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Many people have been perplexed by the amount of musicians and other celebrities that have died this year. As an underwriter I’m wondering if we need to think about adding “celebrity” to oil rig workers, scaffolders and bomb disposal experts in our hazardous occupations question.

This increased reporting of death is interesting to observe from a sociological perspective, but also relevant from a professional standpoint. We seem to be reminded that people die on a much more frequent basis than we used to be. There are a few related reasons this could be happening:

– There were more famous people in the 1970s than in the 1950s – so more famous people are in their 70s now than were 20 years ago

– More famous people are dying than before

– People have a closer relationship with celebrities now than they did 30 years ago

– Deaths are bigger stories than they were (the obituary pages of a paper used to be on p.41 – now they’re often on p.1)

– As a society we’re more ready to talk about death


For many people celebrities have become their new virtual neighbours – with twitter rather than twitching curtains providing insights into the lives of others. It may then be no surprise that there is a more public sharing of grief when Bowie, Wogan or Lemmy dies as it impacts people in the same way that “Edith from no. 63” would have in the past.

To see the change it is worth considering this article Guardian obituaries . This highlights that John Lennon’s death wasn’t the main story on any broadsheet UK paper the following day. (And no, dear millennial, he wasn’t trending on twitter either…) I suspect when Paul McCartney leaves us we will have souvenir pullouts and Beatles songs for a week on Radio 2.

I believe opening people’s eyes to mortality and their own fragility is the single biggest hurdle to seriously increasing sales of protection. People understandably find it much easier to imagine being 15 years younger than being 15 years older. This human reality underpins a common problem in getting people to realise the needs they are buying for. If people are surprised when a 67 year old dies then can we be surprised that they choose to gamble their family’s future by not getting life insurance when they’re 35?

It is positive that we seem to be able to talk more openly about death. Whether this leads to conversations about wills and life insurance or bucket lists and living for the day depends on the individual. Either way it can only be a good thing if there is a seed of conversation there – but we need to nurture it carefully.

Listening to Roger Edwards’ reliably excellent MPAF podcast last week brought home to me the privilege of being more aware of these conversations. Roger likens social media to a pub. I picture financial services companies as the loud bore propped at the bar with no mates, only wanting to tell others about his favourite subject. He fails to notice that everyone else is watching the football, is talking about Great British Bake Off or is putting Bowie on the jukebox.

The more appropriate conversation is a compassionate one, noting the news on the big screen and even eavesdropping on others rather than hollering about The Same Old Thing. Who knows – we may even get to a point where people talk to us over a virtual beer about their fears and hopes, their health and happiness – and if they buy a product or two along the way, so much the better.

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