The latest issue of COVER included a report that some members of the protection provider community, including the ABI, were unhappy with the way third party agencies rate products.
The ABI+ generation
The noticeable trend in CI more recently has been for marketeers to target so-called ABI+ definitions, something that has not escaped Heffer's attention.
"Rather than more conditions its now more ABI+s," he said.
"ABI+ is an interesting one because it's not really a term, it's simply the ABI model wording and where insurers feel they've improved the definition over it - it's not really defined by the ABI it's defined by the industry.
"If the definition is genuinely better then that's ultimately good for the client, but we're very careful not to score one CI higher than another unless it looks as if it's going to give rise to an appreciable increase in claims.
"One model wording is ‘loss of hands or feet', but some have 'hand or foot' and that's clearly appreciably better and deserves recognition in scoring.
But Heffer is also aware that not all ABI+ definitions are noticeably better, suggesting that some insurers have just tweaked the wording.
All these issues are discussed at the annual meeting Defaqto holds with insurers and reinsurers to maintain engagement with the industry and ensure each party understands the other.
It is only at this point that Heffer hints at some form of disappointment at the criticism headed his way - this year's meeting took place just a couple of weeks before the conference where the complaints were raised.
"At the forums we explain the criteria used, any we're thinking of adding and give a chance to suggest any areas we're not covering and then we go away and think about that," he said.
"We typically do take on board what's said but the difficulty is with a particular feature some providers will want them to be included and others won't.
"We do listen carefully to what providers say and take it on board and we try to involve them as much as possible.
"Roger Edwards (proposition director at Bright Grey and Scottish Provident, and one of the critics) will have known that members of his staff attend that forum," Heffer added.
So what should IFAs make of the ratings? How should they use them and what are they intended for?
With many providers wearing the five star marks as a badge of honour and seemingly dismissing any product that does not achieve this, should IFAs do the same?
Heffer's answer is an emphatic 'no'.
"With star ratings we're not trying to say that this product is best and this one is worst.
"We're trying to say that there's a range of benefits - if a policy has a lot of features and benefits then you might be prepared to pay more for it but if its got fewer you might be prepared to pay less.
"Star ratings should validate recommendations IFAs make to their clients and if they have relatively simple needs then selling them a cheaper policy covering less the adviser would feel confident that was reflected in the star rating and client too.
"We're not trying to say five stars are best and one star is worst, it's about matching needs, requirements and affordability at the end of the day," he added.
The analyst concluded by maintaining that Defaqto attempts to emphasise this message itself but "some providers don't feel they can go to market with anything less than a five star product".
Clearly, as with most things in life, it's important for advisers to dig a little deeper and take a wider view than just the headline numbers.
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