COVER interviews one of the insurance industry's back-room boys - Paul Robertson talks to Andy Couchman
Although he is not necessarily known to many IFAs, Andy Couchman has a finger in many pies affecting them.
Actually, he probably has more pies than fingers.
His business, Bankhouse Communications, falls into three areas. Part of it is pure consultancy, part of it is writing and part of it is publishing, through the Protection Review for example.
The writing is varied. For example, for those IFAs who have taken, or are taking, the Chartered Insurance Institute’s PMI examination IF7, well, your coursework was written by Couchman.
He has also written another CII book and a lot of the online content, mainly in the protection area, but with a bit of mortgages thrown in for good measure.
The consultancy is typically varied and comprises everything from strategic planning and product development work at the top end, through to ghostwriting speeches or training material.
“I think the only areas I have not covered fully are International PMI and I have done little in the group market,” added Couchman.
He sees the market at the moment as part of a transitional period: “We are in a strange hiatus at the moment. We have NHS and welfare reform about to happen. We know they will be big and, when we add in Solvency II, we have big players making strategic decisions about whether they stay in the market, whether to build a protection business or run it down.
“Once we are through that period, which I expect to last to the end of next year, I am optimistic about the market in a lot of areas.”
That even includes long-term care, a sector that has been threatening to get off the ground since an initial spurt of interest in the mid-1990s. Favourite, though, is medical insurance.
“The Dilnot commission on long-term care funding will, I think, say that long-term care insurance has a place for some people,” he said. “The challenge will be persuading the insurance industry, many of whom have burnt fingers from the 1990s, that this is a product area to go into. But logically, if I was a product manager, the area I would most want to run with is medical.
“PMI should do very well because of the changes to the NHS. Health cash plans are set to do very well because they are essentially a budgeting product. Also, they are increasingly moving beyond being purely a financial product, as are many products in this industry, to actually providing help to customers when they need it.”
THE TROUBLE WITH HEALTH PRODUCTS
Of course, this sector has an Office of Fair Trading (OFT) investigation hanging over it (See page 7). Couchman added: “I think the OFT will not be looking at PMI directly. It looked at it twice in the 1990s and was not very pleased with the response to its first paper, which is why it came up with a tougher second one. The feeling in the industry is that there is no need to do it again.
“There are issues. The OFT said it would ‘consider the provision of PMI in so far as it affects the provision of private health care’. I’m not sure I can tell you the limits to that sentence. There are people lobbying against the PMI industry, even up to the House of Lords. Those people are going to want to see this as inclusive as possible.
“It is in the industry’s best interest to be transparent. But are we doing enough? I don’t know. It will be interesting to see what the OFT says.”
He is less sanguine about critical illness (CI) and income protection (IP): “I am not so buoyant about these, because I think there are structural problems with both these products. But I see a big increase in term assurance.”
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