Time for protection industry to blow its own trumpet
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It has taken me a long time to realise it but it is becoming obvious to me that the life and health protection industry is a rather strange one. I am not implying any strange or irregular practices or anything truly untoward, but we do not do things that would help us a great deal. I think it is a result of modesty or British reserve, but the reality of business in 2012 is that it is really important to tell people about the positive things the industry does for its clients.
One thing that we do not do often enough is to realise that claims are the lifeblood of our industry. Of course a claim usually coincides with great personal inconvenience, pain or worse. Often it marks a tragedy in a family and at that time the insurer is almost the only entity that can help. And its help can be extraordinarily welcome and important to the claimant or the claimant’s family.
It is also true to say that many managers in our industry resent paying claims. I say (and goodness knows I do not often do this): “Have faith in your actuaries.” They price very sensibly and it is unlikely that excessive claims are likely to endanger the solvency of a well-run company. So rejoice that your product, which in all honesty is hard for a normal customer to define, has become tangible to its public.
You see what we are selling to our customers is a promise, and it is a very important promise that it is incumbent on us to keep if our customer has fulfilled his end of the bargain. Our business is about paying claims and about paying them cheerfully, expeditiously and in as helpful a way as possible. I am really not sure if large parts of the industry get this, certainly not a lot of the internal staff anyway.
A few years ago a friend of mine claimed on his income protection plan several years after he could have done because of multiple sclerosis. Not only did the company pay immediately, but it waived the waiting period in recognition of the fact that the client could have claimed up to five years earlier and because his family was suffering extreme hardship. It was a brilliant gesture and one that made me proud to be part of this industry. I was keen to feature this on the Income Protection Task Force website but the company had to clear a decision to allow the case study to go forward at the highest level and even then were rather sheepish about allowing details to go forward. Why?
I was recently discussing this issue with a woman who runs the Risk Store in Sydney. You know Australia, they used to be better than us at cricket. She has mapped 145 touch points in the claims process and tried to evaluate how they are handled. One of the real weaknesses we have (even in Oz) is communicating positively with the claimant and those around him, even if it is great news for them. This is an industry hiding a light under a rather large bushel. We pay hundreds of millions of pounds in claims each year but are very loth to tell anybody about it. Do companies not get the importance of case studies and reinforcing the value of the products people have bought?