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Leadership qualities

It seems that my wee firm finds itself disapproved of at the ABI. This seems to happen whenever we urge providers to be open and honest and so regain the moral high ground that an insurer should always seek to hold.

The current problem is a survey we conducted. It is worth explaining perhaps that we did things properly.

We first asked providers and reinsurers to select the questions they wanted us to ask them in our survey of all those we deal with.

We then asked those questions and accurately recorded the results. These threw a very clear and important light on just how few ABI members are happy with their trade body’s efforts. Needless to say, the messenger has been shot but we say don’t do that, heed the message instead. Our industry – the financial protection industry rather than the wider insurance industry – desperately needs promotion, leadership and proper political clout. If the ABI is not to take on this role, then who on earth is?

In truth, when it wants to, the ABI can lead very well. For example, it has recently driven through an outstanding example of treating customers more fairly in the real improvement to the non-disclosure rules.

It took the wise decision that it was better to risk higher premiums than continue with a product causing complaint. We all need more of this good work and less of the confusion perhaps caused by having a membership dominated by insurers which profit more from general insurance, investment and pensions than they do from financial protection products.

Our industry has a champion distributor trade body in Aifa. To prosper, though, it needs one for providers, too.

Would other industries have allowed the Treasury to start and then get away with the PTA debacle? Or let the Government’s agenda focus on savings and pensions, with hardly a mention of the most efficient way of targeting savings on those who need them most?

That after all is what insurance does – turn very small amounts of savings into very large amounts of help if you find you really need it. Such battles must be fought, and publicly, if future legislation is to recognise the important economic benefits of our efforts.

The truth is that just now, as our great Insurance companies struggle to redefine themselves in the post-with-profits era, a little leadership will go a long way. The ABI should be addressing the truth that consumers’ income and debt and need for cover has risen hugely in the last decade but they buy less and less protection in real terms, no matter what the price.

That is why we called last year for ABI members to spend far more on promoting protection to the consumer.

The ABI dismissed the idea but NU, Axa and Zurich are having a go. Don’t you love seeing the NU ads on TV? Is it too much to hope that more providers will join in so that the public start again to routinely think of protection as the most important part of financial planning?

Of course, for marketing to work, those who claim on our policies must feel fairly treated. The ABI has helped that by narrowing the ground for potential dispute and Lifesearch is proud to have helped accelerate the decline of non-disclosure as an issue by encouraging providers to publish claim statistics. Of course, they are now improving and will continue to do so.Perhaps soon the era of embarrassing TV programmes featuring failed CI claimants will be over. I trust everyone would approve of that?

Tom Baigrie is managing director at Baigrie Davies Lifesearch


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