In this $819 bailout, post-Lehman Bros., post-Madoff, era, Americans are looking for clear, jargon-free, transparent information. According to a survey from Siegel+Gale, the branding consultancy, the two new “marketing imperatives” are transparency and authenticity.

While the financial market implosion is top-of-mind among consumers in this economic downturn, it’s not only financial statements that Americans criticize. After mortgage applications, the second most difficult-to-understand form is the explanation of benefits (EOB) for a health insurance claim. And fifth on this list of difficult financial forms is the Medicare statement, after Federal tax returns and investment account statements.


These and other findings about the consumer groundswell demand for transparency are included in Siegel+Gale’s landmark report, the Siegel+Gale Simplicity Survey: A Clarion Call for Transparency.

Two-thirds of people believe that financial services companies intentionally make things complicated to hide risks and “keep people in the dark.”

But most consumers do fault themselves in being complacent; 52% never or only sometimes read investment materials (such as prospectuses) and insurance policies.

For the survey, Siegel+Gale interviewed 1,214 homeowners and investors between December 29, 2008 and January 5, 2009.

Health Populi’s Hot Points: The 80s are often referred to as the “Me Decade” or the “Greed Decade.” Perhaps the real Greed Decade was the late 90s to 2007. Based on what we know now — and we certainly know there will be more Ponzi schemes yet to be uncovered — it’s a cynical time.

Now, if you market anything, it’s all about trust. In health financial matters, that’s absolutely the case.

Health plan information must be clear, transparent, and jargon-free. We know that health plan literacy is a major challenge: even people with rich health plans don’t know how to best utilize them, as I explained in Health Populi, Consumer dis-engagement: health plan illiteracy persists.

Surely a consumer’s understanding of an EOB and Medicare statement will breed engagement with health financial affairs. But more, that understanding will bring greater trust between consumers and plans, providers and other health organizations with whom they need to interact as part of managing their health care. For now, people find trust in “people like me” in their social networks, both offline and online (see the Edelman Health Trust Barometer for more on that reality).

In the meantime, Siegel+Gale found that most Americans want President Obama to mandate that “clarity, transparency and plain-English” be part of every new law, policy and regulation. Industry should be addressing this as part of good business, and not wait for a government mandate. It’s a consumer demand.

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