. And I don't know if I have any reason not to. But it is sort of like, I guess it has this bad connotation or has this bad... oh, he is an insurance salesman. He is just going to try and make me buy shit I don't need. It's an easy sale.
Jennifer: Exactly and that's actually what most people think.
Matt: Okay, so I'm not crazy?
Jennifer: No, not at all.
Matt: I guess that's the real big hurdle, is building the trust I guess?
Jennifer: Absolutely. Which is why everywhere we wanted to be unbiased and give good advice to kind of overcome that connotation of a pushy insurance sales person.
Matt: Yes. I think you achieved it too.
Jennifer: Awesome. Thank you.
Matt: I think it's great. Are you guys...so it's policygenius.com and are you guys on social media anywhere?
Jennifer: We are. So @policygenius on Twitter. We have a Facebook page, we have got a great blog. Yes, come check us out, we're all over the place.
Matt: Yes, the blog, and your guide, so that's your...that's the guide section is your blog section?
Jennifer: We have guides, which are about specific products. There are some pretty good videos we produced. [Here's one for life insurance, and here's one for pet insurance.] We have a separate blog where we write about insurance, as well as other risks in life.
Matt: Who has got that job? Who's got the job of writing about insurance?
Jennifer: I do a little bit of it and we've also got some great writers on the team as well. Our senior writer, he used to write for The Consumerist. He is incredibly talented and he has a good pro-consumer perspective. So we've got some good writers on the team.
Matt: Cool. I will definitely check that out because I know, I have a friend who is in insurance, I'm going to hip him to this for sure. Jennifer, thank you for being on the show.
Jennifer: Awesome. Thanks for having me, guys.