In some respects, Covid-19 slowed the pace of innovation down in the protection market, as several planned new product launches were mothballed. But in others, the pandemic provided the catalyst for an accelerated rate of change.
Paul Shearman, proposition director at The Openwork Partnership, says the greater acceptance of working digitally has helped drive a rapid increase in the adoption of electronic GP reports (GPRs).
Shearman says: “We’ve seen many providers making use of remote nurse screening and there’s been a dramatic increase in clients’ usage of added value services such as 24-hour GPs, online mental health and physiotherapy support.”
Matthew Chapman, commercial director at Plus Financial Group, adds: “Since the start of the pandemic, I have been encouraged by the response from providers and the steps they have taken to maintain access to insurance for so many. Whether it be a renewed focus on electronic GPRs or customer declarations in favour of medical records, there has been a pragmatic approach from many insurers.
“New technology is also improving customer experiences and speeding up processes. Innovations such as immediate cover actually enable more people to get cover on risk sooner.”
In fact, according to advisers, most providers have stepped up since the onset of the pandemic.
The push to a paperless client journey is the most obvious process to have been accelerated. For example, trusts can now be completed online, in the middle of the application journey with many providers.
There has also been a massive effort to ensure that providers can offer some premium payment flexibility if a client has become financially distressed.
This means that premiums can often be reduced for a period of time, to ensure some level of cover is maintained, rather than the cover having to be cancelled altogether.
Kathryn Knowles, managing director at Cura Financial Services, says: “Trusts are being more widely adapted to online forms as well as nomination of beneficiary forms. Insurers keep improving their online presales tools, to help advisers to quickly see how clients might be assessed for specific health conditions.”
For Knowles, UnderwriteMe still stands out as an “incredible” presales and online application journey that simplifies the process for advisers.
“The ability to do one application that can then be used to build a full life, critical illness and income protection package for a client, all in one place, is great. This has been in place for a few years, but still stands out,” she adds.
Critical illness changes
When it comes to product offerings, protection experts say that insurers are focusing on simpler wordings and greater certainty over what will and won’t be covered.
David Mead, founder of Future Proof and joint head of protection at St. James's Place Protection Planning, says that there has been a genuine and much welcomed attempt to simplify critical illness product offerings by grouping together specific conditions, such as degenerative neurological conditions, rather than specifying them as separate conditions such as Alzheimer’s, motor neurone disease and Parkinson’s.