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A more personal approach to underwriting

Development Underwriter Toni Liddell talks about how changes to Royal London’s underwriting approach have resulted in products and services that better meet customers’ needs, including those with existing medical conditions.

How would you describe Royal London’s approach to underwriting?

Underwriting philosophy touches every part of our business – from product development through to claims. We keep ourselves on the right track by aligning what we do to our core principles; putting customers at the heart of everything we do, offering great service, and being easy to do business with. We genuinely want to make protection accessible to as many people as possible, at a competitive price.

What do you think makes Royal London different?

The way we embrace change – we’re empowered to try new approaches and use our findings to develop and improve our service. This has resulted in new products that allow us to better serve the needs of a range of customers. Our Diabetes Life Cover product is a great example as we built it specifically to make protection more accessible to customers with diabetes.

We’re also passionate about developing ways to enhance our service experience. For example, our pre-sale underwriting tool offers quick and accurate underwriting decisions for the vast majority of customers. And for those with more complex medical histories, we have a team of experienced underwriters who’ll see the case through from start to finish, with open communication at every stage.

What is biggest misconception about the underwriting process?

It’s commonly thought that underwriting takes too long, we ask for lots of evidence and that decisions are bound by rigid guidelines and processes. The truth is the vast majority of people are offered an immediate decision. We prefer to pick up the phone and speak to a customer or their adviser to understand a medical history rather than draw out the process by asking for evidence that can take weeks to return. For more complex cases, we may still need evidence but this is currently only required for a very small proportion of cases. For example, we only request a GP report for less than 10% of our customers.

While we do have a defined philosophy, our underwriters are encouraged to use their autonomy so that when we have an understanding of a customer’s specific circumstances, we offer the most appropriate decision for them.

Tell us more about the recent changes that have been made to benefit customers

This year has been an important year for Royal London in terms of developing new products to take to market. We piloted both Diabetes Life Cover and Streamlined Mortgage Protection and made enhancements to our Income Protection and Critical Illness Cover. So the team has certainly been kept busy supporting these!

However, we’ve still had time to make significant improvements to our wider underwriting philosophy. We’re probably most proud to be the first in the market to remove HIV from our automatic evidence requirements. HIV tests have featured on non-medical limits tables in the UK for many years. But with incidence rates reducing and survival rates increasing, this is no longer necessary. This means that we can offer cover quicker, with less inconvenience and stress placed on customers. It’s a good example of being willing to move away from traditional underwriting approaches when something just no longer makes sense.

Improvements in HIV management have also resulted in a change in approach. While we’ve been offering terms to some customers with HIV since 2010, our stance hadn’t changed to reflect medical developments. So we’re delighted to have introduced improved terms, including now being able to offer cover to some HIV positive customers who would’ve previously been declined.

What can we expect to see from Royal London in the future?

A few years ago we kicked off a project to revitalise our underwriting strategy. We overhauled our internal guidelines and completely reviewed our philosophy. The enhancements we’ve made to date are a solid foundation – we’ve even been recognised with an award or two.

However, the industry is in the midst of constant development and change, so it’s no time to stand still. In 2018, we want to continue to push boundaries and seek new ways to make insurance even more accessible to those who have been previously underserved by the industry.

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