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The face of business

Over the last few weeks, I have met and talked with quite a number of owner/manager/mortgage and insurance advisers, which is something I try to do as often as I can and something I have been doing for at least the last 15 years.

These are men and women who own and run their own businesses and they advise all of their clients themselves. These are the people everyone means when they talk of those working at the coalface of our industry. They are the distribution and they are the people who generate a lot of the business that keeps so many others gainfully employed in service companies, networks, IT businesses, providers and at the FSA.

It is these people who many will come to rely on to get them through the tough times ahead and that is why it is so important for those who rely on them to spend time with them, understand them and their problems and to work on the things that will help them to survive and to thrive.

The more you meet these people, the more you come to realise that they are all as different as they are similar but they do have some common traits, most obvious of which are resilience and adaptability.

The majority have been in financial services for years (and years) and have survived the ups and downs of the market, the many changes in working practices, a consistently poor press and the regulatory reviews, so it is no wonder that all display such traits.

It is these people whose resilience and adaptability will determine the answer to the great protection question of 2008 which is – what happens next? The question is posed in one form or another by just about every one I meet. They see and hear the pain in the mortgage and housing market and what they all want to know is whether the protection market will turn down in the same way.

For over a year now, I have been saying that a slower mortgage market would help improve the number of protection sales and that has certainly been the experience of the last few months.

From the discussions I have been having with those at the coalface, I cannot believe that we will see a corresponding UK-wide downturn in protection sales.

A significant downturn may be what happens in businesses which are largely made up of salaried advisers who cannot sell anything if they are no longer employed due to downsizing but in the owner/ manager/adviser world, everyone still has to eat, they have to pay the mortgage and here is the crunch. If all they hold are Mcob and Icob permissions and there are fewer mortgages to be arranged, then there is only one option left – spend more time with new and existing clients on their protection needs.

That is what they are doing and that is what they are planning to do for the foreseeable future.

To gain an insight into what will probably happen next, you have to get out and meet real people, the ones on whom the market depends, not the media-trained people who talk or write on strategy, product or market development (myself included) or who provide consultancy or other services to the industry.

When everything you read points to doom and gloom ignore the opinions, get to the facts and talk to those at the coalface, not those commenting on it.

Richard Verdin is sales & marketing director of Direct Life & Pension Services

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