Underwriting and claims technologies and systems are moving fast. But what do IFAs want from the processes, and are they likely to see it? Paul Robertson investigates
"In the future, we will be able to..." We have being saying variations on the sentence for centuries, but things have changed since the end of the Second World War. When we say this now, we are talking about technology and systems. Communications, travel and medicine are all innately bound in the pace of technological change.
So it should come as no surprise that the same can be said for the protection sector. Often a new product will surface, such as critical illness in the 1980s, but they soon settle down to making iterative changes to their terms and conditions.
Meanwhile, the real quiet revolution has been in the insurers' back-office systems.
In the last two or three years, this has led to big and little T-underwriting, online applications and the ability to get a clean case on risk in minutes.
So far, so good. But the problem with the future is that it is not always the one we would wish for. What do IFAs want, and will it happen? In order to narrow the field a little, two IFAs - hopefully representative of the majority - were asked what they would like, and expect, from the next 12 months. True to form, the changes they hoped for required technological and systems-based innovation.
Making work easier
Chris Hulme, director at Clayton Hulme, a small Manchester-based firm representative of the vast majority of IFA firms in the country, immediately said that the biggest irritation he would like to eradicate in the underwriting phase was the GP report.
He said: "I know big T and little T were designed to take that out, but there are still cases that require the reports and the GPs' surgeries are beholden only to themselves. There seems to be no requirement for them to act in any kind of timescale."
The firm has told medics in the past that cases will be referred back to them if the client dies or has a serious illness before they respond, so they can explain why someone is going to lose their house, for example. Hulme said this rarely worked and they tended to get "a bit uppity".
"Actually, I have no doubt that practice managers put cases to the bottom of the list if we exert pressure," he added. "Doing away with these reports is ideal, like the paperless office, but I think underwriters need to be a bit more lenient, shall we say."
At the larger end of the scale, London-based protection specialist Lifesearch, with about 90 advisers, takes a broader view. Matt Morris, senior policy adviser at Lifesearch, said: "GP reports are always a problem, but they are being used less and less. Tele-underwriting is the future in this respect. But this does come down to ease of system. They are not at all as good as each other."
For Morris, this is a personnel problem: "Some providers are responsive to adviser feedback on technology, others not so. The actual people who build systems and put policies into place are important, and can change from year to year. There needs to be someone who understands what IFAs need in order for providers' systems to work properly."
Luckily, it seems that the GP report is due to become a rarer beast. The vast majority of providers using big or little T-underwriting methods - with the honourable exception of AXA - use external suppliers with their associated cost savings. The big two in this market are Medicals Direct and Morgan Ash. Both are upbeat on GP reports.
"Tele-interviewing is going to replace perhaps another 50% of the GP reports currently called for," says Mike Benton, CEO of Medicals Direct. "We are going to see considerable growth in more intelligent systems with a lot more straight-through processing. There will be increasing opportunities to make decisions earlier.
On Tuesday 22 September
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