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Reverse the risk

It was good to see Simply Biz making the point in these columns recently that IFAs waste a day a week dealing with product providers’ poor admin.

In-protection underwriting is a serious admin job and, in cutting their prices, the lower-cost providers have had to tighten underwriting criteria and add ever more exclusions in the small print to the extent that these so-called normal rates only really apply to the very fit.

This approach allows seemingly sexier rates (that bizarrely win awards on this factor alone) and sees far more cases referred for further underwriting.

But the extra work falls to the adviser to subsidise, which sees the poorest sector of our market subsidising the richest.

I listened the other evening at the Protection Revue dinner, to my co-tenant in this space, Richard Verdin, give an excellent denouncement of the new trend to 30-page application forms asking ever more intrusive questions.

Non-disclosure is a real issue in the ombudsman’s eyes, and a key cause of it is the asking of questions that are far too detailed for a normal memory to answer perfectly every time. This detailed questioning is caused by the provider’s need to achieve the cheapest possible reinsurance rates in order to hold on to territory in the current rate price war.

To put it personally – I went into business to advise on protecting people and their families, and more or less always the right way of doing that is to buy a policy from you providers.

I used to do the advising bit, fill in the proposal ever so carefully so that you had all the detail you would need and so that the customer knew exactly what to expect, and send it off to you, leaving you to do the rest. But now for every adviser I employ, I have to have another person doing the bit of the job that used to be yours.

But I know that if I left it to your new business teams to process my business, as once I used to, my lapse rates prior to acceptance would soar and my hard earned service reputation would sink because as good as your people are, you just do not invest enough in supporting the new electronic processes you hope will save you a fortune. And the reason you cannot invest enough and have to leave it to us is largely because you have cut premiums so low that you are not getting enough money in through the door.

So what should you do? Well it is time that providers started to take risk rather than avoid it and started to charge accordingly. That would also allow you to invest in giving better service. And that might just increase your market share as IFAs turn to you to save their clients from unfair intrusion, inadvertent non-disclosure and endless underwriting.

Given that IFAs add value in that we advise and tailor products to each individual, that change would be almost bound to happen at the top end of the market.

But while you remain desperate to sell your wares through non-advisers who add no value and while you naively prize volume ahead of profit and are happy to see advice described by your supermarket and non-advising clients as frankly unnecessary, none of the above will make much sense.

The problem is that this means your market shrinks, as it is doing exactly right now, because we advisers cannot afford to subsidise your new business process and grow the market by marketing and advertising as we all want to. It is time to reverse the trend.

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