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Emma Thomson: Not all clients know what they are covered for

Sitting beside the pool in Rhodes last week, I was surprised and rather pleased to hear a conversation between two fellow holidaymakers about protection insurance.

Both men were self-employed and one was talking about how he struggled last year when off work due to an injury. The other was telling him about this insurance he bought that covers him for sickness and death, and that he had even made a claim a few years previously.

The technicalities of this second man’s cover sounded a bit muddled, but I was hardly going to walk over to them and start talking shop.

It was heartening to hear protection being discussed in such a positive way by two people who had simply met each other by the pool. But their chat highlighted two key issues our market faces every day; issues we have got to do more to address.

Emma Thomson: How insurers and advisers can bring claims data to life

The first is lack of awareness – that one guy had no idea he could buy insurance to cover his bills if he could not work. Advertising campaigns are few and far between as it is, but even when protection is promoted it is predominantly life cover only. We are not doing nearly enough to help consumers understand what options are available to them.

The second issue is the guy who had cover was not too sure what he had bought. He could not remember if it covered his wife, who the insurer was or how much he was paying.

A lack of policyholder communication can lead to a false sense of security at best and disappointed claimants at worst

For years we have called for better policyholder communications for this very reason. Fortunately, firms such as AIG and Royal London have taken steps to introduce protection statements. Some like Zurich have done it for a long time.

This should be the norm for all consumers so they feel valued and more informed about what cover they can claim on. It is also a great opportunity to highlight many of the excellent added services on offer, such as retail discounts, virtual GPs and helplines.

The latest Swiss Re Term and Health Watch Report makes for positive reading, with overall term sales up 13 per cent on the previous year.

Has protection turned a corner?

We are seeing another welcome year of growth but we cannot be complacent. For example, we do not know how much of these new business figures represent new clients or how much is from existing clients updating their cover to meet changing needs (which, because policies are typically inflexible, happens frequently).

We also know that, even with these increases, far too many consumers still do not have sufficient cover in place. And as my pool acquaintance demonstrated, even when they do buy they are often not sure what they are covered for, which can lead to a false sense of security at best and disappointed claimants at worst.

So there is still a lot of work to do to ensure more consumers get the protection they need.

Emma Thomson is chair of the Protection Distributors Group

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