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Boost creativity to focus on customers

’Companies are placing their faith in people whose natural inclination is to say no to anything’

The comprehensive spending review represents an opportunity for the protection industry if we can create the right dialogue with Government.

But compelling though the prospect of being part of the solution to the welfare conundrum is, in this column I want to focus on something different.

It struck me that this era is a very depressing and dangerous time, not just for insurance but for British business as a whole.

I say this because the sort of people that companies are placing their faith in now are people whose natural inclination is to say no to anything put before them rather than yes.

It is easy to say no. If I play cards, it is easier to win most games by playing conservatively rather than by attacking, but it is nowhere near as much fun.

It is important that our industry breeds and encourages entrepreneurs and creative thinkers rather than the bean-counter who has never had a constructive idea in his or her life. Our industry has been too left-brained for years anyway, prizing the virtues of conservatism and thrift way above those of creativity and imagination.

We already have a problem as an industry in that our proposition is not attractive to the people it should be.

There are several reasons for this, chief of which is that despite the rhetoric, we do not focus enough on what the customer needs rather than what we want, or find it easy, to sell to him or her.

This is compounded when the driving force within our industry is compliance.

I recently spent two weeks in Bermuda where I was “forced” ( I think that is the right word) to watch American television. If you want to see compliance gone mad and the power of the legal profession spiralling out of control, then look at an American commercial for drug treatments.

I counted two where 60 per cent or more of the advert had a background commentary outlining all the caveats and side-effects of the drugs involved.
One person in Wisconsin may have suffered a medical problem which might have had a link to a drug but to cover their backsides they outline it just in case they get sued. That is the world in which we live.

Compliance functions take precedence over marketing, research and development but it is still possible for us to sell bonds paying 8 per cent commission to gullible investors who are not using their Isa allowances.

Compliance exists to cover backsides rather than to protect the consumer. How fundamentally dishonest is that?

There are still a host of reasons why we are not a truly open and honest industry. The protection industry probably has less to hide than most but it is still an industry frightened of taking risk (its oft-touted raison d’etre), devoid of new, exciting propositions and it is much keener to say no rather than yes.

I know most businesses are in exactly the same position but, given the importance of what we do, wouldn’t it be great to buck this trend?

Peter Le Beau is managing director of Le Beau Visage


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