Emma Thomson: Breaking down the ‘them and us’ mentality with insurers

When I announced I was leaving adviser firm Lifesearch after 18 years to join an insurer, someone quipped I was “moving to the dark side”. Is there really such a “them and us” mentality in our market and, if so, does it hinder us in making consumers more financially resilient? Working for both insurer and distributor has given me valuable insight.

My new British Friendly colleagues recognise the value of having someone on the team with distributor experience.

I contribute to product design, IT, marketing, sales aids and policy documentation, providing an adviser view, a sales support administrator view and a consumer view on how we can exceed the expectations of those who will recommend, process and buy our products. It is vital insurers gather distributor feedback, rather than assume they know what is required.

I know how disheartening it is for advisers to be presented with a new system or product that has clearly not been fully tested with distributors. Advisers are at the coalface, getting consumers to understand the need for protection, which is not easy. So to be presented with “improved” solutions that do not really make life easier, or to see something new launch when all you really want is for an existing issue to be fixed, is frustrating. Oh, and there is now no resource to fix that existing issue.

On the flipside, it may often seem to advisers that insurers have endless resources to improve systems and products quickly.

The resources might be bigger but so are the demands. Competitors launch something new or have rate changes which can disrupt plans.

Delivering IT to meet the needs of different distribution models is complex, especially if there are legacy products to account for, and pensions and investment divisions to compete with for resource.

Insurers delivering quality propositions to help more people claim are applauded but often face lower-than-expected sales because other options are cheaper. And reinsurance partnerships which can facilitate some improvements may also restrict others. My experience is that there is no real “them and us” issue, though better communications will certainly help improve understanding of each other’s challenges and perspectives. Zurich and AIG have held adviser forums to discuss issues and ideas.

The Income Protection Task Force and Finance and Technology Research Centre forums have both manufacturer and distributor members. The successful Seven Families initiative showed what can be achieved when manufacturers work together. We have also seen positive results when distributors do the same, such as the Protection Distributors Group. I am fortunate to have been involved in all these groups, so know first-hand how effective they have been.

We need more of this collegiate working across all parties to deliver good consumer outcomes, helping more people to claim. My time working for both Lifesearch and British Friendly has shown me that, while distributors and insurers naturally face different challenges, there is common ambition to put the customer first, and it is this shared desire that will ultimately help more consumers be better protected.

Emma Thomson is product strategist at British Friendly

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