Let’s face it, protection is not the most interesting product,” admits Bright Grey propositions director Roger Edwards. “In moments of jest, I describe it as a 3D market - death, disability and disease. But even though it is a dull subject, the payouts make a huge difference to people’s lives.”
Although he had planned to be a journalist, a summer of work experience at the IFA firm his father worked for whetted his appetite for financial services marketing. “After that, I started applying for marketing roles. It took a while but I got two offers, one from Sun Life and one from Prolific Life and Pensions.”
Sun Life was the offer Edwards jumped at. “It sounded fantastic. It had a training scheme and taught you all about the products. But when I went to meet my branch manager, he said: ’You know all that rubbish they told you in the interview about trainee courses? Well, there is a car, there are some endowments, get out there.’ I left the office and then rang the Prolific. I started the following Monday.”
Although it was a technical support role, Edwards soon moved over to marketing. “I used to draw cartoons of the senior managers for our spoof newsletter. One day they phoned and asked if I had ever thought about working in marketing. They brought me down to London, interviewed me and I ended up effectively being the marketing department.”
Prolific’s development of its self-assurance product in 1991 inspired Edwards’ co-invention of the first protection menu product in 1996. “Self-assurance was one of the earliest critical-illness policies and it became a really successful product for Prolific. After a few years, I progressed to the role of head of product marketing at Scottish Provident, which bought Prolific in 1993, and we decided to adapt self assurance. It combined life insurance, CI and income protection, and by the end of the 1990s it was huge.”
It got 30 per cent market share and soon attracted the attention of Abbey National. Although Abbey made a lot of redundancies after the acquisition, Edwards was asked to stay. “I was a bit hacked off. All my colleagues were getting big payoffs and I had to stay and be tortured by Abbey National.”
However, after answering an anonymous advert in The Scotsman, Edwards found himself forming a business plan with six others in a pub in Edinburgh. “The advert had been placed by Royal London, who were second in line for buying Scottish Provident. They saw Abbey were making a mess of it and went through a surreptitious process of contacting other ex-employees. We decided to take self-assurance and throw away the jargon and small print.”
Since acquiring Scottish Provident in 2008 - an irony not lost on Edwards - Royal London has been pulling out the stops. Bright Grey launched simplified life insurance in May, while Scottish Provident paid out £1bn of claims and launched its premier service. “We also combined the sales forces of the two businesses, but the brands are separate. The menu products are virtually identical but having the two means we can target different segments of the market.” Edwards believes Scottish Provident will be the more upmarket brand, covering people above £250,000.
“Bright Grey is less formal, and would be the brand we would take direct. Although our preferred route to market is IFA distribution, Bright Grey’s simplified life cover is available through Moneysupermarket.” Edwards thinks Bright Grey would find it difficult to go completely direct: “We are not a brand people know, like Aviva.”
He is running two separate marketing campaigns for the two brands to play to their different audiences. The Scottish Provident campaign is aimed at highlighting the company’s comeback under the new ownership while the Bright Grey campaign is aimed at IFAs and the tailored service the company can offer. Edwards says it takes a lot of discipline to keep the brands separate. “We have to be careful not to mix them up.”
Marketing campaigns are not the only way to raise awareness of individual businesses or protection in general.
“We need to look at other channels such as Citizens Advice and the internet. The man from the Pru might be the man from the iPad in the future.”
Edwards thinks the solution proffered by CWC Research managing director Clive Waller could also be viable. “He is suggesting that once the RDR kicks in, IFAs are going to realise they cannot get commission anymore and will sell stacks of protection to make it up. I think there will undoubtedly be an upswing in protection sales but I am not sure it will be this massive tidal wave Waller suggests.”
Edwards thinks the number of advisers leaving the industry could balance out those selling more protection, resulting in little change. “I do not think the protection industry is ’gently dying’ as Waller said but I do think it is gently stagnating.” While Edwards thinks the stagnation of life insurance is down to lack of awareness, CI is a different issue. “The price of CI has not reduced as much as protection. It costs £10 a month to buy £200,000 of life cover. The CI equivalent is £90. It puts people off.”
Price is not the only problem with CI and Edwards says the increase in the number of conditions covered and definitions overly complicates the subject.
“CI definitions are a massive issue for the industry. I am a fan of moving to something simpler but the problem is that if your list gets smaller, advisers will not recommend it. I cannot see how we are going to get out of this without forming a cartel, which would have us all jailed for breaking the competition act.”
But he says the difficulties and occasional frustrations of industry are worthwhile when you see the outcomes.
“The upsides of working in protection make issues like this worth putting up with. When I was at Scottish Provident, a man and his son came into the office. His son was wearing the full Manchester United strip, which was a bit out of place in Edinburgh. It turned out that the man’s wife had been diagnosed with cancer. We had paid out immediately but unfortunately she died.
“The husband had decided to use the extra money to take his football-mad son on a tour of all the UK’s football stadiums and while they were visiting Tynecastle they decided to come in and say thank you. That sort of moment makes it all worthwhile.”
Born: Lytham St Annes
Lives: Musselburgh, East Lothian
Education: King Edward VII School Lytham, Leeds University
Career: 2009-present: proposition director, Bright Grey and Scottish Provident; 2001-09: product director, Bright Grey; 1993-2001: head of product marketing, Scottish Provident; 1990-2001: marketing officer, Prolific Life and Pensions Ltd
Likes: Writing, red wine, cooking, teaching yoga, body combat and body balance
Dislikes: Airport security queues, delayed trains, broken promises
Drives: BMW 3 series sports coupe
Book: The Long Walk by Stephen King
Film: Die Hard
Album: A Concert for the People - Berlin by Barclay James Harvest
Career ambition: Strong communications, delighted customers, healthy profits
Life ambition: Perfect balance of work, teaching fitness classes and being with family
If I wasn’t doing this I would be: Running a holistic yoga and fitness studio