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MM profile: Martin Werth on why the industry needs UnderwriteMe

The UnderwriteMe chief executive describes the moment he decided to move technology up a step and underwrite earlier across all insurers

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UnderwriteMe chief executive Martin Werth pinpoints New Year’s Day 2012 as his “Eureka” moment, the day his thoughts around improving the protection sales process crystallised.

It happened whilst taking a walk to welcome in the new year and Werth then set about jotting down ideas for what would become his new venture, which provides customers with underwritten price comparisons of protection products.

Werth says: “I thought we needed to move technology up one step and underwrite earlier across all insurers. I did not want to leave the protection market and I could see the market shrinking, yet the need for protection was significant. So there is a huge need but we were not able to get customers to buy.

“I said to Shanti Duggal [former Ageas operations director] ‘how can we give customers underwritten terms before they select an insurer?’. We felt it could be done.”

UnderwriteMe, which should launch early next year, asks the adviser to complete the underwriting process at the start of the sale, so that an insurer can be selected using fully underwritten comparisons from product providers.

The software will be free for advisers while providers will be charged a fixed fee per completed sale, the price of which has yet to be decided. Werth is also in talks with comparison sites, like Moneysupermarket, about how they can use the technology for customers who wish to go direct.

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It allows advisers to simultaneously connect with insurers’ underwriting engines using a single interface to provide all the data insurers need. The advantage of using the service is customers are told up-front whether they will be offered terms straight away and at what price across multiple insurers.

Alternatively, if further underwriting is needed the customer will be told along with an estimated price. The aim is to ensure advisers do not need to contact insurers’ underwriting departments and then separately apply to a number of insurers.

After answering a series of questions, which have been devised to satisfy the underwriting requirements of insurers, advisers are given a list of providers – with quotes – which can provide cover straight away and a list of those who need to find out more about them. 

No further work is required for insurers who can offer terms immediately, while the service provides reasons why and next steps alongside estimated price including expected underwriting loadings for those insurers who require further underwriting.

This provides advisers with more information at the outset so they can make a decision about which product to choose. For example, a customer may opt for a product that is slightly more expensive because terms are offered immediately, over a cheaper product where the provider requires further underwriting. 

Werth feels providing the adviser with all relevant information through a single process prior to making a recommendation, makes the sales process much easier and more certain, which he says is key to boosting protection sales. Also, by removing the need to apply to insurers individually, he believes he can make selling protection more profitable for IFAs.

He says: “I am absolutely convinced that if you make the sales process easier more sales will follow as a result, there is no doubt in my mind. The life insurance industry has fallen behind sectors like general insurance in terms of the sales process.”

After gaining a Bsc in actuarial science from City University in London, Werth joined Eagle Star Insurance as an actuarial student, where he stayed between 1982 and 1984, before joining Sun Life of Canada as an actuarial assistant, where he stayed until 1986. From there he joined Munich Re, where he was to spend the next 20 years, as general manager of new business solutions.

Werth joined Munich Re at a time where the protection market was seeing a great deal of innovation, with the introduction of critical illness cover and preferred life plans, before which pricing was mainly based on age and sex.

He says: “The good thing about a reinsurer is that you are dealing with many different insurers and new products. I came in in 1986 just when critical illness was taking off. I then was one of the key people at Munich Re working on long-term care and impaired annuities, then we were moving into preferred lives. So that was quite a rich period of product development.”

After 20 years at the reinsurer, Werth wanted to test his hand at a protection provider and was given the opportunity to set up Fortis Life, which subsequently turned into Ageas Protect, in 2006.

He says: “I always saw myself as being in a lighthouse, watching the choppy seas of the insurance industry. Sometimes you could help by throwing a light on a ship and other times they would crash and sink. My view was at some point I had to come out of the lighthouse and jump on one of the ships.”

Werth oversaw Ageas’ launch into the UK protection market and saw it build an 8 per cent share of the market. However, after a successful first few years, Werth thought he had taken the new insurer as far as he could.

He says: “Within three and a half years we had an 8 per cent market share and £31m of new annual premiums. For me establishing that first key stage of growth had been achieved. I think that’s where I excel, creating things.

“I am not necessarily the right person for moving something on from that stage to the next phase. In some ways that was the right time for me to say ‘I am not sure what more I can do now, and there are better people to take the business forward onto its next stage’.”

He hopes his experience in the worlds of reinsurance and protection insurance will help him create a vaulable service for advisers. “We want advisers to have more time to have the freedom to concentrate on the advice process, and not the application process,” he says. 

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Born: 1960

Lives: Finchley, London

Career: 2012-present – chief executive of UnderwriteMe; 2006-2011 – managing director of Ageas Protect; 1986-2006 – general manager of new business solutions, Munich Re; 1984-86 – actuarial assistant, Sun Life of Canada; 1982-84 –  Eagle Star Insurance actuarial student

Likes: Good food, wine and conversation

Dislikes: The mundane

Drives: Alfa Spider

Favourite book: The 100 Year Old Man Climbed Out Of A Window And Disappeared, by Jonas Jonasson

Favourite film: 12 Angry Men

Favourite album: The Next Day by David Bowie

If i wasn’t doing this I would be….  a political cartoonist

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