Why Are We Under-Prepared When Disaster Strikes?
Perhaps it’s a feature of working with so many Financial Services clients, but I’m surprised how often talk of investing in data turns to risk and preparing for disaster.
How important is it to prepare for high-likelihood/low-severity risks (the ‘day-to-day‘, if you like) verses low-likelihood/high-severity risks (potential disasters)? Is it worth only investing in the data needed to operate as you currently do, or should data plans be more ambitious?
So, a post that caught my eye this week was again published in a newsletter from Paul Carroll (Insurance Thought Leadership). Particularly because the topic has wider application than just insurance. It should be of concern for leaders everywhere.
We’ve shared in recent weeks on GDPR and the data implications of that regulation.
Even from that perspective, do you struggle to prepare for potential disasters?
In this short post, Professors Howard Kunreuther & Robert Meyer (from University of Pennsylvania) share 6 reasons why leaders fail to prepare for disasters…
When disaster strikes
When dawn broke on the morning of Sept. 8, 1900, the people of Galveston, Texas, had no inkling of the disaster that was about to befall them. The thickening clouds and rising surf hinted that a storm was on the way, but few were worried. The local Weather Bureau office, for its part, gave no reason to worry; no urgent warnings were issued, and no calls were made to evacuate. But by late afternoon it became clear that this was no ordinary storm. Hurricane-force winds of more than 100 mph were soon taking the city, driving a massive storm surge that devoured almost everything in its path. Many tried to flee, but it was too late. By the next day, more than 8,000 people were dead, the greatest loss of life from a natural disaster in U.S. history.
Fast-forward to September 2008 when Hurricane Ike threatened the same part of the Texas coast — but this time it was greeted by a well-informed populace. Ike had been under constant surveillance by satellites, aircraft reconnaissance, and land-based radar for more than a week, with the media blasting a nonstop cacophony of reports and warnings, urging those in coastal areas to leave. The city of Galveston was also well-prepared: A 17-foot-high seawall that had been constructed after the 1900 storm stood ready to protect the city, and government flood insurance policies were available to residents who were at risk of property loss. Unlike in 1900, Texas residents really should have had little reason to fear. On their side was a century of advances in meteorology, engineering and economics designed to ensure that Ike would, indeed, pass as a forgettable summer storm.
Failing to prepare for disaster
It didn’t quite work out that way. Warnings were issued, but many in low-lying coastal communities ignored them — even when told that failing to heed the warnings meant they faced death. Galveston’s aging seawall turned out to be vulnerable; it was breached in multiple places, damaging roughly 80% of the homes and businesses in the city. The resort communities to the north on the Bolivar Peninsula, which never saw the need for a seawall, fared even worse, witnessing almost complete destruction. And among the thousands of homeowners who suffered flood losses, only 39% had seen fit to purchase flood insurance. In the end, Ike caused more than $14 billion in property damage and 100 deaths — almost all of it needless.
Why are we underprepared for disasters?
The gap between protective technology and protective action illustrated by the losses in Hurricane Ike is, of course, hardly limited to Galveston or to hurricanes. While our ability to foresee and protect against natural catastrophes has increased dramatically over the course of the past century, it has done little to reduce material losses from such events.
Rather than seeing decreases in damage and fatalities because of the aid of science, we’ve instead seen the worldwide economic cost and impact on people’s lives as hazards increased exponentially through the early 21st century, with five of the 10 costliest natural disasters in history with respect to property damage occurring since 2005. While scientific and technological advances have allowed deaths to decrease on average, horrific calamities still occur, as in the case of the 230,000 people estimated to have lost their lives in the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami; the 87,000 who died in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake in China; the 160,000 who lost their lives in Haiti from an earthquake in 2010; and the 8,000 fatalities that occurred in the 2015 Nepalese earthquake. Even in the U.S., Hurricane Katrina in 2005 caused more than 1,800 fatalities, making it the third-most deadly such storm in U.S. history.
In our book “The Ostrich Paradox,” we explore six reasons that individuals, communities and institutions often under-invest in protection against low-probability, high consequence events. They are:
- Myopia: a tendency to focus on overly short future time horizons when appraising immediate costs and the potential benefits of protective investments;
- Amnesia: a tendency to forget too quickly the lessons of past disasters;
- Optimism: a tendency to underestimate the likelihood that losses will occur from future hazards;
- Inertia: a tendency to maintain the status quo or adopt a default option when there is uncertainty about the potential benefits of investing in alternative protective measures;
- Simplification: a tendency to selectively attend to only a subset of the relevant factors to consider when making choices involving risk; and
- Herding: a tendency to base choices on the observed actions of others.
What can you do differently next time?
We need to recognize that, when making decisions, our biases are part of our cognitive DNA. While we may not be able to alter our cognitive wiring, we may be able to improve preparedness by recognising these specific biases and designing strategies that anticipate them.
Advisors: How to Prepare Before Calling an Agency
Written by: Rachel Aelion-Moss
You’ve read my other posts:
Or are you?
I’m amazed how many prospects contact an agency without any advance preparation whatsoever. It’s not just that they don’t know what services the agency offers. The real issue is, they can’t even explain why they’re calling in the first place.
You might be raising an eyebrow at my suggestion that you actually need to prepare before calling a vendor. Don’t. I want to help you maximize your time, and potential investment.
Here’s why: The best way to use a vendor’s time during an initial call is to conduct a mini-discovery session. At FiComm, we will ask: What is your vision for your business? How do your services address your market’s needs? Where are you headed as a company? What will get you to the next level? What marketing obstacles do you face? That information shapes our remarks, ensuring that everything we say will be directly relevant to you.
Many advisors find those initial conversations enormously valuable in their own right. They help clarify their thinking. But others feel put on the spot. They freeze. They respond in standard brochure-speak: “We were founded in 1984, we have four advisors, we serve 200 households with an average account size of $400,000.”
Or they say, “We were hoping you would tell us the answers to those questions.”
Well, that’s helpful.
Imagine you’re meeting a potential wealth management client for the first time. They have $700,000 in a brokerage account, $400,000 in a retirement account, two kids, a dog and a house in L.A. Great. You start by asking their goals for themselves, their money, and their family.
Puzzled, they tilt their heads and say, “We were hoping you would tell us.”
See what I mean? How can you possibly come up with a solution for clients who can’t even articulate their goals, or speak to their financial pain points?
The same is true for us vendors. Before we can help you, we need to know where your business is going and how you think marketing can help you get there. The answers don’t have to be “right” (and we’ll help you get there), but it you come prepared to participate, our conversations can be very fruitful. If you don’t—well, it’s hard to deliver value for you. We know we’ll constantly have to prove ourselves and remind you why you hired us.
“But, Megan,” some advisors say, “we’re not ready for that. We’re just trying to understand the basics. How will we learn if you don’t tell us?”
If you’re calling an agency just to get a general marketing education, then that’s what you’ll get—general information, most of it irrelevant to you, and lacking the specifics you’re really looking for.
So, don’t call an agency to be your marketing tutor. Instead, read. Advisors have never had better access to self-help insights and information—through trade pubs, custodian relationships, blogs, podcasts, other advisors and industry pundits. Be curious. Be inquisitive. If you hear something on a podcast that intrigues you, follow the host back to LinkedIn. Read what they write there. Email your questions. Attend a webinar. Be an active participant at industry events.
At some point, you’ll understand the basics. You’ll have identified your own issues. And narrowed down your questions. Then, finally, you’ll be ready to call an agency.
Instead of saying, “Tell us what we need,” you’ll say, “We need help with this.“
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