Why we insure our pets, but not ourselves…

When you think about a financial plan, most people will think about ways to build their wealth, be this through careful tax planning, pensions, investments, etc. So few, however, think about protecting that wealth that they have worked so hard to build up.

In a UK-wide study carried out by insurer Legal & General, it was found that the average employee would be on the breadline in just 32 days if they lost their main source of income due to death of spouse, critical illness, accident/illness resulting in being off work.

The same study found that a quarter of us would have completely exhausted our savings in one week or less, if we found ourselves in this situation. For those lucky enough to have savings which could support them longer than this, they may be compromising the quality of their life in retirement, forfeiting early retirement, using monies intended to get children on the property ladder, or leaving legacies to grandchildren.

With all this in mind, it seems strange, therefore, that we have no problem insuring our cars, valuables and pets, yet we view insuring our own lives as a lesser importance.

There are a number of reasons why this is, and some of it comes down to what psychologists call “optimism bias”.

Optimism bias is described as the enduring, against-all-odds belief that, on an individual level, things are going to work out. It is believed that this mindset stems from the human desire of control; in particular, to feel that you have control over your life, and is reported to effect over 80% of us, regardless of age or gender.

This feeling is coded within the brain’s frontal lobe, which has led some experts to conclude that optimism bias is essentially a form of survival instinct. As you can imagine, therefore, it can be very uncomfortable for us to challenge this instinct and, sadly, it often takes us, or someone close to us to go through a significant negative life event (e.g. death, critical illness, loss of income), in order to break this mentality.

So how can we protect ourselves from the pitfalls of an overly optimistic mindset, without becoming an outright pessimist?

In her 2012 TED Talk, Tali Sharot (professor of cognitive neuroscience at University College London) explains that, although on balance optimism bias can be a good thing (afterall, there is a wealth of research which shows that adopting a positive mindset can be linked to increased life expectancy, improved recovery from illness, etc), we should not be ignorant to the “cognitive illusions” that our brains like to create. Simple acknowledgement of these biases, according to Sharot, is the first step in protecting from their harms.

From here, many academics recommend that building a diverse ‘sounding board’ of trusted individuals within our lives can help us attain a more objective viewpoint at times when our own biases may cloud our judgment. As well as friends and family, this inner circle should be populated with a number of professional advisers (such as an accountant, Financial Adviser and/or solicitor), who may be able to offer enhanced impartiality when it comes to significant personal and/or financial decisions.

To conclude, although it is believed that optimism bias does generally deliver good personal outcomes, these positive outcomes could be further enhanced by acknowledging our weaknesses and building defences in the areas we are most vulnerable.

If you would like to understand more about the importance of protection for you and your family, speak to one of our Financial Advisers today.