Meeting #2: Social Media Guru and Humongous Life Insurance’s Gonzo Redhead of Compliance

Wherein the author chronicles the close cooperation and deep mutual understanding between an insurer’s social media pioneer and the compliance leadership.

(Editor’s Note: This article is Part II of a three-part series. For the first part, click here. Photo credit: SonOfErat.)

Nik (walking into Cindy’s office): Hi, I’m Nik; I think I’m on time.

Cindy: Nik, I thought it was Rik. Just got off the phone with Ed and he kept calling you Rik.

Nik: Yeah, I know, he just kept calling me that when we met. Don’t know whether he just got this stuck in his head somehow or was deliberately trying to, well, bug me.

Cindy: Or if he’s just stupid?

Nik: Yeah, well, I doubt he’s stupid, although narrow-minded seems kinda appropriate. In any case, the name is Nik and I hope you will call me that.

Cindy: Oh, no problem, Rik… Hey, just kidding. But as for Ed, he’s going to be your problem, not me. The guy runs the f*cking News Prevention Department, excuse my German, only thing he knows about publicity is getting Neddie [CEO] a couple of f*cking quotes in three grafs in the Wall Street Journal or some Humongous Life employee who adopted a kitten, for God’s sake. By the way, how’d that box of kittens post work out for you?

Unfortunate kitten photo by Trykocik.

Unfortunate kitten photo by Trykocik.

Nik: Yeah, well, not so well… But I’ve talked to a couple of your people over the last week or so and I think I know where we are compliance policy-wise on social media. Seems a little more restrictive  than I had expected…

Cindy: Well, obviously I can’t speak for your expectations, Nik, but I’d hardly call our policy restrictive. Hell, if I had it my way it would be restrictive, like as in not-f*cking-allowed. But between the Agency people and Neddie and your predecessor  over in IT or wherever — what a pain in the ass he was, had to keep arguing, just wouldn’t  take no for an answer — well, I haven’t had much choice. We gave our pound or three of flesh…

Nik: OK, well, so I take it you’re not a big fan of social media, then? And, by the way, wasn’t it his job to mostly get yes, let’s do this  for an answer?

Cindy: F*ck him. As for social media, are you kidding me? My daughter is not allowed to go on Facebook or any of those sites. In fact, she’s not allowed to have a computer at home and she’s forbidden to use them outside the house, for that matter. Computers are nothing but trouble. I wish we could throw every f*cking one of them out the window — they just lead to one f*cking obscenity after another and pornography and one time-suck after another.

Nik: Yeah, OK… But to take a step backward here on social…

Cindy: That’s exactly it, Rik. I’d like to take a few  steps backward on Social. Sorry, just couldn’t resist, NIK.

Nik: Yeah, saw that coming. But the fact is that we’re making really good progress in social. Our numbers are way up…

Cindy: Numbers? You mean Facebook “likes,” right?

Nik: Well, yes there’s that, but there are other numbers…

Cindy: What’s a “like” worth, Nik? To the company, I mean. Is it a sale or even a lead — I know you’re in the lead business, too, right?

Nik: Yes, I am, and no a “like” isn’t either a sale or a lead, as such. It’s a bit complicated, how you put together the web sites, SEO and SEM, social media participation, lead generation, and mobile for that matter…

Cindy: Boy, you’ve sure got your acronyms and jargon handy, don’t you? But let’s stick to social here for a sec and let me ask you a question, Nik: What’s your job with that?

Nik: Well, look, I inherited a lot here and most of it is pretty damn good, a lot of progress was made, some good systems put in place, especially for the agents, so I think my job in social is to expand it, integrate it better with all our other digital operations. I want to push things forward… I think it’s pretty obvious that FINRA wants us to push things forward…

Cindy: FINRA? Don’t f*cking FINRA me. Here I’m  FINRA.

Nik: OK, we’ll have to have a discussion about FINRA some other time then. But, as I said, I just want to push things forward…

Cindy: But why, Nik? Why? What’s the value of social? That’s what I don’t get. Your predecessor got what he wanted all right, Facebook and Twitter and God knows what that I don’t even know about, but he never explained the value of social, not to me, not to anyone else in executive management that I know or care about, except of course Neddie, who has the attention span of a mite, by the way. (And, yeah, some advice. Watch out for this. The guy bounces around stuff like a bumble bee.)  So maybe your job, Nik, is to explain that. Why are we spending all this money, hiring new employees, wasting all this time on kitten posts, WHEN I CAN’T GET A F*CKIN’ BUDGET INCREASE IN THE PAST THREE YEARS? Riddle me that, Nik.

Nik: Look, Cindy, I would be more than happy to at least try to explain the value of social to you, to Humongous Life, to any other Execs you think want it or need it. Give me an hour of your time and I’ll do my best to show you how this fits in with everything else we’re doing digitally, because that’s  the value, Cindy, that’s  where the value is.

Cindy: Sure, Nik, you do that. Have your secretary — excuse me, your Executive Assistant — call my girl and set up a time. But can you do it in a half-hour?

For Part I of this three-part series, click the following link:

Meeting #1: PR Guy and Social Media Guru at Humongous Life Insurance


Kenneth Hittel // Ken Hittel is currently Digital Strategy Advisor on the board of advisors to FairWinds Partners, a Domain Name Strategy and Services provider. Prior to joining the FairWinds board, Ken worked in a variety of positions at New York Life Insurance Company for more than 20 years, the last 12 of which involved running the Corporate Internet Dept., responsible for the Company’s Digital Strategy, its Web sites, online lead generation programs, and its portfolio of mobile and Social Media presences. Ken has a Ph.D. in Philosophy and Political Science and a M.A. in philosophy and Economics from the Graduate Faculty of the New School University. Follow him on Twitter: @khittel or email him at

Comments (4)

  1. Ken, I found this very funny as well as carrying a worthwhile message. But I took this to be kind of a “worst case scenario.” Of course there’s a natural antagonism between social media communicators and compliance officers, whose job is to limit and filter communication and, above all, reduce risk. But surely life insurers also want to take advantage of any tools that might help to increase sales.

    After all, as I wrote here recently:

    LIMRA’s latest research shows that the proportion of U.S. adults with life insurance has declined to an all-time low, with 41 percent having no life insurance at all. Of those who have coverage, it’s likely to be employee provided – a category that correlates to the lowest average amount of coverage. Only 44 percent of U.S. households have individual life insurance, which LIMRA says is a 50-year low. In fact, according to LIMRA, the likelihood of being without life insurance has dramatically increased for every age group since 2004.

    • These LIMRA stats are consistent w/ their research for years now, so no reason to doubt them no matter how dispiriting they are. But when you look at the number of searches for “life insurance” — many millions per month — it’s also clear that the product is not just sold, it’s also bought. (“Life insurance” is the most expensive keyword to purchase on Google PPC.) So I think there’s a big future ahead for both the quote services and especially the carriers selling directly. But that’s another topic for another time.

      As for “life insurers also want to take advantage of any tools that might help to increase sales,” I largely agree. But some are still so agency-dominated that they’re still holding out a rearguard action against Social Media. “I want my agents face-to-face with prospects, not hiding behind a computer,” and such. As for the Compliance people, they’re remain antagonistic to SM for a number of reasons ranging from the trivial to the serious: No time for this: one more task, no more people; no more budget; agents are idiots who will get us in a lot of trouble; FINRA’s regulations and SEC’s rules are ambiguous and “clearly unclear” on many issues. But, at the end of the day, Compliance is obsessed with risk and risk alone; they simply don’t care about sales — it’s not their world. Exceptions surely exist, but my experience at least says they are the exceptions that prove the rule.

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