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Non-starter

2006 should be the year when we end the sham of non-advised sales

Regulation, price wars, claim statistics, the future of critical-illness cover, talk of new products, advice versus non-advice, payment protection insurance, A-Day, pension term assurance, cherrypicking, harsher underwriting and overall falling sales – in no particular order, that was the 2005 protection market in a nutshell. Will 2006 look much different?

Sales across the protection industry continued to fall in 2005, albeit at a slower rate as the year progressed. This is a trend that many expect to continue in 2006. It is interesting that the more prices seem to fall and the more outlets that exist for selling protection products, the less consumers seem to buy overall.

The FSA’s review of Icob regulation in the first quarter of 2006 will prove hugely important for the future of protection advice. The only business justification for non-advised sales is that they are perceived to be cheaper by consumers. If the regulator allows the market to treat the cost of the sale as being more important than the quality of the sale and suitability of the product purchased, then we should not be surprised if that leads to potential consumer detriment on a massive scale.

Talking of scale, A-Day brings the unintended consequence, sorry, fantastic opportunity that is pension term assurance. Will this product grow the market or just cannibalise it?

Many expect the mass rebroking of existing policies to take advantage of the tax relief element but who really gains from this market reform? An estimated 250m a year to higher-rate taxpayers from a Labour Government is one probable outcome.

Was there a protection price war in 2005 or was it just a dream? Just about everybody eventually agreed that there was but why does it take pestering distributors and investigative reporters to get to the bottom of what the manufacturers are really up to? Communication is king.

Talking of communication, what future is there for critical-illness cover as we know it? The conclusions of the ABI working party, which focused heavily on how the product is communicated and understood both by consumers and advisers, will be the most important yet. Can the product survive more definition changes and yet more stories about non-paid claims? Will 2006 finally see a new protection product?

Last year saw significant movement forward from product providers in making public their paid and non-paid critical-illness claims statistics but this work has only just begun. In 2006, we would like to see these statistics updated yearly and made available to advisers in a format they can use with their clients.

Moving on, online technology is likely to play an ever more important role, with more intelligent quote and underwriting systems accepting more cases online.

The great payment protection insurance swindle, sorry, market finally seems to be experiencing what so many have been demanding for many years – a proper investigation. No matter what the outcome, this should only be to the benefit of consumers.

Which leads me back to regulation and a question on which to end. It is fair to make your customer think, via your marketing, that they have achieved something that they have not, in the full knowledge that they cannot complain about it when they find out?

If advice can be defined as “a proposal for an appropriate course of action”, then what is appropriate in 2006 is for sellers of non-advised protection products to stop misleading their customers into thinking they have adequately protected their family’s needs when, in truth, they have achieved no such thing.

Non-advice is the seemingly cheaper route but it can only worsen a consumer’s buying decision. Advice will not truly be valued as it should be in consumers’ eyes until non-advice is revealed for the sham that it is.

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