Online processing has come a long way since Legal & General developed its pioneering system nearly 10 years ago. It is now more efficient to submit applications and quicker to get customers on risk but have we made as much progress as we could? Unfortunately not.
Friends Provident’s eSelect launch in 2003 was a radical step forward – it offered many new features including special terms online, enabling advisers to issue underwriting requirements and virtually eradicated the need for phone or paper communication. It gave us control from start to finish, with emails sent whenever the status changed. It was an impressive development but what is disappointing is what followed. Other providers launched and tweaked systems but for years none deviated much from L&G’s design. Recently, the likes of Bupa, Fortis, Royal Liver and Legal & General have taken inspiration from eSelect and even improved on it but they are the minority.
One crucial customer service point has been ignored. No one has been wise enough to follow Friends Provident when it comes to online trusts. Trusts are so important but are time-consuming because of the paperwork. If all insurers could provide an online trust that dramatically simplifies the process, clients would make use of it and families would benefit.
But why stop there? The role of an online system should not cease when a plan starts. Systems should enable better management of policies throughout the term. They should provide notifications to the adviser when clients have missed premiums, changed address, lapsed cover, changed their name, called to alter cover, made a claim, etc. They should also enable us to reinstate cover, update addresses and receive updates on claims. It should be an extension of an intermediary’s own client management system and integrate with it, so paper communications become obsolete, the need to make calls is reduced and processes become less time-consuming. With more focus on improving persistency rates, providers need to develop systems to help intermediaries achieve this.
Some providers are looking at some of these features but I am concerned it will be years before we see any real changes. We need investment and innovation rather than tinkering at the edges. Introducers have differing needs, so the key factor that providers need to build into their systems is flexibility. They need to meet the needs of intermediaries now but also ensure their systems are designed so changes can easily be made to meet future needs too. Come on providers, please stop delivering online systems that do half the job and develop true e-commerce propositions that meet the needs of your customers both before and after plans are on-risk.
Emma Prescott is life office relationship director at Lifesearch