Is Paying for Insurance a Gamble? Your Biases Could Hurt Your Finances

 Some people may feel that paying for insurance and gambling are similar because in both cases, a person sets aside a smaller amount of money in the hope of getting a disproportionately larger return. Let’s look at the 3 behavioural biases in gambling psychology which could affect your insurance planning – framing effect, loss aversion and optimism bias.

1. Framing effect

The most significant bias experienced by us is that of the framing effect of insurance pay-outs. In gambling, the benefit is the immediate gain of the money wagered. One can immediately experience the joy of winning.

Insurance, on the contrary, has benefits which are not easily foreseen. Is it an asset or a liability? Why should I be paying money to cover an event that I do not wish would happen? Decision making behind insurance purchases is in direct conflict with many of our common product purchases. Would I buy a computer and not use it? This bias is stronger towards insurance due to its benefits being intangible. When a product is too complex, we tend to procrastinate decision-making and thus, insurance is often neglected among our priorities.

2. Loss Aversion

Humans are highly loss averse.  We have a stronger tendency to avoid losses than to acquire gains. Empirical estimates that from a gambling perspective, the pain of losing $100 is at least twice the joy of gaining $100. So, if people are more loss averse, does that mean people are more likely to buy life insurance? The purpose of insurance is to protect us and our family against huge financial losses from catastrophic events right?

Unfortunately, the thought process of a consumer on the street is even simpler than that and the following video is indeed a cause for concern.

A probable reason for this finding would be that people view paying insurance premiums as a guaranteed loss, while the insured event is just a possible loss. When one is faced with a small guaranteed loss versus a larger possible loss, as behavioural studies suggest, many will choose to take a gamble and NOT buy any/sufficient insurance. Many people risk having their savings wiped out and find themselves severely lacking in insurance coverage ONLY when disaster strikes.

3. Optimism Bias

This is a well-established bias that causes someone to believe that they are less at risk of experiencing a negative event compared to others. Will a gambler walk into a casino thinking he is going to lose money? The answer is almost definitely no as we are often filled with high hopes of making a profit.

On hindsight however, many gamblers will feel that they should not have started gambling in the first place. Unfortunately, this realization usually comes only after one has suffered a significant loss. Optimism bias always leads one to overestimate the chances of winning and underestimate the risks of losing.

The same logic applies for insurance. Most people feel they will certainly live a healthy and accident-free life. (Honestly, who doesn’t?) Sadly, life is as predictable as the September 11 attacks and we can’t use a crystal ball to find out what happens tomorrow.

Insurance planning is an integral part of one’s financial plan. In the event of a thunderstorm, only those who carry an umbrella can be sheltered. People who don’t have an umbrella end up drenched. A well-planned insurance portfolio is the exact opposite of a gamble. Without sufficient coverage, we are gambling with the financial future of ourselves and our loved ones. Given the little insurance planning most Singaporeans have, many people may be “gambling” without realizing it.

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Author: Wei Lian

I hope that you will find this site useful and informative. Have a nice read!

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