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Underwriting options

Close links between underwriting and sales bring benefits

Underwriters are important to the sales process. When I began my career over 12 years ago, I joined an underwriting team. We had negligible contact with our own consultants and little understanding of what brokers had to do to give us applications to underwrite. It was not seen as an important part of our training.

How things have changed and I am pleased to say the company I worked for has one of the best underwriting teams to deal with. But there is still much more insurers can do to ensure their underwriters are more commercially savvy. An insurer could give us a fantastic account manager, great rates and strong products but all their good work can be undermined by underwriters who do not work closely with brokers to secure business.

I value underwriters who offer options. If the decision is borderline and decreasing the term of the plan could improve the terms, then an underwriter should offer it. If increasing the deferment period will improve the decision, why not suggest it? I know one frustration advisers face is that exclusions are rare for avocational risks. I appreciate insurers prefer to rate because beneficiaries may not be aware an exclusion has been agreed.

But if an expensive premium means cover is unaffordable, there will not be any cover to begin with. If a customer is happy for their skydiving to be excluded because the pre- mium is too high, this option should be considered and proactively offered at outset. Underwriters should not worry about stepping on the toes of the adviser. It is about helping get customers cover and this can be invaluable to a broker who may not know there are alternatives. The key advantage to the insurer is their underwriters are doing what they can to win business after a costly underwriting process.

The other area where underwriters can be more sales- focussed is in promoting what they do. We have experienced informative underwriting presentations that have directly resulted in increased levels of business. Some underwriters are concerned that giving brokers knowledge of underwriting could lead to anti-selection at best and encouragement of non-disclosure at worst and some brokers have proved this in the past.

But the vast majority of intermediaries are honest and want to make informed choices. It is not possible to promote all updates but it is helpful for providers to publicise significant changes, particularly to key partners. Changing underwriting stances to be more competitive is not much use unless people get to hear about it. Educating brokers about underwriting can also reduce not-taken-up rates, and may even dissuade multi-proposing options. Let us see more providers encourage closer relationships between underwriting and sales.

Emma Prescott is life office relationship director at Lifesearch

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