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Martin Werth

Stencilled on the glass walls of the meeting rooms in Fortis’s City offices is a timeline charting key events in London’s financial history. Starting in the 1700s, the dates end at 2007, with no inclusion so far of the dramatic events of the last 18 months.

In the missing period, there have been a number of key dates in the history of Fortis Life UK. The newest of Fortis’s UK operations is one year old this week and has made quite an impression in a limited period of time.

Managing director Martin Werth says he is pleased with the company’s progress but says the first year has been about bedding in the new business.

In April, the most recent financial figures released by Fortis showed that the company had so far written 11,600 policies worth £2.7m in new business.

Werth says the figures for 2008 were always going to be conservative, with a new product from a new company launching in difficult market conditions. In addition, the plan was always to start with a small number of distributors and build gradually. He says: “We wanted to have a controlled rollout. We felt that delivering on service was more important than to just get volume.”

Werth says so far this year, the company has had more than 55,000 applications at a rate of 500 a day, with 60 per cent of applicants getting an instant decision and 56 per cent of that 60 per cent accepting. “We are really starting to get some traction. We have 6,000 advisers using our systems but we still have a long way to roll out.”

Fortis currently offers three products – Real Life Cover, YourLife Plan and a no-frills term insurance product offered through Click called Click Life Cover.

Real Life Cover has generated most of the headlines but you get the impression that Werth is particularly proud of YourLife Plan. A menu approach to protection is not new but the Fortis additions, such as recuperation benefit for income protection, mortgage protection cover that starts immediately and intro-ducing temporary disability payments, is where he sees that the company has added value.

But Werth says the most important aspect is the ability to offer consumers cover which is flexible enough to meet their needs.

He says: “The solution for our industry is to package, to meet needs, to get away from the thinking that it is term insurance or critical illness, income protection. It is cover against real life events. It is all about putting a package of covers together to meet a customer’s budget. I refer to it as customised protection and that will be what helps advisers to move from transaction-based distributors to a relationship approach.”

The advantage of having a fresh start means that Fortis was not bound by exis-ting ideas and practices and it was this freedom that attracted Werth to the job. “The biggest thing that holds us back is traditional thinking,” he says.

After 20 years working for Munich Re, Werth says he was ready for a change. “I thought, I don’t want to stay with reinsurance for life, I’m going to get out of reinsurance and not just talk about doing things differently but do things differently.”

As he was leaving Munich Re, a former colleague had just joined Fortis at a time when the firm was looking to move into the life insurance market and he suggested that the company should speak to Werth.

Werth admits that Fortis took a bit of a risk in taking him on but says the company’s attitude coincided with his, with its commitment to service and in putting the customer first. “I have a strong sense of doing things right for the customer and if you do things right for the customer, then other things go right as well.”

When Werth joined the company in November 2006, he really did have to start from scratch. He spent the first month working by himself from coffee shops as he did not have a desk to work from. But slowly he built his team with the people he thought would want to make a difference.

Werth says the advantage of being a start-up business, although one with a significant backer, is the ability to do things as you think they should be done without the hindrance of having to change an existing model.

“A start-up sounds like real hard work but you are creating what you think is right to deliver the business benefits whereas if you have something already, it is much harder to change things and change people.”

Werth has a track record of innovation. In his first actuarial role at Eagle Star, he was responsible for designing a new type of section 32 plan and,soon into his career at Munich Re, he came up with a long-term care product linked to an annuity. Although this eventually had its approval removed by the Inland Revenue, Werth says he was pleased to have combined a technical actuarial approach with an awareness of what consumers needed.

This approach has been carried through to his job at Fortis Life and he says the development of the company’s products have been shaped by an awareness of the difference between how customers approach life insurance and how the industry looks at it. He categorises the difference as left-brain thinking, which is the technical, analytical approach typically used by the industry, and right- brain thinking, which is the more intuitive approach used by customers.

“Left-brain thinking would seek to imp-rove a product by saying, let’s clarify the definitions, let’s make sure we make the definitions easier to read, let’s put some bold where we need to and hopefully that means the customer understands it. But right-brain thinking is, how does the customer think about it? Why don’t we design it to be intuitive and meet the way the customer thinks it should work.”

Werth says there are no plans for any more product launches. Instead, the aim is to increase the distribution reach of the existing products. “Our next phase of growth is the rollout stage. We have confidence that our products are right, the proposition is right, the systems are working really well.”

When the history of the last few years does come to be inscribed on the walls, Werth will also be hoping that the launch of Fortis Life will be proudly included among the other events of 2008.

Born: London, 1960

Lives: North London

Education: City University, BSc actuarial science

Career: 2006-present: managing director, Fortis Life UK; 1986-2006: business development manager, Munich Re; 1984-86: Sun Life of Canada; 1982-84: Eagle Star

Likes: Good food, good wine, passionate people

Dislikes: The mundane, form-filling, false people

Drives: 10 year old Fiat coupe

Book: The World According To Garp by John Irving

Film: One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest or How To Get Ahead In Advertising

Album: The Idiot by Iggy Pop

Career ambition: It would be about demonstrating if you have a passion for something to make a difference, you can make a difference

Life ambition: I would like my kids to think that believing in them-selves can make a difference and to believe it is better to have a go and fail than never have a go. Also to retire in Italy, that would be great too

If I wasn’t doing this I would be…A political cartoonist

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