Reasons not to be on the defensive

When a competitor launches a well-executed TV advertising campaign, your natural reaction would not be to congratulate them on their creativity, but to side with the media who criticise them for interrupting the public’s enjoyment of their favourite period costume drama.

When a new critical illness enhancement hits the streets, you will not be tempted to congratulate the company for its improvements, but will immediately dive into the technical detail to find titbits you can use to devalue the proposition.

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And when the media criticise a competitor for declining a claim, your immediate reaction is one of relief that it is someone else in the spotlight.

Since leaving a product provider and setting up on my own, I have noticed how this defensive way of thinking has melted away. Having no allegiance to any one product provider means I can take a helicopter view, and adopt a much more immediately positive outlook to competitor product launches and marketing campaigns.

Despite an increase in the number of claims paid, much clearer and simple product marketing material, and positive case studies about people’s lives being changed by protection pay-outs, public perception of our industry is still extremely poor. We need more campaigns along the lines of PruProtect’s, featuring Jessica Ennis-Hill, promoting even more positive stories about real people, rather than allowing the media to hog column inches with tales of declinatures.

But are we, as an industry, doing enough here? We need to be in this for the long game working on a constant long-term focus on the positive aspects of our products. For every negative story, we need to have 10 good case studies. For every disgruntled policyholder, we need to have 10 advocates who will shout about their positive experience.

Every provider, every adviser and indeed every reinsurance company now has a huge archive of positive content. Naturally, each wants to use their own material for their own competitive advantage. But for an industry with a tarnished reputation, collective advantage by everyone promoting the positives at a general level would be welcome.

If there is any disadvantage in the continual improvement of the cover offered by critical illness products, it is the corresponding increase in complexity. Advisers have to explain all of these partial payments and ABI Plus definitions. Product technical guides are becoming weightier than car driver instruction manuals.

When I talk to providers and to advisers, the main opinion is that this continued extension of the critical illness list will continue and is welcome – especially as comparison services such as CIExpert become grafted into the compliance approval systems of adviser networks. But while they agree that such developers will continue, most also think that we have passed the point of acceptable complexity.