Following his battle with cancer, Guardian’s head of strategic partnerships shares what he has learnt
No one thinks they're going to be diagnosed with a life-threatening disease at the age of 36. But it happens, and unfortunately, more often than you think.
I've worked in the industry for 18 years and because of my career choice, I thankfully had private medical insurance (PMI) as well as individual critical illness cover (CI) and life cover in place for both my wife and myself. But as my experience shows, there's more to properly protecting your clients than just choosing the cheapest policies.
There are important things to consider about structuring the cover you put in place, which could make all the difference to your clients in the event of a claim.
Make sure your clients are getting access to the latest definitions
When the lump on my vocal cord was first diagnosed as early-stage cancer in summer 2018, I actually felt rather foolish. Despite having worked in the industry my entire career, under the policy I'd taken out 12 years ago, early-stage cancer wasn't covered - while later versions of the same policy did now cover this.
As it happened, my illness progressed, and my diagnosis worsened enough to meet the definition I'd bought. However, at the time I felt very mixed emotions - I had cancer, yet it didn't ‘qualify'.
This is a classic example of why regular reviews of protection policies are so important. I'd urge all advisers to make sure they're reviewing their clients' protection portfolios as a matter of course, to make sure they're not inadvertently going to let their clients down at claim. Alternatively, choose a provider that's committed to providing cover upgrades.
Think about how to structure the life and CI policy
Because I'd worked in the industry for such a long time, I knew about the importance of future-proofing the protection you put in place. The best way to do this is to make sure each element of cover is separate, so that when you make a claim on one part of the policy, the rest remains intact.
I'd put in place separate life and CI cover for both myself and my wife - that is, four separate covers. This has served us well. My wife remains protected for both life and CI; and I still have my life cover in place. If we'd taken out a traditional joint life accelerated critical illness policy, which only pays out on the first event, as a couple we'd now have no cover left, and would have to start again.
A second medical opinion gave me the certainty I needed to accept a life-changing operation
My journey with cancer wasn't straightforward. I went through a number of tests and different operations as the diagnosis progressively worsened. It was a roller-coaster - and every setback brought a new emotional low.
Just over a year after the first diagnosis, after intense radio-therapy, I knew the cancer was back. But this time I had no other option left than to have my entire voice box removed.
Faced with this future, I went into a state of denial. I just couldn't accept that at age 38, I wouldn't be able to speak. My protection provider had a partnership with RedArc, which allowed me access to a second medical opinion. This proved extremely valuable, but not in the way most would think. For me, it validated the severity of my illness and confirmed that I definitely needed to undergo drastic, life-changing surgery.
Without this I may have always questioned if I'd taken the right path. Or, even worse, I might have waited too long to make the decision. It got me in the right place, mentally, to accept the laryngectomy.
Seriously consider index-linking
I took out my critical illness cover when I was 25 years old for a sum assured of £75,000. Basically, it was what I could afford at the time. I knew I should probably be going for a higher sum assured, so I decided to index-link the policy so it would grow over time. I chose to increase it by 10% a year. I'm so glad I did.
If I hadn't, there's no way my initial sum assured of £75,000 would have been enough. I've had three kids and three promotions since then. Because I'd index-linked, it's grown healthily over time. So, at the point of claim - by luck rather than judgement - my critical illness payout was big enough to cover my mortgage.
This massively eased the financial pressures on my family throughout my illness and recovery. It's also worth saying that if I hadn't index-linked at the outset, I certainly would've needed an adviser to contact me regularly to make sure the policy continued to meet my changing circumstances during the last decade.
People need advisers to help them get it right
I've always been a massive advocate of protection insurance. But never more than today. Most of all, my experience has taught me the importance of having the right cover, structured in the right way. For most people, this is a luxury that only happens if they get good advice. Recovery from a critical illness isn't straightforward - it might take weeks or it might take years. Having the right cover gives people the space to focus on getting better, both physically and emotionally, without added financial worries. Having a financial safety net provides you with more options as you move forward in life.
I'm now back at work, trying to put my ordeal behind me, and with renewed vigour to make sure as many people as possible are putting in place the right protection. The role of advice is central to this. I want to urge all my adviser colleagues to take the time to really understand their clients. What would they need if an illness hits and the theory becomes reality? Many customers don't understand enough to protect themselves properly. They need advisers to help them get it right.
Mike Devaney is head of strategic partnerships at Guardian Financial Services
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