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Bernie Hickman

Legal & General’s 30-year-old protection director has a passion to change things for the better and, in his politely aggressive manner, tells Andrea Tryphonides how he hopes to close the protection gap by educating advisers and using targeted marketing to spread specific sales messages to consumers.

Legal & General’s Bernie Hickman can be distinguished from his peers in the protection market by his youth. At just 30, he has recently become the company’s protection director.

Born in 1975, Hickman became an actuarial trainee after gaining a degree in mathematics from the University of Warwick. Having been a protection actuary at L&G since 2000, his recent promotion came amid promises to increase the profile of protection insurance.

His role is to oversee price and product development in the individual protection market. He replaces Simon Gadd, who took on the position of group risk managing director after Jane Dale moved to managing director of general insurance operations.

Hickman says: “We are confident with the scale of operations we have and the representation we have. It is going to be tough for other providers to get market share from us.”

Describing himself as aggressive and out-spoken, Hickman has a clear vision of what he wants to achieve in the market. “It is a tough industry and very competitive. Getting people to buy protection is the toughest thing to market. How do you tell people to give you their money, just in case a terrible thing happens, with a chance that they will not get a penny of their premiums paid back?”

Although Hickman does not rule out the possibility of an industrywide protection campaign in the future, he feels that more time needs to be spent working with advisers to help them better understand how protection can fit in with the lives of their clients. This includes making sure advisers have enough literature and clear marketing text to help them make informed recommendations.

The most effective form of protection, according to Hickman, is family income benefit. This is a type of term insurance where, following the death of the life assured, payments are made to the beneficiary in instalments for the remainder of the policy term rather than as a lump sum. If the life assured lives to the end of the term, no benefit is payable.

“I do think we can tap in to the maternal instinct of customers. It is a straightforward product that can help out in a time of real need in a really manageable way. Our family income benefit product is highly competitive and you can now apply for it electronically.”

Hickman is driven by wanting to do the right thing. He takes his religion extremely seriously and says his favourite book is the Bible, which he has read from cover to cover. His religious passion filters into his desire to bring about change for the better in L&G’s protection proposition.

“I want to bring a fresh impetus to our business. I cannot promise any sweeping changes but I have an in-built restlessness to change things for the better and make a difference in the market. In particular, I want to make our products, literature and sales material really good to help the advisers in the work they are doing.”

One criticism that L&G has had to deal with has been the size of its paper application form – one of the longest in the protection industry, running at up to 30 pages. Hickman defends this by saying the application is based on the web form. “Fundamentally, our e-application has been designed to make life easy for the agent. In addition, we also have been doing all we can to make the questions as unambiguous as possible. I do appreciate the perception it causes but we do have faith in our form.” He is also comfortable with L&G’s distribution spread in the protection market through its single-tie, multi-tie and IFA relationships.

As the debate on advised and non-advised sale rages – particularly since Money Marketing launched its No Advice, No Protection campaign – Hickman says there is room in the market for a bit of everything.

“Fundamentally, most customers need their needs pointed out to them. However, there are those who want to buy without advice and that is fine, too. What concerns me is that some of the terminology used and the inconsistency of that terminology can possibly lead to issues on the execution-only side.”

Hickman is very defensive of his protection patch, again showing signs of his politely aggressive personality.

Although he has an actuarial background, he says it has not been difficult for him to step out of the box. But he adds: “A technical understanding of how protection works is an important element. I have a passion to see things change for the better but I can do this with the analytical skills I acquired through my actuarial work and maths degree.”

He is less certain as to what the upcoming pension simplification will bring to the world of protection. He believes pension term assurance will become incredibly attractive but perhaps it requires a change in name.

“I believe that the name PTA is potentially misleading. We are looking at a different name, possibly something like tax-efficient term assurance. After all, PTA is an insurance product, not an investment or pension product.”

In the meantime, he is keen to bridge the protection gap. Fed up with reading the same tired excuses, Hickman would like more targeted marketing material to alert potential customers to the benefits of protection. “A targeted campaign to couples, parents with children, and so on, with different and specific sales messages, could do a lot of good.”

Hickman has two young daughters and knows how parenthood can change your perception of protection. He says there are huge opportunities in the market and knows his team can provide a really valuable service.

With his commitment to the market and faith in himself and the people around him.

Born: 1975, Crawley
Lives: Redhill
Education: BSc in mathematics, University of Warwick, 1995; Fellow of the Institute of Actuaries, 2000
Career: 1996-98 Commercial Union; 1998-2000 L&G pensions product development; 2000 L&G protection actuary; 2005 L&G protection director
Life ambition: To keep changing for the better
Career ambition: “To do the best I can in every opportunity I am given”
Hero: “Jesus Christ. He brought about the greatest change.”
Favourite book: The Bible
Favourite film: Ben Hur
Car: Toyota Avensis
Hobbies: Reading, walking, diving, squash
Likes: Weekends and family holidays
Dislikes: Apricots

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