I spent my summer holidays with the men of the rock band Thunder. A bit like the protection market, these rockers of the 1990s are enjoying a renaissance just now. In aid of the wonderful cause Childline, we toured the Canadian Rockies on Harley Davidsons.
Riding 14 big bikes across thousands of miles of mountain will always give one plenty of thoughts about protection, given the odd near-death experience is inevitable.
Our ex-SAS man hit a ditch on a dirt track and slid between trees that would have caused a life claim had they been a foot to the left or right; our Edinburgh surgeon looked the British way before crossing a minor road and tested the approaching pick-up’s brakes; and this columnist exited a freeway between two cement trucks trying their very hardest not to let him do just that.
If any of us had come to grief, would our life, income protection or critical illness claims have been paid? How long would it have taken? And how supported would our dependents have felt?
Back in March, I told the protection audience at the annual LifeSearch awards it is the claim that is our core product. The Protection Review conducted a long-running poll and found almost all of those who take an interest in insurance (and I fear that is just us who work in it) agreed with me, which is great. But what does it mean we have to do?
There are two interdependent aspects to completely changing the way consumers feel about protection. The first is obvious: claims should be handled very fast, not through a paper-based system that is effective at delaying and catching out but through an online and phone-based service designed to get what people have paid for to them fast. What Amazon did to books, we have to near enough do to claims. Insurers need to change processes and deliver swift satisfaction, not drawn out interrogation.
But the problem the insurers face is a real one. It is with the tiny number of people who lie to us when they apply or – and forgive me for this – whose intermediaries do the same so as to make the sale.
If we do not vet all claims thoroughly, the liars slip through and word spreads and chaos follows. That is a legitimate fear in any insurance market and for claims to be a cause of positive press, rather than regular embarrassment, it needs to be addressed.
That is the tricky bit, for the only way of doing it, excluding the liars’ charter that is non-contestability, is to make the application process watertight, and right now we are going all out to simplify and shorten it. Resolving that conundrum is the key to making claims our core product. I will tell you how to do it next time.
Tom Baigrie is chief executive of LifeSearch