Debbie Kennedy: 'I don't take my role for granted'

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Debbie Kennedy, managing director of protection, LV=
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Debbie Kennedy, managing director of protection, LV=

We sit down with LV='s protection director to hear about her journey through the industry so far

We heard from Debbie Kennedy, protection director at LV=, at the COVER Protection and Health Summit in early October.

She spoke of her experience working in Australia, and the public exposure of the insurance industry in terms of behaviours and culture, shining a spotlight on a range of practises, including the industry's approach to mental health. The Australian financial services market fell short against measures around customer-centricity and fair treatment, and Debbie questioned whether the UK market would suffer the same fate.

We sat down with Debbie to hear more about her career journey to date, looking at her time in Australia and Asia, and now heading up protection for LV= in the UK. And we learn about what the mutual is doing to broaden access to insurance, particularly around income protection (IP) and mental health.

Hi Debbie, please can you tell us a bit about yourself and your career in insurance?

Like many insurance professionals, I never set out to have a career in financial services. I had ambitions to study art and be a fashion designer, but first I had to earn some money, and the local job centre sent me for an interview as a trainee underwriter. I was fortunate enough to land at a company (Crusader Insurance) who had a full time chief medical officer (CMO). I now realise that the weekly study and medical exams set by the CMO afforded me the best training possible.

Far from seeing insurance as a boring career choice, something clicked in those early days and I realised how important protection cover could be for families at risk of losing everything as a result of bereavement or illness. It was probably no coincidence that this was at the time of the miners' strike, and in Scotland I experienced first-hand the sense of communities coming together to support each other. I also witnessed how driven the wives and mothers of the mining communities were. They organised food banks, clothing and fund-raising for all the families.

I didn't know it at the time, but that was my first experience of mutuality and the power of the group to support the individual. It is probably no surprise that I have been particularly drawn to mutuals during my career, including Royal London, Nippon Group and now LV=.

Whizzing through my career, I have been lucky to work in various roles from chief underwriter to transformation director and have been responsible for developing new protection propositions. I have picked up a rather eclectic mix of accents along the way, drawn from the places I've lived and worked - from Scotland, Cheltenham, Australia, Asia and now to the south coast shores of Bournemouth.

How does it feel to be back in the UK heading up the LV= protection business?

I'm delighted to be back in the UK and leading the LV= protection business, which for me is like joining a 175-year-old start up. At LV= we have a renewed sense of purpose for our protection proposition and have a strong heritage of protecting not only lives, but livelihoods. As a modern mutual we can occupy a unique, valuable and distinct role in society. This gives us the advantage of being able to experiment and innovate to bring ground-breaking protection solutions to the market.

I don't take my role for granted, and as a leader I realise it is a privilege to be able to engage and lead our teams. I also haven't forgotten that as a woman in protection I can help shape and design solutions that will particularly speak to women and ensure we are protecting the valuable role they play in our economy, communities and families.

What is driving you personally to place more focus on broadening access to insurance?

My interest in broadening access to the protection market started a few years ago. I realised that most of our investment and time as providers was going towards getting clean lives on risk as quickly as possible. We also saw the development of propositions that rewarded healthy lives. I felt challenged to look at developing solutions for those customers that needed cover the most, those with chronic conditions. This resulted in a product developed specifically for those with diabetes. It has been great to see many across the industry championing access to insurance and I do believe that in the long term we will see more innovation and new products entering the market as a result.

What is LV= doing differently around support for mental health, particularly in the IP space?

As a leading IP provider, we're experienced in supporting those with mental health issues at claim. In fact, mental health accounted for over £5m of IP claims last year. Through our specialist partner, Innovate, we have offered practical and emotional support to over 250 members and their families so far in 2019. We're also rolling out second medical opinion support, from Square Health, for all protection claimants.

As providers and advisers, we need to recognise that anxiety and worry can happen at any time. Earlier this year, we extended our LV= Doctor Services to provide remote psychological support to our protection members, which means they can now simply and quickly access confidential emotional support when they need to, not only at the point of claim.

And, back to my early experiences of communities supporting the individual and the power of people, I'm delighted that we're extending our mental health awareness training across our customer, proposition, marketing and sales teams. This included my LV= colleagues and I becoming Dementia Friends.

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