Tom Baigrie: How to be a protection force for good

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What do you call a group of protection intermediaries? Many Advisers For Independent Advice has a certain ring to it as an acronym but one should include non-advisers, and the tied, too – especially as some now do all three versions of intermediation.

If only we could be as achingly cool as the team that invented the wonderfully grounded, conservative sounding FAMR to counter the unintended consequences of the catchy but Rather Dangerously Radical RDR.

Perhaps best not start with the name but with what the aims of this association of protection intermediaries might be.

First, it is not a trade body that is needed. Trade bodies serve the trade, not the consumer, so the Government, media and consumers themselves view them with a jaundiced eye nowadays. In the search for influence, the trade body must therefore take a consumerist tone, and that soon infuriates its members. Exposed underlying contradictions of trying to serve two masters and resignations of the amazingly well paid follow swiftly on.

Let’s also be clear I am not talking about a professional body either. Intermediation in protection only approaches a profession when complex independent advice is given.

No, what we all seek to do is sell insurance properly. Insurance is good stuff that helps people when life hurts them most, so we have lots to be proud of – but we are not a profession, even when doing our job very professionally.

So although I am still not sure what you call it, I do see the only purpose of “associating” those doing this same thing, albeit in different ways, should be to improve what they sell. A group that interacts with consumers every day is brilliantly positioned to guide manufacturers and regulators on how our market can serve more consumers better.

And while in the past there have simply been too few specialists for an association to mean much, nowadays there are many firms that focus intensely on protection. And whether advised or non-advised, tied or whole-of-market, we can all see many things that need to change.

My colleague Emma Thomson routinely highlights in these pages where product and service to consumers can be improved. In the end, the issue is always it is the manufacturers who must make the change. And they are sensibly reluctant to incur that cost if they cannot see a consensus of their intermediary customers that proves to them change would improve their market position.

The result is sometimes a sort of race to the bottom in terms of quality and price, which certainly does not serve consumers best – or indeed intermediaries either.

The point of this association should be to achieve intermediary consensus on the many areas where consumers’ interests align with our own, and then use that consensus to persuade the product manufacturers that making improvements will win them business and consumers. Having that as a clear aim would make the association undeniably a force for good in protection.

Tom Baigrie is chief executive of LifeSearch