Tom Baigrie: Industry must generate positive protection headlines

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With claims paid rates for protection now so high, could the matter become a source of much needed positive press? Historically, protection claims have only really made headlines through Watchdog, Panorama and the like exposing cases where they have seemingly been unfairly declined. That history has dripped into the collective consumer consciousness as a real doubt as to whether policies pay out.

At the Protection Review conference last week, Zurich Life referred to research that showed consumers believed around just 38 per cent of life, critical illness and income protection claims were paid, as opposed to the 90 per cent plus that is the reality.

It is our job as a collective industry to make as much noise as we can about what we do very well almost every time. The annual publishing of claims paid statistics and their continuing improvement have started that process creditably but they will now inevitably only live on as background noise. We need some new news.

The worry for me is that any new news could be negative news. Not just about declined claims, which still pop up from time to time, but also in that the length of time it takes for claims to be paid is often far too long.

While some will need fair investigation and thus face delay, the average should be measured in days and weeks, not months as it is presently. For that to change, insurers must focus on the needs and timescales of their often-distraught customers, not their own natural bureaucratic pace.

Chief executives should demand the development of a clear policy on swift partial payments to allow the bereaved or disabled comfort at what is always a terrible time as to the payment of funeral costs or short-term expenses.

They should also set challenging turnaround targets to focus their claims team on becoming as efficient as, say, their new business underwriters. To do this needs the institutional leadership to ignore the obvious lack of a short-term bottom line reason to work on this area, seeking rather to do good for its own sake. Their corporate and our collective industry’s reputation will be the long-term beneficiaries.

Interesting case studies and positive statistics could be generated by a focus on offering early partial payments where the claim is agreed but delayed for probate or similar reasons, publishing and reducing average settlement times overall and highlighting contentious cases where a positive decision to pay has been made.

The old argument that boasting of such efforts would lead to your office being identified as a soft touch is now surely both dated and far outweighed by the positive effects of good practice, as well as the good press and social media comment that will result. The world has moved on and good news will begin to drip-feed a new, positive understanding into that collective consumer consciousness. Who knows, it might even start the restoration of protection as something for normal people to spend good money on each month.

Tom Baigrie is chief executive of LifeSearch