I sometimes wonder whether the real problem is one of commentators having committed to filling column inches or PowerPoint slides and then actually having to come up with content. In itself this is harmless and I know as well as anyone how hard it is to try to be original every fortnight with only one subject to work with. The worry of course is that such distractions lead or drive events, rather than follow, wasting time and energy on stuff which will not, in the scheme of things, change anything.
I say this because as I look around me I can see clusters of people coming together to solve issues or create solutions to problems that I am not convinced really exist or deserve the time or priority they receive.
Of course everyone has their own story to tell about this market and there are some truly riveting stories of success or failure and of optimism. Over the years I have studied pretty much all the opinions and research printed, attended work shops and observed customers in action. I have digested anything and everything I can place my hands on to understand this market and I have lived it as a fairly active participant for 20 years now, flipping between provider and distributor. All of which has lead me to a very simple conclusion about this market and this is it.
The real and most significant limiter to the protection market is time.
It is a fact that there are only so many advising or selling hours in the day –whether you are a lifestyle IFA, a small to medium size business or a retail bank.
For evidence of this try mapping, by product line, transaction volumes since 2004, annotate the key events or changes that limit or free-up adviser time and draw your own conclusions.
Alternatively you could ask any good adviser, if they had more time could they give more people good advice – the answer is invariably yes. Or study the banks, building societies and other large distributors and you see the issue of time in the form of product contention – in other words how much time do senior managers commit their staff to in terms of training, promoting and advising on particular product lines.
Time is our industries equivalent of the supermarket shelf and success or failure of our product line is determined pretty much by the amount and positioning of the shelf space protection is afforded.
So what can we do about time? As providers we can support advisers with efficient processes. We can’t create time but we can reduce the amount of it advisers need to invest or waste dealing with us or our requirements. Again study IFA protection surveys, number 1 or 2 on their list when selecting providers is nearly always service – which good or bad translates into time.
And the prognosis – well given advisers reaction to the reduction in mortgage and other financial services sales and the likely increase in hours spent on protection as one outcome of the RDR, together with increasing STP and pragmatic underwriting decisions made by providers I can’t help but be optimistic about this market of ours with the products we already have – whatever the commentators say.
Richard Verdin is protection director at Aviva UK Life.