The protection industry is in danger of spending too much time talking about its problems instead of taking action to improve, and consumers will only see one side of this problem, writes COVER editor, John Brazier.
Consumer trust. Underwriting transparency. Annual statements. Claims statistics. Closing the protection gap.
Do these sound familiar? If you work in or anywhere near protection, they should do.
These are the talking points the protection industry comes back to time and again; events, webinars, panel discussions, indeed any given opportunity to retreat to the comfort zone of pointing out the challenges the industry is faced with, seemingly in perpetuity.
As events season draws to a close, there was a sense of inevitability about the conversations taking place throughout the protection space. Yesterday's Protection Review conference was yet another example of this in action (but by no means the only one).
It's not an easy task to put together a thought-provoking, engaging and, above all, relevant agenda for conferences. What may have seemed a timely and important topic during the planning stages can sometimes become just "more of the same" by the time the panel speakers take to the stage.
It's a reflection of the industry itself, not these events, that the conversations are starting to sound like a broken record. The protection space is banging its drum to the same, tired beat and if action does not follow the discourse, it will all become so much background noise.
Role of the adviser
Consumer trust was a prominent talking point throughout Protection Review's sessions and it is indeed a topic worthy of examination. One element that was conspicuous by its absence during these conversations, however, was the role of the intermediary in building and maintaining positive, ongoing customer relationships.
Providers, especially the larger firms with operations that span various parts of the financial services sector, are always going to struggle to connect with consumers on an intimate level. They are simply too far removed to connect in a meaningful way, not to mention being inexorably linked with historic bad practises in the public conciousness, but they do have access to and existing relationships with the people that are literally in the homes of consumers.
One of the questions I am often asked by advisers is: Are you enjoying working for COVER? It may seem like a throwaway, small talk-type thing to ask, but there is a genuine interest behind it. Advisers want to see people love protection and be proud of what they achieve, and that passion for protection is one of the greatest strengths the industry possesses.
That's evident in the long-standing calls from intermediaries for annualised protection statements; numerous advisers often say: "How long have we been recommending this?" Yet now their tone has started to sound decidedly weary when talking about it.
So, it's incumbent upon insurers to harness that energy and wealth of client knowledge that intermediaries hold. These are the people at the coalface of the industry - exclude them at your peril.
One thought that crossed my mind during the afternoon's sessions was what consumers would think of the industry if they were to attend these conferences. A heated and sometimes tense discussion involving Tom Baigrie and Phil Jeynes went over the advised versus non-advised models once again; while this is another area that the industry can make improvements, I question how a policyholder would interpret it.
Would this come across as a passionate debate about how the industry can best improve its processes to provide consumers with the best possible products, service and outcomes? Or would it appear as yet another financial services tit-for-tat between two executives that think each other's business model isn't as good as their own?
Those of us familiar with the market will know that it's the former, but to the uninitiated, financial services conversations can sound one and the same. It all comes to down to better messaging.
And that's where so much of this problem can be addressed; improving the quality and quantity of protection messaging to the public will go a long way towards improving perceptions and correcting the misconceptions that are at the heart of many of the industry's favourite bugbears.
Think about protection advertising; how often do you see any form of protection products being advertised to the public? Life insurance is most likely the main one and those adverts on television can sometimes veer a bit too close to "nonsensical perfume ad" territory, but what about the lesser known and understood CIC and IP?
Yes, it costs money. Yes, it can be difficult. But anything worth doing often is.
The bottom line here is that nothing is going to change on its own and that we'll keep hearing these same conversations ad nauseum whenever we rock up for the conference morning coffee and pastries.
"Action begets action", as the saying goes, and while words have their value, nothing is going to change about protection until the industry gets itself moving towards the improved future it so desperately craves.