I spent time in early November at a face-to-face protection conference, pretty much 40 years to the day from when I joined the industry.
Over the years the industry has seen seismic changes in some areas and, in others, the challenges and opportunities remain surprisingly similar.
One of the most obvious differences is the number of advisers in the industry. When I started out, the number of advisers talking to customers was measured in the hundreds of thousands.
Nowadays, the number of advisers is in the small tens of thousands, and the number talking regularly about protection will be nearer five thousand.
A good year for the roses
The direct sales forces have gone, so too has the practice of ‘home service’, where advisers walked up the garden path to collect the premiums, were seen as family friends and were often invited to the weddings and funerals of clients they had served for many years.
Long before the days of big data, these agents accumulated a wealth of insight into the lives of their customers that could inform how to nurture and grow that relationship.
The successful advisers of today are, I think, looking to replicate that kind of ongoing, strong and trusted engagement.
We have seen the rise of the specialist businesses who focus solely on protection and it is to their credit that sales have not fallen over the years in proportion to the decline in the number of advisers.
Lifesearch pioneered the way 20 or so years ago, and since then we have seen a hugely encouraging rise in the number of businesses, large and small, who focus solely on protection.
It all adds up to a big opportunity for other companies, and for those advisers who may focus on other areas such as wealth or mortgages, it has never been easier to signpost customers to specialist protection advice.
Accidents will happen
When I started, there was quite a focus on one-liners to encourage clients to buy protection, including: 'If life assurance was free, how much would you have?'; 'You don’t buy life assurance because you’re going to die, but because those you love are going to live'; 'If you had a money-making machine in the corner of your room, would you insure it?'; 'This is something you have to buy when you think you don’t need it. When you know you need it, you often can’t buy it.'; and 'Would you buy the cheapest parachute on offer...?'.
Some of these will still be used, and when delivered well, with humour, they can still be impactful.
The core client needs arguably have not changed dramatically. Without protection, customers or their dependants still face the risk of loss of income and an inability to pay rent or mortgage payments or to maintain their lifestyles.
That said, people’s lives have become more complicated, and careers and relationships are much less linear than 40 years ago.