Because providers want to be different, providing independent advice means dealing with a number of different processes. Some provide a genuine competitive edge or benefits to consumers and advisers alike but others have no merit.
There should be some degree of standardisation where there is no competitive advantage to being different, particularly on signatures.
Assuming a doctor’s report is not needed, the different approaches to whether a signature is required are: no signature at all, no signature needed but the client is asked for it anyway, a signature is requested when the prop is submitted or a signature requested when the plan is started.
What providers do thankfully agree on is that sending a copy of what has been submitted online to the customer is essential to give them the opportunity to check that what has been submitted is correct.
However, what happens to those customers who amend their answers? If the new disclosures generate medical requirements, some providers cancel the plan, leaving the client exposed while others hold cover and simply exclude the issue in question while it is being investigated. Clearly, the latter option is fairer to customers and I would like to see all providers doing this.
What benefit does a signature give to the provider and intermediary? Does it really help to improve disclosure levels? Many believe it does.
Does it provide protection to the provider and intermediary in the event of a claim being declined for non-disclosure? No signature creates an easier process for both insurer and interm-ediary as no chasing is needed to get signatures returned. Providers which take this approach believe that sending a copy of what was keyed provides enough protection.
Some advisers also prefer this process but are they thinking beyond simplicity? What about protection for them in the event of a dec-lined claim? If a claim is declined for non-disclosure, the client could claim they did not get any paperwork to check and that they told the adviser all the information. The finger could be pointed at the intermediary and they might be liable for the claim. As such, some IFAs get a copy of the client’s medical notes.
Without a signature or a recorded call, it is the customer’s word against the broker. So should intermediaries get a signature if the provider does not? Perhaps. If not, then I believe call recording is essential.
Signatures have offered protection for some declined claims but not all. Only time will tell how much benefit signatures provide. My current thinking is that signatures do offer some protection, certainly for the intermediary, but only in combination with adequate record keeping and call recording. Even then, nothing is certain.
I hope there will be a time when there is real clarity on this issue and all parties have confidence in the system. Until then, people will keep asking that question
Emma Thomson is head of life office relations at Lifesearch