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Narrowing the gender gap in income protection

Traditional gender roles could explain why income protection appeals more to men than women

Not enough people in general are protecting their incomes, but it is widely accepted that women are underinsured relative to men. Comparison website and protection broker ActiveQuote’s data for the first quarter of this year shows enquiries about life insurance were split fairly evenly in gender terms, at around 48 per cent women to 52 per cent men. However, there is a big difference in relation to income protection, at around 35 per cent women to 65 per cent men.

ActiveQuote head of partnerships Rod Jones says this can be explained by life insurance being taken out by both partners when they get a mortgage, in a way that income protection is not. The figures tally with what many commentators have seen elsewhere. So what can the industry do to change the trend?

Traditional mindset
Commentators point out that more women are working, more are breadwinners and more are launching their own businesses, so protecting their income is important. However, they believe women are less likely to take out income protection than men due to a traditional mindset, where men are perceived to be the main breadwinners and women’s income is regarded as less important.

Drewberry independent protection expert Samantha Haffenden-Angear says: “From speaking with my own clients, there’s still a perception that a woman’s income is less important, even when they’re earning the same or similar sums to their spouse or partner.”

Phil Wickenden: Calling time on protection inaction

British Friendly product strategist Emma Thomson, founder of the Women in Protection group, agrees and adds that what is not factored in is the impact on the main breadwinner if their partner becomes ill.

She says: “The breadwinner might not be able, or want to continue, working if their partner can’t care for the children.

“If there is no insurance, the main breadwinner has limited choice. I do know advisers who tend to prioritise the breadwinner’s income but they need to face the fact that not everything will carry on as normal for the breadwinner.”

Marketing and product design
Commentators say there is a need to make marketing materials less male-orientated and depict women in a variety of roles that reflect real lives.

Zurich head of strategic partnerships Rose St Louis says there are more columns in women’s magazines looking at finance, plus blogs like Sarah Pennell’s SavvyWoman, all aiming to take the jargon and complexity out of managing money. “In my experience, women tend to prefer understanding all their options before they decide to buy. This means taking time to explain how products work, while making female customers feel comfortable about asking questions,” she says.

Tony Mudd: Advisers are stifling protection innovation

Some commentators believe providers could do more to appeal to women in terms of product design. Holloway Friendly head of marketing Georgia d’Esterre says providers should try to identify what women with different lifestyles want, so instead of incentives like gym membership discounts, babysitting services or help with budgeting could perhaps have more appeal.

At The Exeter, research has shown men are three times more likely than women to protect their income. Head of sales Karen Woodley points out that flexibility is key, as many women are balancing work with caring for family. “We know women prefer protection policies that offer short- and long-term breaks in cover, allowing them to place it on pause if needed,” she says.

Haffenden-Angear adds that many providers could do better in relation to maternity cover, as the amount of time taken in maternity leave varies.

“At the moment, policies don’t take this into account sufficiently, with many policies not being able to cover women beyond a standard period of maternity leave,” she says.

Advisers’ role
Some commentators suggest an advice industry dominated by men could be contributing to the lower take-up of income protection products among women.

Royal London protection specialist Jennifer Gilchrist points out that some women feel more comfortable with female advisers, who are outnumbered by male advisers. “That may be why the statistics are skewed towards men. But we are seeing more women advisers and their customer base is women. I’ve met quite a number and you can tell the whole business model is a bit different,” she says.

Cavendish Ware associate director Roy McLoughlin’s experience goes against the grain in gender terms, but he says that may be because he deals with a lot of people in the media industry, which has a high female ratio. He treats his male and female clients equally when it comes to protection needs, and cannot understand why there should be a gender difference for income protection enquiries.

He says: “If you look at the two biggest claims on income protection policies – back issues and mental health – they are gender-neutral so there should be no difference at all. Could it be that our industry is dominated by male advisers? That is not my standpoint, but could there be inadvertent sexism that the male is the bigger earner, when that’s not the case?”

Income protection sales surge 50% in Q1

Charles Stanley financial planner Mia Kahrimanovic believes it all comes down to a need to educate women. “Income protection is often mistaken for redundancy protection. Also, some clients believe they have it when they don’t,” she says. “When you explain how it works and how it benefits them, most of them take it out. But how do you communicate that to the masses? As an adviser, I struggle on a one-to-one.”

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