Since Aids receded as a national fear, protection sales have been drifting, only boosted from time to time by dubious short-term marketing initiatives. This drift is so long-standing that it is clear to me that the fundamental reason is simply that the protection industry has failed to convince the consumer that they need what we sell.
Not since the demise of the door-to-door salesman and the cold-caller has any protection marketer secured the budget or the corporate will to try to sell to those not already thinking of it. There is almost no effort dedicated to actually selling this once iconic product range.
The retailers are almost all part-timers who seek bit of profit from tacking on a protection sale to their mainstream business – IFAs who prefer investments and pensions, mortgage brokers who find a proper protection sales process beneath them, big consumer retail and service businesses which can see a bit of opportunity in brand extension and, indeed, providers for whom direct selling of protection business merely supplements their core business of selling the almost pointless single-premium bond.
All these opportunists keep the market alive but they drift off to other things whenever they hear the call of better returns. They do not see the protection market as being their way of changing their world for the better.
Even those few who stand as exceptions to that rule do not sell protection. We cater to those who want to buy or provide services to the part-timers or seek chiefly to grow our market share. None claim the brief to grow the market.
I can recall only one serious effort in the last 10 years to go out and get the public to buy protection and to make them aware of their needs. That effort continues but it is one PR department at one adviser. They can only afford to communicate through the press, whose willingness to promote good financial practice is undoubted but who cannot be expected to change a market on their own.
There must have been meetings these last 10 years in York or Kingswood or Edinburgh where assertive executives have made the case for investment in promoting protection – in marketing to grow the market rather than growing within a shrinking one.
All efforts seem to be subverted, however, into focusing on new products, on how to distribute through IFAs and mortgage brokers and on how to win some market share with discount pricing. None has resulted in the clearly needed campaign to remind the public that they are at risk and, in fact, simply to blame if they die or are disabled and do not have sufficient of our products, and that their coping strategies are facile if they rely on the state or relatives in a debtridden economy.
I have seen gentle newspaper articles, most seemingly prompted by that one PR office, suggesting that people ought to look into this but I have heard no funded campaigning voice from the sellers of these products challenging the Government to come clean on the welfare state lie or making disturbing headlines in a good cause. There is no marketing budget designed to create a public understanding of the desperate straits in which death and disability leave a family’s hopes.
It appears that there are no life insurance salespeople left in our great insurance companies and, until one turns up and is backed financially, our product will continue its slow decline into history.
Tom Baigrie is managing director of Lifesearch