Lucy Brown: Providers need to engage advisers in product development

There is much discussion among protection providers at the moment about how to increase policy uptake, which is great to see. Advisers also have a big part to play in such development.

At the start of last year, we assessed how we could improve the number of clients taking cover. We looked at the sales journey and focused on ways we thought we could do better.

Did we fully understand the barriers advisers were facing when advising on protection, and were we best placed to come up with the ideas on how to overcome these? We thought we had a pretty good idea but lacked evidence we were on the right lines.

So we asked the advisers what they thought. It sounds obvious but just how often do managers or providers ask those at the coal face how they can really help?

Initially, we carried out a survey with advisers asking them about their perceived barriers to protection. This was valuable in understanding the key issues. Some we were already aware of but there were new areas identified, too.

The next step was discussion groups to focus on the best ways to overcome these barriers. We wanted advisers to come up with ideas, yet recognised they may be reluctant to share their thoughts with those that designed the existing processes. With that in mind, we employed the help of an independent researcher to encourage the advisers to be open and honest about what they thought would help.

The outcome of the survey and research groups was exactly what we wanted and we were able to put together a two-stage plan to improve our adviser journey. We had confidence this would  improve both efficiency and numbers.

In the first three months following a process change we saw a 5 per cent increase in the number of protection recommendations sent out. This was improved upon once the second phase went live, with numbers rising by a further 8 per cent.

In hindsight, of course, we should have regularly been engaging with advisers on what was important to them. It is easy to think you are doing so in passing in the office but when you carry out a focused approach to get feedback, the outcome is not always as predicted. The same can be said of providers. They have an understanding of an adviser sales journey but how up to date is it?

How often do new ideas come from people higher up the chain in the industry as opposed to getting feedback from those speaking to clients?

The Seven Families campaign gave fantastic insight into what happens when real people find themselves faced with a situation leaving them unable to earn. Providers engaging with advisers could be the next step in the innovation of products and processes.

Lucy Brown is head of protection at London & Country