In Focus: Protecting your client  

Are insurers explaining underwriting decisions adequately?

But Knowles adds that, on a positive note, most insurers have sent more detailed reasons when asked.

“I saw an excellent example from Aviva recently, where the underwriter really took the time to explain why they couldn't offer the cover, and went into more depth than just saying the client had a medical condition, while also not overcomplicating it.

“It helped the client understand and also helped us determine what we should do next.”

Advisers at The Insurance Surgery, which likewise specialises in protection for high-risk customers, have also found that communication from providers is generally lacking.

“Our advisers regularly struggle to get detailed reasons for the loading or decline of their customers' applications,” says Alex Monteith, digital marketing executive at The Insurance Surgery.

“Due to the Data Protection Act, providers cannot share customer data with us if we did not already know the disclosure, which we fully understand and do not criticise the providers for.

“However, most of the time we are fully aware of our customers' medical history, and we are still refused an explanation from providers.

“Decision emails and letters are often quite generic and blunt, and their language could be a lot more empathetic. This becomes frustrating as it hinders access to insurance for our customers and prevents them from getting the life insurance they need. 

“Furthermore, providers don’t seem to signpost to other providers or specialists if they are unable to offer cover.”

Commenting on the agreement’s progress, Peter Hamilton, head of market engagement at Zurich UK and a disability and access government ambassador representing the insurance sector, says: “The aim of the changes was to provide greater transparency and to communicate with customers with more understanding, sensitivity, and compassion. Some of that will be process driven, some will be the language used.

“We also want to encourage insurers and advisers who find cover difficult to place for particular clients to signpost those customers to advisers who specialise in complex cases, or to other insurers who may have different risk appetites. It is hard to go to any industry event now where signposting is not mentioned, which in itself is evidence of progress.

“The changes have been developed alongside the implementation of the Association of British Insurers' best practice standards on mental health, and they have aligned objectives. At the same time, insurers continue to enhance the way they support vulnerable customers, which will include signposting to charities or other agencies and more.