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Tom Baigrie: The elephant in the protection room

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And so to perhaps the best of the annual protection conferences, Protection Review. 

Pacific Life Re UK and Ireland chief marketing officer David Heeney opened the event in London earlier this month by shining a spotlight on the biggest issue confronting our industry, with a slide showing the gently downward-sloping line of our market in slow, long-term decline.

I had hoped we would hear from the leaders of the bigger institutions in our market, which are surely losing the most from said decline, to tell us what could turn that line upwards. 

But sadly, the elephant in the room was ignored in favour of an upbeat focus on how we could more cleverly serve consumers better and, in particular, build more trust.

That said, it was good stuff.
I particularly liked the session from Rhys Williams, creative director at communications firm Quietroom, who rightly explained we all need to talk more about the customer and less about the product. He highlighted the need to avoid legalese, such as “in the event of a claim”, to get the emotional pitch right and not hide behind euphemisms such as “should the worst happen” nor use overly powerful words such as “grief” or “distress”. Instead, Williams said, we should use strong but neutral words such as “difficulty” and “upheaval”, which consumers can relate to far more easily than the frightening stuff.   

We can put consumers off with our certainty that they need to protect themselves. Which makes it ironic that the highlight of my day was meeting protection adviser Craig Hernan, a Peter Rosengard protégé, whose blunt fervour is summed up by the job description on his card: life insurance salesman. Craig invites local business directors to breakfast as often as it takes and few leave without applying for proper business and family protection. 

He and I then sat through a bit of futurology, in which advisers disappear from the protection scene to be replaced by the commoditised selling of extremely simplified products through wearable technology such as Google Glass. A case of ‘blink and you are insured’. 

Sounds good to me, although because such products are always worse value than the pretty simple ones we recommend, it is unlikely Amazon and Google fancy investing in a shrinking market dominated by a regulator that often decides in hindsight that simple sales are very bad ones. 

While all the conference topics were interesting and informative, what would truly entice me back next year would be if the day was framed by a vision of our future from one of the industry’s truly important leaders. I would choose Legal & General Assurance Society chief executive John Pollock. 

How about it, John?  Where does protection go from here and how can we convince the British public to buy far more protection than it currently does?

Tom Baigrie is chief executive of LifeSearch

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  1. Usual Tut…. thought it was the purple cow……

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