COVER editor Adam Saville sat down with The Exeter’s Steve Bryan to hear more about the mutual’s award-winning income protection proposition
The Exeter remained fully open for business when the pandemic struck in March. Unlike other income protection (IP) providers, it made the decision not to withdraw its day one or week one cover from the market as the UK went into lockdown.
More recently, the mutual has introduced an ‘Income First' toolkit to help advisers prioritise IP when talking to clients, while the Covid-19 crisis has highlighted the benefits of digital enhancements made to its claims process.
After winning the award for Best Income Protection at the COVER Excellence Awards, we caught up with The Exeter's Director of Distribution and Marketing, Steve Bryan, to hear more about the proposition and how the Covid-19 crisis is changing the perception of income protection in the eyes of consumers. The original article featured in our COVER Excellence Awards Winners Special ebook.
You only need to look at the current situation to see the impact of unexpected events on people's incomes.
What makes an award-winning income protection proposition in your eyes?
I think ‘proposition' is the key word there. It's not just having a product that is flexible, clear and understandable, but it's also about being easy to do business with and providing a quality service to both advisers and customers - or in our case, members. There also needs to be complete transparency throughout the process. The product is the fulcrum but it's the wider service offering and then, of course, the moment of truth: the point of claim. IP is without any doubt the most claimed on protection product but that's the time the insurer needs to deliver. We, and many others, take an individual approach to claims; we look to help our members remain in the workplace where possible, or facilitate their return to work, through early intervention and rehabilitation support when required, whilst supporting them financially throughout the process. The proposition is also encompassed by compassion; by showing that we care as an organisation - it's more than just a monetary transaction. It's about a relationship between insurer, adviser and member, and making sure everybody has their key roles to play.
Why is IP such an important product in your eyes?
You only need to look at the current situation to see the impact of unexpected events on people's incomes. You are far more likely to be impacted by a loss of income through illness or injury for three months than die within the next year. We've got millions of people - both employed and self-employed - at the moment who are reliant on the state. However, the support people are getting would not be as generous in a non-pandemic situation. That's where IP really comes into its own. We were able to consider claims for self-isolation right at the start of the pandemic (we still would), for those unable to work not because they were ill, but because they needed to follow official medical guidance to self-isolate. We had to do this outside of our product T&Cs but felt that was the right thing to do. Arguably people are more aware than ever of the importance of protecting their income, but that doesn't mean they will make an IP purchase. What is more important than having a certain level of income? Working enables us to fulfil our lifestyles, so protecting that income has to be the key financial decision in anybody's life. And that's where good financial advice comes in.
So, advisers, as well as consumers, need to prioritise IP. How has The Exeter proposition evolved over the past 12 months?
We've recently launched a new ‘Income First' toolkit as part of our Income First campaign focused on IP. The aim of that is to provide advisers with all the tools to allow them to have confident income protection conversations. There is an income risk calculator that highlights the financial benefits that IP provides; a Reasons Why editor, objection handling tips and CPD-approved resources that highlight opportunities within the IP market. The evolution of our to-market proposition has been underpinned by us looking at areas where we can be more efficient from a technological perspective. The pandemic has forced many of us down that route, but there are far more electronic GP reports now than before (still not enough, but great strides); the introduction of digital claim forms has also sped up the time it takes to receive information from claimants. The natural technological evolution of the pandemic has hopefully brought with it habits that will continue into the future.
Has the Covid-19 pandemic helped make income protection more of a priority for the protection market?
Firstly, I am very proud of how we all responded to the pandemic as an industry. However, I think the perception of IP as a priority had started before the pandemic. Things like the furlough scheme and the situations that many people face are reinforcing it. We've often said as an industry that more could be done by us collectively, but I think we've done a lot of that during the challenges that 2020 has brought. What I do wonder is whether consumer perception has changed. I think the industry has been aligned and advisers are more willing to have conversations about IP, but I do wonder whether consumers will remember the need for income protection once this is all over, because they can have a tendency to forget. But I hope I am wrong. All this does is reinforce the importance of good financial advice. It is unlikely that people will wake up in five years' time and think ‘I need to buy an IP policy'. However, there is definitely an immediate focus on the need for it as a result of the pandemic, with people actively seeking it out. But that won't last forever, so now is the time to really prioritise income first.
This article - brought to you as a partner-led insight from The Exeter - originally appeared in our COVER Excellence Awards Winners Special eBook