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What we can learn from the US about protection

Portland, Maine, is the hub of the US disability insurance industry and a number of us are here to learn about this interesting market. After just one day, it is already clear our colleagues across the pond have very similar challenges when it comes to consumer apathy and poor knowledge of protection solutions. For a country that has poorer state welfare provision than the UK, consumers with more awareness of their own employee benefits and a seemingly endless appetite for advertising, this has been a bit of a surprise.

While knowing we are not alone has not exactly given me comfort, it has highlighted things our market is doing pretty well compared to our American cousins. It is much easier for our clients to buy protection because we have streamlined underwriting and facilitated online purchasing. UK consumers have more choice about how they buy protection, as we are geared up for telephone based advised and online non-advised models.

And while we have genuine concerns about the number of advisers who do not sell enough, if any, protection, we at least do have intermediaries happy to advise people from all walks of life. Over here, if you are not lucky enough to have an employer that provides group schemes, or are not rich enough for advisers to take an interest in you, you are largely ignored. This is not only a missed business opportunity, it is morally questionable. While our market is not perfect, we have a lot to be proud of.

Interestingly, given the many discussions about US insurer Lemonade and its innovative claims processes, it seems we have more appetite for that kind of model than they do over here. Most insurers are dubious even about paper-free applications.

However, what is hugely positive in the US is the desire for insurers to work together to promote protection issues.  The Council for Disability Awareness is formed of all key insurers in the market, and for years has collectively worked to educate advisers about disability insurance. May is disability awareness month, where they instigate a number of initiatives to engage with advisers – something we should take inspiration from.

The principle of collaboration is sound. We saw the results from Seven Families – positive press coverage, greater adviser engagement and increased aware-ness of claims services such as rehabilitation, which contributed to increased income protection sales. The CDA has never tried anything like Seven Families and our US contemporaries were impressed.

While the CDA should be applauded for its efforts, given the Seven Families experiences and the insight already gleaned on this trip, I am confident our industry could do even better.

It is important we do not consider Seven Families a completed project and revert to isolated agendas. Collaboration should be a long-term strategy so I sincerely hope our manufacturers do the right thing again and support the next phase proposed by the Seven Families team to grow our market for the common good. It will be such a missed opportunity if this does not happen.

Emma Thomson is life office relationship director at LifeSearch

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