1. What for you has been the biggest protection innovation over the past 20 years and why?
Well, if you go back 20 years you’re in 1997 and back then protection was still very much a paper based process, with Legal & General only just launching their first online underwriting application. They were going to call it ten minute term, but with the speed of dial up internet connection back in the late 90s is was much closer to 30 minutes!
We forget what a revolution this was for the protection market, taking for granted what a fantastic application process we now have, especially in comparison to many other products and markets.
But do clients care about this? Probably not that much in all honesty. What would they say has been the biggest innovation?
Life is much more complex than it was 20 years ago. Relationships change more frequently, jobs change even more so, people’s circumstances are forever on the move. If you look back two decades, products were very inflexible and didn’t move with the needs of the customer. The way some providers have introduced flexible benefits that can change as circumstances change will no doubt be seen as a much more innovative development by clients and is a fantastic innovation which needs to be built on.
We have seen many new innovative products and services that are now added on to core products that really help clients. Think of RedArc, Best Doctors, or Global Treatment; these are all fantastic customer facing additions that make a real difference to customers and their experience.
2. Is there anything done well back in say 1997, that we have lost? And what has changed for the better?
We have lost the art of selling protection to a great extent. And by that I don’t mean the flashy over the top sales patter that no one likes. The definition of selling is persuading someone about the worth of something that they hadn’t really considered before. Protection surely fits into this definition. The true art of selling is about asking the right questions at the right time in order to help clients understand the risks they are taking. However good the technology and systems are, I believe that protection will always need to be sold to the vast majority of the general public. It’s about developing an understanding of the need for and benefit of protection and being motivated to have those conversations with clients.
For me the greatest improvement is undoubtedly the improvement in claims. If we presented all the facts to a client I think they would say that the way the industry has tackled claims, now producing incredibly high percentages on claims paid for life, critical illness and income protection are a massive step forward. The UK now stands head and shoulders above protection markets in other countries from a claims point of view.
3. How do you think specifically adviser and network behaviour has changed, and how has that shaped the protection market?
Looking back over the years, many advisers began their careers working in direct sales single tie firms. I for one started in Home Service with London and Manchester. These firms were generally very good at providing sales training and excellent at proactive advice. Over time many advisers made the move to become independent resulting in the emergence of networks, set up to provide these small firms with compliance support and access to the right commercial deals. But they generally left advisers to run their own business and the sales skills were lost.
This has contributed to a stagnation of protection sales. When you consider the fall in protection premiums, the improvement in the online process both in terms of speed and customer experience, the availability of comprehensive products and the increase in commissions, as an industry we should be writing ten times more protection than we did 20 years ago. If we lose the art of selling protection, all those advantages and benefits become irrelevant. And this has been the case.
We’ve never had it so good in this market. It’s time to allow customers to take advantage of what we have to offer!
4. Tell me about your career, where you were 20 years ago, and how you got to where you are today?
20 years ago I was with Legal & General. I started as a broker consultant and became successful in working with mortgage firms who, back then, sold endowment policies. When that came to an end, it was clear we had to rethink how protection was sold, as it was no longer linked to an investment.
I began a journey of understanding the psychology behind selling protection and joined a very small team led by Richard Verdin. We looked after non-regulated protection networks. I very quickly found myself working with thousands of advisers specialising in protection.
I then spent time within a specialist protection team at Aegon prior to joining Personal Touch as Head of Sales. For the last five years I’ve been Protection Sales Director at Intrinsic and have worked hard to transform how protection is sold.
Moving to present day, and I have just joined Mortgage Advice Bureau as Protection Proposition Director where I hope to make even greater strides forward helping evermore customers have the right amount of protection when they need it the most.
Looking forward…what are your thoughts about the future – where could protection be 20 years from now?
Networks are consolidating and distribution is therefore becoming ever more focused on just a few key players. This means there is a growing opportunity with the focused volume for distributors to become far more involved in the design of product, possibly even launching bespoke products with the help of insurer and provider. Technology will become integrated not only into the application process but into the sales process. Currently many advisers don’t like using technology to help the actual sale, but in future years they will. Will a robot ever be able to replace advisers in selling protection? I hope not. People will always buy from people and there is a definite emotional connection that needs to be made when you buy a product that only pays out if you die or become ill. But technology assisted by a feeling human being provides the best of both worlds and we may look back on 2017 20 years from now and remember how we used to try to sell protection with just words and pieces of paper.