Protection: looking back on 2021

Protection: looking back on 2021

Apparently we are ending the year as we began: a new variant, working from home and face masks compulsory again – but look at the protection industry and you’ll see a very different picture. Small yet tangible, a shift of change and progress has happened in our marketplace. 

Do not forget, this is the protection industry; we are not synonymous with innovation, evolution and speed – historically at least – yet the conditions of 2020-21 meant that even we ventured deep into uncharted territory. 

We were able to keep pace with demand in an extreme and changeable market, making big decisions – often without medical support – about an illness we still struggle to fully comprehend.

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A rapid evolution in underwriting policy was needed, but it was not the underwriting restrictions that marked the past year for me. What did was the willingness of insurers to continuously review changes and remove them when it was right to do so.

This represents a small change that you may shrug at, but do not forget our industry’s reaction to HIV – many of those underwriting restrictions persist today. 

Flexibility and a willingness to push the risk boundaries was needed and I am delighted to say that our industry took on the challenge.

Underwriting with reduced access to health reports amid continued strain on the NHS meant that decisions were made with less evidence and non-medical limits were raised. 

This accelerated the adoption of electronic medical reports. The use of digital health reports has been in development for the best part of a decade. Now is their moment, with some insurers receiving 30 to 40 per cent of their reports electronically.

Protection providers who pivoted quickly, remaining flexible while still offering a good digital proposition, were sought out as LifeSearch’s advisers, among others, found value in adaptability.

Remote GP access and mental health support, so often overlooked in the past, are now seen as part of the value of the product rather than as an add-on. 

However, let us not congratulate ourselves too heartily. In 2021, while some protection intermediaries fared better than others, collectively we failed to build on the increased awareness and engagement that we saw in 2020. 

It was not surprising that enquiries for life cover increased significantly at the start of the pandemic, but this soon normalised and business levels for some companies remain below pre-pandemic levels.

One area where we did see market growth was in the exceptional demand for mortgages. Artificially induced or not, the Financial Conduct Authority reported that the value of new mortgage commitments was almost 2.5 times greater than a year earlier.

And according to the latest Association of Mortgage Intermediaries' Viewpoint report, more than half of advisers said that protection discussions had increased, and 64 per cent said that mortgage business had increased.

The report also found that 40 per cent of 18 to 34-year-olds would consider income protection as a result of Covid-19 when they would not have before – that is twice as many as those aged 35 to 54 (19 per cent) and 10 times as likely as the over 55s (4 per cent)