Emma Thomson: Time to get rid of the protection paper mountain

Emma Thomson

This week, I sat next to a colleague who has the responsibility of opening all our post. All I could see was a mountain of envelopes on her desk. OK, not quite a mountain, but it was certainly about the height of a small toddler. And this at a firm that is striving to be paperless.

I watched her open envelope after envelope, most of which contained information we do not need. And the bits we do need we do not want in paper format. For example, one was to inform us a client was declined. There was a covering letter to us, the actual letter confirming the decline and a copy for us to send to the client. Yet we had been aware of the decision three days previously, receiving confirmation by phone, and had already informed the client. All three bits of paper went in the recycling. What a waste of resources.

Why is it in 2016 we still have so much paperwork to deal with? Our industry is rather slow at change. We get encouraged with new initiatives, such as UnderwriteMe and Seven Families. All good stuff.

But even when there are improvements to products or underwriting systems, the basics are regularly overlooked. And I would certainly class the ability to communicate without 1970s style paper correspondence the basics.

Using technology to inform clients and distributors is not a new phenomenon. Some insurers like AIG have been doing it for years. No postage costs, no waste of paper and no delays. Online communications improve efficiency for firms and speed up service levels.

There has been progress over the last few years in how distributors can liaise with insurers using email, systems and phone to provide information. But updating us and clients is still a paper process for some who decide that cannot be changed.

I appreciate some IFAs like to communicate with clients by post but that can still be facilitated if there is consumer friendly correspondence they can print and send on. We also need to factor in email security too. And legacy systems clearly do not help. But these considerations should not be a barrier to progress.

Correspondence concerning policyholders is even more likely to be posted. There is increasing demand for regular communications with policyholders to improve consumer engagement, awareness and retention rates. A few insurers like Zurich issue annual statements, which is to be praised, although these are posted out. Given consumers’ increasing love of technology, updates like these would be more effective if they were in an electronic format.

So in addition to product improvements, let’s also see some investment in moving communications into the 21st century. This will lead to greater efficiency for all our firms, and improve consumer experiences too. At the very least we’ll save some trees.

Emma Thomson is life office relationship director at LifeSearch