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Roger Edwards: Why can’t protection providers crack consumer engagement?

Why is it the protection world just cannot seem to crack consumer engagement?  

Some well-known friends and colleagues have retired this year. I enjoyed the gatherings to celebrate their success, but it also made me reflect on what has (and has not) changed over the last 25 years.

First to hang up his rate book is Protection Review co-founder Peter Le Beau. I have worked with Peter on many occasions and remember the time we tried to reinvent critical illness cover. He helped research and outline a new set of definitions based not on individual illnesses but on the physical effects they had on the human body. A different concept we did not get to market. Perhaps it was too different.

Fifteen years later, we still have the original critical illness product with all its complexity. No one has tried anything different apart from adding conditions or, in a few cases, taking a load out.

Why protection providers must take a gamble

Red Arc director of nursing services Jan Dryden also bids farewell to protection this month. Jan is one of the nurse counsellors giving people caring and practical advice in the face of illness and disability.

I first met her during the building phase of insurer Bright Grey. Today, protection providers offering “more than just money” is an expected product feature. Back in 2001, no one else was doing it. Some commentators labelled the Helping Hand service, still offered to this day by Royal London, as a gimmick.

Time and the tireless work of people like Jan have proved “more than just money” can be just as important for claimants as the financial benefits of a protection product.

Most companies today offer extensive services including Red Arc, Best Doctors and Winston’s Wish. AIG Life’s recent income protection launch makes rehabilitation, not income, the centre piece of the message.

Has protection turned a corner?

The stories that come from claims combining emotional and practical help, as well as the financial, should give us a wealth of material to engage with clients.

We are facing an exciting time in the protection market. New business is up after many years flatlining or declining. Companies are launching simpler products to cater for different customer segments. New starts, including the resurrected Guardian brand, are looking to disrupt the market with modern technology and improved service. There is a genuine buzz in the air.

But as I walked back to my hotel with warm memories following Jan’s retirement dinner, I realised the one thing unchanged over two decades is our lack of success in truly engaging with consumers via marketing.

Peter and the team at the Income Protection Taskforce paved the way with the Seven Families initiative. They proved that strong stories, especially video stories, can engage. But changing customer beliefs is a long game. We need consistency over a sustained period. We cannot play at it for a little while and then move onto something else.

Just think of all the stories Jan could tell from 20 years giving caring advice and helping people recover from illness or come to terms with bereavement. How can we get those stories, and those from other “more than just money” companies, to a wider audience?

My son’s just started a seven-year course at university. I cannot retire anytime soon. But the day will come. I would like to think, at my retirement party, we can clink champagne glasses and toast the turnaround in protection customer engagement.

Roger Edwards is managing director of Roger Edwards Marketing and marketing director of Protection Review

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