Is the individual protection market a little nuts?
Well, they say the definition of madness is to continue to do the same things and expect different results.
The levers we repeatedly pull are to cut the prices advisers see on portals, add to the complexity of products by including more features and, more recently, publishing claims statistics to prove to ourselves we actually pay.
Arguably none of these tactics grows business. Lower prices do not stimulate demand as they do in regular markets. More features increase the need for advice but do not resonate with consumers. Claims statistics in the high 90 per cents look good on the pages of trade magazines but out in the real world people think we only pay half that.
However, the conversations going on in marketing meetings at protection providers all involve price, features and claims statistics. More of the same will not yield different results and we are back to the definition of madness.
And what about the unintended consequences of pulling these levers? The headline rate might be cheap but more people face health loadings after going through the endless underwriting process. Compliance requires a thorough evaluation of product features and creates masses of work for advisers.
As a result cottage industries spring up to solve the problems the levers create. New applications like UnderwriteMe try to get answers to the questions before the quote so clients get a more exact figure. Comparison portals become ever more complex to deal with menu products, longer illness lists and added value features. Super detailed product comparison systems like CIExpert become essential to satisfy the compliance process.
This might seem an overly critical assessment of the market but having been part of the process myself for so long I know how difficult it is to break out of these constraints. If doing the same things does not grow the market then logically doing something different might.
I am sure that if we consulted consumers they would ask for simpler propositions, much shorter applications and a guaranteed payout if needed. But such a product would be more expensive because of the reduced underwriting. It would fail the price test. Fewer illnesses and added features might be easier to understand but would fail the advice and compliance test.
Even those companies that have tried products with reduced question sets in the direct to consumer or consolidator space have failed because they are attempting to push product on price comparison engines. A proposition that is up to 40 per cent more expensive is not going to cut it.
So how do we solve this conundrum? An annually costed premium might offset that 40 per cent premium price for a quick application product. No one has tried that yet so presumably lapse risk is a worry.
Perhaps someone needs to be brave enough to offer the two-question product for the same price as the fully underwritten one. While actuaries, scared by selection risk, might condemn such a suggestion as madness we have already agreed that continuing to do the same things as we always do is equally nuts.