In Focus: Protecting your client  

Are insurers explaining underwriting decisions adequately?

The agreement also states that communications about underwriting decisions will always be “empathetic, respectful, free of stigmatising language and appropriate.

“Insurers will also be mindful that communications can affect an individual’s health. They should be specific to the individual customer and consider their information needs using plain and simple language and avoiding technical jargon.”

LV says a challenge for underwriters across the industry is shifting their style of language from technical, medical terms that are used during an underwriting assessment, to a plain and empathetic one when engaging with a customer.

“This shift can be challenging, but our underwriters have adapted well and receive regular coaching to support them in delivering the principles of the agreement,” the provider adds.

As a result of the agreement, Nicky Bray, chief underwriter at Zurich UK, says the provider reviewed the style and content of its correspondence to customers.

“This has involved people from across the business, including a qualified nurse from our rehab team,” Bray adds.

Other providers have also assessed how they communicate to customers. Aegon, for example, says it reviewed the tone of voice in its written communications.

And Jennifer Gilchrist, protection specialist at Royal London, says the provider has removed “harsh” terminology such as ‘decline’ and replaced it with ‘unable to offer cover’.

AIG Life has taken similar steps as a result of the agreement, by removing jargon such as ‘decline’ and ‘postpone’ from customer letters, to likewise use the phrase ‘unable to offer insurance’ instead.

Describing the task of communicating a decline or loading as a significant and “very human” moment, Helen Croft, head of underwriting strategy at AIG Life, says: “What we are actually saying to them is we’ve assessed you are more likely to die or get ill than other people. How underwriters deliver that message to the person applying for insurance is therefore really important.”

Room for improvement remains

Alan Knowles, managing director at Cura, which specialises in high-risk protection, says: “It's great to see some insurers adopt the points within the agreement, however not all insurers appear to have fully embedded this yet. We are still seeing some very basic decline letters being sent to clients.

“We also saw an example where cover was postponed and a client was told they need to go see their GP as something came up on their medical screening, but they were told nothing further.

“This left the client extremely worried about what was wrong. It turns out it was just relating to his blood pressure, which could have easily been explained to the client to ease his concern.”