Planet Insurance: Freedom of choice is key

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Group schemes or individual quotes? The choice makes for successful IP, writes Richard Walsh.

At the end of last year, DEMOS, with support from Macmillan, published a well-researched report Getting to Grips with the Financial Consequences of Cancer - Paying the Price.

Here, I want to focus on is the role of income protection insurance in meeting the financial implications of cancer and other illnesses.

The key recommendations are that income protection and pension providers should explain clearly to employees what their risk of income loss due to cancer is, and what they can do to protect themselves and their families.

Also, that the government should work with the insurance industry to develop a quality marking scheme of minimum standards in the income protection industry.

Such a scheme would take place in partnership with the Treasury’s Simplified Products Review and would set a standard for income protection. In return for compliance, income protection could be incorporated as an opt-in to the new NEST workplace pension scheme.

I am enthusiastic about a quality standard for IP. Linking this to auto-enrolment results in some new challenges, and revisits some of the existing ones.

It is also most relevant, given the plethora of short-term IP products entering the market, where we have little information of how much is being bought, how often they pay out, which of them are genuinely IP and which are just re-branded ASUs.

So what should we be aiming for? The first thing to recognise is that the auto-enrolment market could be very different from the current set-up, where we have group schemes entirely paid for by employers and individually bought IP.

In some cases, insurance through a group scheme might be the only way an employee could get IP at all, or at reasonable cost. In other cases, people who move jobs might be much better off with an IP product that would transfer to a new employer.

Employees should be able to choose between the group scheme offered by their employer (assuming the employer is paying for it) and an individual quote.

Employers should pay the equivalent of what they would have paid to their own supplier to the scheme the employee chooses, if they choose the individual option.

Insurers of group schemes should guarantee not to exclude an individual from their scheme because they had been turned down for an individual scheme.

Second, at point of claim, individual policies bought though NEST should be treated exactly the same as those bought through group schemes when assessing welfare entitlement (ie, as earned income).

Currently, this is not the case and can mean that some people who have bought individual policies are no better off, because their income is taken in on a £-for-£ basis. The principle should be, if you pay more in you get more out.

What I am suggesting would open up a competitive market between group and individual income protection, would benefit employees, and provide opportunities for IFAs. 

Finally, we move to the other fundamentals for a quality standard: that it should go beyond the lowest common denominator (it should not allow the poor products accreditation); that IP should be easy to buy and sell; that it should pay out what people expect; and that it should be transparent. All to play for in 2014.

Richard Walsh is a director and fellow of SAMI Consulting, www.samiconsulting.co.uk

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