CPD: The conversation – talking risk with clients (Part 2)


When it comes to storytelling, your ultimate success depends on your connection with your audience.

In The conversation – talking risk with clients (Part 1), we looked at the reasons your clients need risk insurance and strategies for having what can often be a difficult conversation. In this second part, we examine how you can use storytelling as an effective strategy to introduce this conversation. This series is proudly sponsored by Zurich Australia.

Since humankind developed language approximately 100,000 years ago, people have told stories. Before the written word existed, stories were passed down verbally from generation to generation. Studies have linked primal cave drawings and storytelling, the earliest dating approximately 40,000 years ago, while the written word emerged when the ancient Sumerians and Egyptians engraved their first stone tablets around 3,300 BC.

Clients and storytelling

Some clients respond well to facts and figures. Seeing, in black and white, the high cost of illness or injury is enough to have them reaching for a pen to sign that risk insurance application form. For others, it needs context. As Zurich’s Cost of Care research discovered, Australians see themselves as bulletproof and, as a result, are more likely to be under than over insured.

Interestingly, when financial advisers are interviewed about what they’re most proud of or asked to share a case study that makes them satisfied with their role, it often comes down to helping people. And while the importance of helping people build that retirement nestegg or save for specific goal cannot be underrated, the situations that seem to resonate the most with advisers are those where their advice saved the day. Where illness or injury could have left financial devastation, but thanks to good risk advice, the client and family were not subjected to financial stress.

When you consider your client relationships, you get to know those clients well. You know the ins and outs of their family. You know about their dreams and goals, personal and family milestones, births and deaths. You want the best for your clients, particularly if the worst should happen.

This is why storytelling can be so effective. It can forge an emotional connection between you and your clients. You can engage them, take them on a journey – one they can relate to. Talk about how the event affected you and what you learned; this creates an immediate response that makes your story memorable and shareable.

Six steps to effective storytelling

Some people are natural storytellers, others are not; coming up with an appropriate story on the hop can be challenging for many. Your client engagement toolkit should include three to four pre-prepared stories you can share with your clients, each focused on different scenarios with different types and configurations of characters. After all, an unmarried tradie weighing up the importance of income protection insurance won’t necessarily be interested in how trauma cover helped a family of five maintain their lifestyle.

1: Set the parameters

To capture the imagination of your client/s, your story must be engaging. If it doesn’t have a clear and relevant focus, you’ll quickly lose their attention.

To get started, answer the following questions:

  • What is the ‘why’ of the story?
    What is its central focus, why have you chosen this particular example? What is it you want to achieve by sharing it?
  • When and where are the events in the story taking place?
    The best stories are rich in detail. If you’re talking about a risk policy enabling a family to remain in their cherished home, describe the home and what made it so special to those clients.
  • Who are the people in the story?
    A story is more real if you use names, however, it’s best to change the names. It’s a small world and you don’t want to inadvertently share information about client A and learn that client B knows them. Describe them – what they do, special talents, community work. Making your characters real will help your clients engage with the story.
  • What challenges are faced?
    Describe the challenges faced by the story’s character/s – be it illness, injury or death. Draw on available information to you to illustrate the challenge. For example, you could draw on Zurich’s Cost of Care report to describe the lifetime costs of serious illness or injury.
  • How were those challenges surmounted?
    This is where you talk about the importance of risk insurance and how it solved the problem for the people in your story. Again, use detail.

2: Structure and emotional arc

Every story needs structure – it needs to have a beginning (set the scene), a middle (where the challenge is introduced), and an end (resolution and key takeaways). These contrasts in the story create drama. Remember, it doesn’t need to be War and Peace – but your story does need good structure.

Engaging with your clients on an emotional level is the best way to have them relate to the characters in your story. Use your story’s structure to create an emotional arc:

  • Introduce your characters, keep them real and relatable (beginning)
  • Share details of the crisis or challenges they faced and the emotions that accompanied it (middle)
  • How was financial crisis averted; while not every story will have a happy ending for all of the characters, talk about how risk insurance provided a ‘soft landing’ and the scenario that could have been so much worse (end).

A good storyteller knows how to use detail and dialogue and can develop believable characters. If you think about reading a novel or watching a movie, what is it that grabs your attention? You’ll find it’s usually relating to one or more of the characters and becoming emotionally invested in what happens to them.

3: Be authentic

Authentic storytelling, a genuine narrative, is important – don’t over embellish your story. Business storytelling should not be fiction. If your clients can relate to a real-life story, you are making a connection and building trust. Clients will recognise truth – and disengage from something that’s stretching the bounds of reality.

If it was a challenge to get the central ‘characters’ to take out risk insurance, detail their reservations. If it wasn’t a challenge, don’t invent one…this isn’t meant to be fiction.

4: Have a clear outcome

A great story leaves your audience with an implied call to action…what was the moral of the story? What do you want your clients to learn from hearing it?

Business stories should always have a clear outcome. A thought-provoking message with actionable points will help your clients relate to the story and increase their likelihood of identifying with the characters.

5: It’s all in the detail

What helps to connect your clients with the story? It’s the detail. According to Dr Murray Nossel, from the Program of Narrative Medicine at Columbia University, stories with more specific detail are those that become more universal because we all relate keenly to sensory information—to actions and characteristics—rather than to abstraction.

Dr Nossel believes when you tell detailed stories with precise descriptions of each character, you are grabbing attention and engaging people’s brains. As the goal of this storytelling is to impel your client to take action, this engagement is crucial.

6: Practice makes perfect

A disorganised or convoluted story will leave clients confused and you’ll quickly lose their interest. Storytelling takes practice – it’s important to know the story inside and out before presenting it to your clients. This will help you tell the story naturally.

Share the story with your staff and invite honest feedback. If it requires a rewrite, do it; it’s worth getting right.

Case studies

The following stories provide working examples of stories curated by Zurich Australia.

Story one – income protection


Celine is a typical 29 year old. She has always lived a really active and adventurous life. She plays competitive tennis each week and coaches a junior team; she’s also an active participant with her local lifesaving club.

As a primary school teacher, Celine spends her days with the 8-9 year old boys and girls in her year three class. When she comes to see me, she often shares the joke of the day, what you and I might call dad jokes! She clearly loves the kids she teaches – her face lights up when she talks about them.

Celine and her fiancé Paul, a Physical Education teacher at a nearby school, take it in turns of coming up ideas for adventurous weekends away. They love to hike and surf and often participate in land rehabilitation projects along the coast.


Celine was on her way back from one of these weekends away when she found she couldn’t get any relief from a stuffy nose after a flight. She assumed she’d caught something from one of her students; it’s a common drawback of teaching.

For months she tried sinus sprays, inhalations, medications, naturopathic remedies…you name it, she’d tried it. But it never really went away.

When Celine started to experience hearing loss and problems with her balance, she realised this was something far bigger than just a stuffy nose. Her GP referred her to a specialist, who, after several tests, diagnosed Acoustic Neuroma.

Celine was shocked and devastated. Her immediate thoughts were, ‘Why me?’ closely followed by ‘how do I pay for this?’. That’s when she called me. She would need several months leave of absence from work, but she had still had to pay her rent, cover her utilities and, of course, pay her medical bills, which were quickly mounting.


Fortunately, when Celine first came to see me, she was open to the idea of income protection. Fiercely independent, she did not want to be reliant on anyone should she be unable to work.

Her income protection policy paid a monthly benefit equivalent to 75% of her usual income. Once her surgery date was scheduled, I worked closely with her insurer to provide all the necessary information from Celine’s doctor to ensure her income protection claim was enacted.

Celine’s surgery was a complete success. When she woke up, I was able to tell her that not only was her income protection claim approved, the first payment was in her bank account.

She told me how relieved she was to know she could focus her energies on healing and getting back to work – she really missed her class and, judging by the home made cards she received, they missed her.

The road back to health should not be compounded by the financial stress that a reduced income can bring to you and those around you. Income protection helped Celine focus on wellness and, most importantly, get on with planning her next adventure.

Story two – Total & Permanent Disability (TPD)


Alison owns her own catering business in Sydney’s northern beaches. She has a great reputation and her food is sought after for corporate and home entertaining. I’ve been lucky enough to sample her wares on several occasions and her brownies are second to none!

As the business grew, Alison became the prime breadwinner for her family; her husband worked as a part time editor from home and was the primary caregiver for their two young children, daughters aged four and six.

Alison is generally on her feet all day, something that has never bothered her. She is always on the move, working with her small team to fulfil her growing order book.

When we first met, she was sceptical about the need for risk insurance. However, after she and her husband decided that her business would become the primary source of income for her family, she decided it would be prudent to purchase some cover…just in case.


Unfortunately for Alison, ‘just in case’ transpired. After several successful years in business, she found it becoming increasingly painful to walk. More and more often she had to set herself up on a stool in her kitchen and had her staff do the running around she had once enjoyed. She got to a point where she was hobbling most days.

By the time Alison finally visited her doctor, she was in a lot of pain and, she admitted, downing a lot of over the counter painkillers to keep going.

Her doctor sent her for an MRI, which showed she had Synoval Sarcoma, a rare form of cancer which occurs primarily in the extremities of the arms or legs. In Alison’s case, it was in her foot, with tumour measuring the size of a ping-pong ball. The only way forward was to amputate from the knee down; not a great outcome for an active and busy working mother.


Alison told me this was the hardest thing she had ever had to face. The amputation surgery went well and when I visited her in hospital, she was trying hard to be her bright and bubbly self, doing her best to be positive. She was, she confided, worried about the business and how the staff were coping without her direction.

Although I couldn’t help her with her staff, I was able to let her know her TPD claim payout was successful. Alison and I were allocated an in-house specialist throughout the whole process, which we both found helpful.

The payout enabled the family to continue paying their mortgage, provided Alison top rate rehabilitation and gave her time to decide what to do with her business. According to Alison, this gift of time was the best thing that came from her TPD cover. It enabled her to come to terms with the fact she wouldn’t be able to continue running her business and provided her second in charge time to get the funds together to buy it.

Story three – life insurance


Geoff was one of my first clients. He’d had a promotion in his public service role and decided he should get some financial advice. Although he was open to most of the advice I gave him, when it came to risk insurance, he wasn’t at all interested. As someone in his early thirties, he saw himself as bullet proof.

Two years later Geoff came in for his annual review, bursting with excitement. Not only had he had another promotion and pay increase, he was getting married. We reviewed his financial plan but still he resisted risk insurance.

Another couple of years passed, another annual review. This time Geoff brought the news of his first child, a son. Yet again we discussed risk insurance. At this time, his wife was taking a career break and he was the sole provider. On this occasion, thinking about providing for his family, he decided it made sense.


Five years and two daughters later, Geoff called me. He was devastated. He’d been diagnosed with advanced metastatic prostate cancer. As it was in his bones, it was too late for treatment of any kind.

I visited him and his wife Carla at home to explain how things stood with their insurance policy. I helped them with the paperwork and liaised with the insurer – it was an additional burden neither of them needed. I really wanted to make things easier for Geoff and Carla and get the job done quickly. Fortunately, they had the money less than two weeks from when we lodged the paperwork.


Geoff died at home six weeks later. He called a week or so before he died and thanked me for the advice to get life cover. We laughed a bit at how long it took him to accept the advice.

“I never really believed I would need it,” he said to me. “I look back on that day where you finally convinced me to take a policy and I thank my lucky stars. At least we have paid off the house and I’m leaving Carla and the kids financially stable. I hate to think what would have happened to them without this insurance.”

When it comes to storytelling, your ultimate success depends on your connection with your audience. Consider this advice from Michael Margolis, Founder & CEO of Get Storied – “People don’t really buy a product, service, or idea. They buy the story that’s attached to it.” That’s why your stories need real characters, an emotional arc and should focus on the outcome that your audience needs.


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Read Part 1: CPD: The conversation – talking risk with clients (Part 1)


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