COVID-19 has had a massive impact on all of our lives. It is fair to say that many in the protection industry were not ready for the impacts of the pandemic which in the early days of lockdown led to much confusion in the industry. As the initial shock of what had happened settled down however, we have seen many positive moves made and in many ways COVID-19 has inadvertantly opened many consumers’ eyes to the benefits of protection (especially income protection). 

In our June forum we had a fantastic discussion about what we have learned over the past five months, with advisers giving their experiences and discussing what initiatives should be taken forward post COVID-19. In this post we bring together the views of a number of different advisers including Jaid WiltshireZanele SibandaEmma Astley, Alan KnowlesIan Sawyer, Roy McLoughlin and Mike Allison

Below are some of the best ideas and insights about the effects of COVID-19 on the protection industry, the ways in which the industry has adapted as a result, and the areas in which it still requires growth.

What can we learn from covid-19? –Advisers share their views

by the participants of the June 2020 Protection Forum

Due to the backlog of GP reports, insurers are often happy to allow advisers and clients to get access to the reports and send them over. There is currently an opportunity to learn more about what services providers are giving their clients, such as a 24/7 GP online service.

Jaid Wiltshire:

Hello. Thank you for having me. Just to sort of move on from the point before, we deal with a lot of protection ourselves. In the fact of we’ve had a very big backlog in GP reports to the point where we’ve actually been told by a number of insurers that they no longer will actually go for GP reports due to COVID, based on the back of that, they’re happy for us to chase that on their behalf, which actually in fact, turns out to get a quicker response than the insurers otherwise would have. So on the back of that, we’ve had clients who are like before HIV positive, or have certain disclosures where we’ve actually had to go back to the client and say, look, can you get the report for us? And this will speed things up, whether it builds relationship with the client is another thing to say, but it does speed things up. It means cover can actually be put in place for the client off the back of that. Moving on from that sort of the learnings from COVID. I think the big thing is understanding what providers provide clients, on the fact of some providers will give you 24/7 GP service where you can see a GP online, which I think at the moment is sort of a second to none service with people not wanting to go to a surgeries. You can actually pop online with your provider, see your GP, get a diagnosis, and also get prescriptions off the back of that, which I think with everything going on moving forward, it’s a second to none service.

In order to adapt to the reduced sums that insurers were prepared to underwrite for clients, we put applications on hold if cover wasn’t tied to a completion date or temporarily reduced the sums assured.

The key selling point for the protection industry in relation to COVID-19 is that it remains a claimable event, and people are more aware of the importance of cover. We have also been approaching small businesses using the current governement support, though director’s guarantees are still sometimes required.

The industry should revisit the conversation of moving medical records online, as the private medical insurance market has begun to do in response to COVID-19.

Zanele Sibanda:

The biggest impact for us has been the reduction in sums assured that insurers have been prepared to underwrite. When the market restricted cover, although we could understand the rationale, client needs did not change; so we had to adopt a different approach. Some of the alternatives we looked at included putting applications on hold if cover was not tied to a completion date; or reducing sums assured until such a time as we could write the remainder of the cover.

The key selling point for the protection industry in relation to the Covid-19 situation is that Covid-19 remains a claimable event. It’s not excluded from cover. As such, we’ve been talking about it from that perspective and, as somebody else said earlier, people are more aware of the risks of not having cover.

With the government offering financial support for small companies, we’ve been approaching businesses that are taking advantage of all the government support that’s available. Whilst no directors’ guarantees are required for loans up to a certain value, there will be certain sizes of loans that still require directors’ guarantees. So those are conversations that are worth having.

Initiatives discussed:

  • Support for customers facing financial difficulties; Underwriting; Digital processes; Remote support for advisers; Claims

In terms of where I think the future should be as far as the learnings from Covid-19: The industry should revisit a conversation started a number of years ago regarding whether or not medical records should move to an online platform. At present you’re looking at a minimum of two weeks to a few months for GP reports to be completed. The private medical insurance market has recently made a big change in this direction, allowing insurers to digitally transfer personal and underwriting details of members who transfer from one insurer to another, and that was in response to Covid-19.

The providers have supported us through the COVID-19 crisis by obtaining medical records from the clients, such as discharge notes, diagnosis documents and consultations letters.

Emma Astley:

I’ve felt that this has been just fantastic through COVID as crazy as it has been and the providers have been unbelievable. And we’ve had so many finicky cases. Yes, they’ve taken longer, but the providers have supported us by obtaining medical records from the client’s like,  discharge notes, diagnosis documents and consultations letters. I even got one lady who had to have a brain tumor removed last March, and I got a cover for the full amount of a mortgage, which she’s not had before. So that has just been for me, amazing journey and, Aviva, Aegon and Royal London have been unbelievable as have the other providers, but they’ve just been with the way they’ve changed the whole underwriting process, correspondence and communication with the clients directly and actually making a decision without a full GP report just, and based on the discharge letters and everything else that we’ve needed. So for me, they’ve just been, yeah, they’ve really supported our clients in order to try and get them cover.

The first couple of weeks of COVID everything went dark, but then some very quick changes came in in terms of underwriting, GPRs, and virtual medicals which were very good and hopefully continue.

Alan Knowles:

I completely agree with what you just said as well. I mean, the government offering basically a massive group income protection scheme, so if we’re ever going to use something to sell the benefits of IP to the public, this is exactly it. My view differs a little bit in terms of the response to C-19. And I’m absolutely not going to bang anybody for this, but I think there are some things that have happened that we all need to learn from. And the first two or three weeks were very, very big on this, because some almost went down went dark, and it was hard to get in touch with them, some carried on as if nothing had ever happened. But then again, we didn’t know this was coming, nobody had fore warning and, moving massive offices to home base was always going to be difficult.

But then we saw some very, very quick changes coming in. Underwriting changes. GPRs being pulled, not been able to do a medical, for example, but actually the positive that came from all of that and, you know, massive, massive credit to the insurance on this side was virtual medicals. And I thought that was fantastic. Something that maybe could have been done a long time ago, we were forced into doing something about it now, and I hope that can continue. Maybe that is something that we can carry on with some clients. Accepting customer medical evidence, definitely, you know, if we can do anything to release the reliance on GPRs, it’ll make everyone’s life a lot easier, and it’ll make it a lot more attractive to customers. So an absolute definite that, but you talk about being fantastic in terms of underwriting.

Now, maybe as Cura’s been dealing more specifically with clients with severe health conditions, we’re seeing another side of this. But I’ve put together some examples recently. And we are still getting clients cover and most people we can cover, but the amount of insurers that are now postponing due to C-19 risk is just incredible. And some I’d understand if you’ve got someone who has diabetes, smoking, somebody with high BMI or respiratory condition where you think actually, yes, C-19, if they catch it, they are definitely a high risk. Some of the examples we’ve seen, we’ve got a client who was clear of cancer for 10 years, where a number of insurers said, that’s still a high C-19 risk because the per mil loading was too high, but also a client with one insurer who is screaming discrimination.

This wasn’t through us, but he screamed discrimination cause they won’t cover him. Cause he’s HIV positive, even though his CD-4 counts means he’s got the same immune system as anybody else. I spoke to an insurer the other week too, where a client donated a kidney, perfectly healthy, donated a kidney to his family member. And the insurer said, “I’m sorry, we’re not taking anything complex on because it increases the risk of C-19,”. Now, okay, an advisor will look around, shop around and get that business and they will place it with somebody who’s a bit more amenable. But what about the client who’s applying online? What about the one going through the comparison site? What about the ones through the tied agents – the limited brokers? We are running a real risk here. If we can’t justify the decisions that we’re making for underwriting, for basically refusing people due to a C-19 risk because of a condition that there is no evidence at the moment to support that claim.

And that is what we are seeing in some of the decisions. “We don’t have enough data on your health condition and how you could be affected by C-19” is an actual reason I’ve seen from an insurance. So everyone’s different. Every insurer’s got different appetites and, that’s not banging insurers. There are some really good things that have happened, but I do also think we need to be very careful on that. And that’s maybe something that we haven’t reacted well to. And maybe it’s just that it needs more justification and explanation. But this was just from the other side of it.

This is an opportunity to look differently at how we can use moratoriums to help people get faster and more extensive coverage.

Ian Sawyer:

I think I’ll echo all the comments from the others in terms of there’s been some really good practice from certain insurers and then some, you know, sadly some really poor practice by some others. And there’s lots of difficulties with around, medical evidence, GP reports and resulting postponements or delays or clients not being able to get cover. And, and it strikes me that there is, this is an opportunity for us to think and look differently at the future. And perhaps imagine a world where an application can go on risk on a temporary moratorium. If we had temporary moratoriums, we would be able to take greater lengths of time, to do the medical underwriting to whatever extent an insurer requires. But the customer would be at these protected for all new and accidental deaths.

So they would be beyond risk. They would be paying a premium, they will be committed to a policy, but then not denied, cover at all for certain circumstances. So it’s about learning from perhaps as Zanele mentioned earlier, learning from the practices of private medical insurance, where moratoriums are used really effectively so that we can get more people cover faster. Maybe not, to that to a full extent, but if we’d had that type of system, then the whole COVID episode would have been a lot easier for everybody to absorb control and deliver better outcomes to the customer.

Many consumers will think of us as the same as general protection, and the issues in that industry is damaging the reputation of our industry and we need to be aware of that. The best way to counter that is to be open and give good information about how often claims are paid and the reasons why they sometimes aren’t. A positive thing happening now is that discussions around income protection and life insurance are being discussed by officials and entering  public discourse.

Roy McLoughlin:

I’m very impressed by the enthusiasm this morning. This is great. Couple of observations. Firstly, obviously in general and COVID, I think the industry’s done well. But I think we need to put this into perspective a little bit. It’s to the point that Jeff Prestridge made very well the other day on the podcast. If you guys haven’t listened to it yet, it’s worth listening to. The general public still consider us all to be thrown into the same pot and that pot is the insurance pot. And for those who aren’t aware, it’s worth knowing that a lot of people who’ve driven insurance are not telling such a good story at the moment.

A lot of people, particularly who do business protection, will be aware that a lot of businesses have lost a bit of faith in their general protection needs– and they will throw in what we do with their general protection. So I think we need to be careful here– yes, pat ourselves on the back, but be aware that lots of small businesses find it very difficult to claim for business interruption policies. And they will see us and whoever else as the same. It’s just reputational damage. The easy way around that is to tell stories about how good our industry is doing and, I hate to go on about this, but it’s the good old claim stats guys.

We need to go back to that and tell stories about how well the claims are paid in terms of the percentages. Equally, I think most of us will acknowledge when claims aren’t paid, and tell those stories as well. So just explain to people why insurance companies don’t pay the claims when they don’t pay them. And I think people will understand that they’re all very, very reasonable and generally it’s less than 10%.

The positive side of this, and you have to take a positive from negative is, for those as been doing this job for 25, 30 long years, never have I heard a Chancellor of the Exchequer, talk about income protection at the dispatch box, never I’ve I heard a prime minister talk about life insurance in his daily briefings. And I think one of the byproducts of this whole horrible mess is suddenly terminology that we all think is relevant. It has been used on a daily basis and I wouldn’t underestimate that.

And I think the opportunity here is that as we de-globalize and become more insular, and sometimes insular is good. It’s not always bad. People will start to examine our own mortality far more than they’ve ever done. And suddenly this subject matter will be much easier to broach with people. So I do think there’s a bit of a’ seize the day’ moment here, particularly with income protection, as several have mentioned, as effectively a group income protection policy. So the positive, if I might say that, to come out with such a negative is I think it’s put protection much higher on the map than it’s ever been before. And just to reiterate Alain’s point, for those of you, who’ve got a associates, we’ve have our associations with our advisors who might not want to do protection, go and talk to them because signposting is the other way around this. So, generally I think the scorecard is good for the industry, but let’s not be complacent, but be aware of the reputational risk that that’s happening with general insurance. But if ever this has given you an excuse to go and talk to people, it’s now.

Getting information and medical evidence about clients through the pharmacy can help reduce reliance on GPRs and offer easier access to a large portion of the information needed.

Mike Allison:

I made the point to a few people when the Chancellor stood up at the dispatch box and said, universal credit was 105 quid a week. For about 50% of the population, that’s the first time they’d ever heard that that’s all they were going to get. And I think, there’s a lot to sort of continue from that, in terms of the PR that we can give it. And the other thing, which was sort of in a conversation with Mark, from Aviva and specifically, but it’s something that I tried to speak to a few providers about for a few years in looking at all the ways that you can get that medical evidence without necessarily going to the GP specifically.

And I wonder what the issues were around actually getting evidence from the pharmacies that, obviously the process will be: you go to a doctor, the doctor prescribed something, and then, more and more now they pass the information straight through to the pharmacy. Now, you will have issues about whether people get stuff and then not take it, but in reality the records from the pharmacy in terms of what’s been prescribed would be a reasonable indication as to, and evidential information as to, what the doctor actually thinks is wrong with the client. And we’ve got some GDPR issues and we need to look at that, but I’m not sure whether that would be an easier route to get a decent amount of that. Especially given that the pharmacies will do in house health checks; blood pressure, blood tests for, nothing or next to nothing anyway. And I’m just wondering whether that is a slightly different route to get 75% of the info you might want, but that’s just another thought, possibly for another day. But it seems a way of getting a value knocked down, that’s all.

We tried a service where clients went to a pharmacy for a simple screen, but it was too hard to implement across the entire country. GPRs are used for only a small percentage of clients and are generally used to look for what you don’t know already, which makes them difficult to replace with pharmacy screenings. I would, however, be open to having a conversation about this type of system again.

Andrew Gething:

We looked at doing a service whereby customers could go to a pharmacist and do a sort of simple screen. This was about 10 years ago, admittedly. The challenge at the time was that the insurers, understandably, wanted a coverage across the whole of the UK. And clearly we couldn’t do that. In fact, we did do a trial in Dublin as it happened. So I think it’s feasible. I think the challenge is how you start something of that nature. Because clearly with the pharmacists, that retail space is money. And they need to see a lot of volume coming through. So how do you suddenly jump to getting a lot of volume of people going through?

And I think that’s a really big challenge from that point of view, just on a slightly different tack. You can, from the NHS records, just get pharmacy data, as opposed to the full GP records. And that is possible. Having said that, the amount of cases we go for as an industry for GPR is relatively small and diminishing all the time. As I was saying, it’s a good thing. And generally you go for GPR to look, things you don’t know, and rather than things you do know, so that’s a little bit more tricky to then replace all the GPRs, with, you know, just to do a pharmacy screen for it. So my suspicion would be, even if we could get over that initial hurdle, how do you get it that the volume wouldn’t be that great, but I’m certainly open to having that conversation again.

There is a lot of activity around moving towards a paperless process for GPRs. We need to reduce friction around the selling of protection.

Mark Jones:

I’ve really enjoyed the actual level of interaction and engagement this morning and I’ve taken copious notes to check on certain things. So thank you very much for this opportunity. Absolutely. With regards to a paperless frictionless process, I think everyone would want that. Why wouldn’t we want that? And a lot of the activity that we’re involved in and I’m sure every other provider is involved in is aiming towards that place.

What happens is, we get to a smaller and smaller group of people that perhaps we do need to go to the GP report for at the moment. There are other alternatives out there in the market. There are some fantastic little FinTech operations at the moment they’re coming up with very, very clever opportunities. And, you know, we and others are actually looking to see just how well you can take those forward. So, well, the market is probably not aware of, the activity going on here because we’ve got to be very careful about raising expectations. There’s a whole load of activity going on that hopefully will get us for that frictionless place for, for the vast majority. Well, I think we’re already there for the vast majority, but hopefully for everyone, I’m not entirely sure what it’ll be yet, but it’s not for want of trying or the investment into it, because that has to be where we try and we’ve got to end up with protection being sold in same way as you buy something off Amazon.

We launched a portal for the long-term care market and were able to reduce the use of GPRs from 100% to 1%. That’s a different market, but it still shows that change in this area is possible.

Andrew Gething:

We launched a portal, for the long-term care market back in March. It wasn’t the best time to launch for the care industry depending how you look at it. But that market, which is a tiny little market, was doing 100% GPRs. And, as of now only 1% is going for GPRs. So we’ve done a massive change there. I’m not pretending we could apply that across here to this market where the underwriting is far more and far more difficult and comprehensive and so forth and so forth. But just to throw it out there that actually change can occur from that point of view.