The key to financial services: Be simpler, more human and braver

Be simpler. Be more human. And be braver.

These are the concepts everyone in the UK protection market needs to adopt to be successful in future according to speakers at this summer’s Protection Review Conference.

financial services

Simpler is obvious. Well known campaigner for plainer English in financial services, Rhys Williams of Quiet Room suggested we need less complicated products. Easier to understand marketing and policy material. And quick navigable straight through processes.

Being more human needs product providers to show more empathy with customers, particularly at claims stage. Empathy expert Alasdair McGill described better methods of communications to make the customer experience for bereaved people better in such difficult circumstances.

And being braver meant exploring new product models, challenging established ones and pushing the boundaries with underwriting. Jackie Leiper from Scottish Widows looked at some of the innovations from different insurance markets and the lessons we could learn.

There is evidence of all this starting to happen.

AIG Life’s critical illness product, Key 3, is a good example of making things simple.

The 7 Families income protection campaign proves the power of using video to tell the stories of people affected by illness. That’s a more human touch.

It’s harder to find examples of protection companies being braver however.

Another common thread discussed by the panel that followed these speakers was the need for the industry to better engage with younger people. Journalist Iona Bain, founder of the Young Money Blog put forward some interesting views on the communications challenges involved. In the days after the conference, I found myself thinking more and more about young people and protection. I wished we’d had more time to explore some of the issues Iona raised.


I went away and started looking for companies in other industries that had looked at specifically marketing a product to younger people. It became clear that among marketers there’s much talk about how to target millennial.

Is that what protection providers should do? Come up with a set of products, marketing campaigns and processes that’ll appeal to millennials?

Air France is launching an airline for millennials. Called, Joon, it aims to complement the supposed millennial lifestyle revolving around digital technology, convenience and low-cost.

The more I dug into the idea though the more detractors I found to the idea of targeting millennials. Marketing Week columnist Mark Ritson said segmenting an audience purely based on age is “stupid”. And targeting millennials “makes a mockery of just about every principle of basic segmentation”. As I career marketer I agree with this.

“Clearly millennials as a generational cohort do exist – they are the two billion people on the planet born between 1981 and 2000. But the idea that this giant army all want similar stuff or think in similar ways is clearly [rubbish].” (Mark used a much more vivid term in his original article.)

Marketing strategy

Of course, it’s basic marketing theory. Find out what your customers problems are, find a solution to that problem and then communicate with them about why your solution is better than everyone else’s. There are millennials who like rock music and there are those who like drum and bass or dubstep. One size doesn’t fit all.

A protection millennial solution might use the same digital, convenience and low-cost approach to Joon. If young people are more used to renewable contacts on phones and other services, perhaps an annually renewable term assurance would be better?

My conclusion, after reading up on the subject, was that whilst we need to talk to more younger customers and include them in our product development process, the recommendations of the speakers at the Protection Review Conference are the ones to follow.

Being simpler, more human and braver will ultimately work for all customers whether they belong to the millennial generation, that which came before and those that will come later.

Now it’s you turn:

How do you think we can be simpler, more human and braver. In any industry, not necessarily just financial services? Please leave a comment and share on social media.

If you need help keeping your marketing simpler – please get in touch and let’s talk about how I could help you.

Money Marketing Magazine published a shorter, edited version, of this article right here.

Behind the scenes of Protection Review Conference, Dinner and Awards – RogVLOG -13

Come with me to The Landmark London Hotel for a behind the scenes peek at what makes the Protection Review Conference, Dinner and Awards tick.

It’s one of the biggest events in the UK Financial Services calendar. 300 people at the conference. 400 at the dinner and awards.

We’ll check out how the conference works.

We’ll see the rapid transformation from conference hall to gourmet dining room. Meet the Toastmaster. And watch us hand out the gongs.

It’s a great insight into how a major industry event works.

Find out more about Protection Review here.

Book Roger to speak at your event – click here.

Now it’s your turn:

We’re you at the Protection Review Conference, Dinner and Awards? Did you spot yourself? Let me know what you think of the video. Leave a comment or share it on social media.

Behind the scenes of Protection Review Conference, Dinner and Awards - RogVLOG -13

The empathy effect: Do UK life insurance companies understand how their customers feel?

Do UK life insurance companies know, or ever try and understand, how their customers feel?

Following a recent family bereavement, I’ve been dealing with several product providers trying to make claims on life policies dating back to the 1980s. Of course, I know how the industry works, and yet even I was unprepared for the array of phone options, hoop jumping, running around, passing the buck and general lack of empathy I experienced.

Can you imagine what it must be like for a bereaved person who is not used to dealing with insurance companies?

The empathy effect: Do UK life insurance companies understand how their customers feel?

First hoop

My Dad took his policies out in the early 1980s. The original companies don’t exist anymore. Another insurer either bought up the back book of business or bought the company entirely and changed the brands. It took me a while to track down who was responsible for the policies today over 30 years later.

Second hoop

Once I’d found the right contact details I picked up the phone.

I sat on hold for 45 minutes listening to some bland music, interrupted by a recorded voice telling me they were experiencing a higher than normal volume of calls.

Are you like me? When I hear this message, and it seems to be every time you phone an insurance company, I wonder why they don’t employ some more people to answer the phone.

46 minutes later I get through to a bored-sounding “customer service agent”. He expresses a little genuine sympathy for my loss and then takes me through the expected security questions.

Him: Policy number?

Me: 12345678X

Him: Cool. Your Dad’s date of birth.

Me: It’s day, month year.

Him: Excellent. Now, what’s his address?

Me: Well this could be difficult. Since my Dad took out the policy he’s lived at 7 different addresses. I have no idea which one you’ll have on your system.

Him: Well you’ll have to give me one address otherwise we can’t continue with the process.

Me: What do you suggest. Should I just guess?

Him: Yes. But if you give me the wrong address I’ll get locked out of the system. It’s to prevent fraud. You know phishing?

Me: Can I email you the addresses?

Him: We don’t accept emails. Only written letters by snail mail.

Me: Okay let’s go with this address (and I give him address number 5).

Him: That’s the wrong address. I’ve now been locked out of the system. You’ll have to write to us.

Now I know this is all to prevent fraud or money laundering but there has to be a simpler way to do this surely? I ask him if he can help me.

Him: Well you could phone again and get a different agent and try a different address.

The thought of another 45 minute wait to listen to more crap music followed by another 1 in 6 chance of guessing the correct address didn’t fill me with much enthusiasm.

Me: So I could try phoning you up to another 6 times until we get the right address.

Him: Basically yes.

So I wrote to them. And waited 10 days for the claim pack to arrive. Filled in the forms and sent them in along with the death certificate, my Dad’s Will, and other necessary documentation. 

In all the payment process took over a month.

Each claim provided a similar experience. One company even lost the death certificate and Will and asked me to resend them. (They’ve since found the first originals I sent them and have returned both sets – but this added two weeks to the process).

Another company kept quoting it’s KPIs at me, “We aim to transact each transaction within 5 working days.” After waiting 10 days I phone them up to chase (and waited 30 minutes on the phone) only to find the policy was in the actuarial department and the KPIs don’t apply to them. “Actuarial just reply when they can”.

Well, that’s alright then.

Again, can you imagine what it must me like for a bereaved person who is not used to dealing with insurance companies?

Where’s the empathy?

Whilst all this was happening I came across an article by my friend Alasdair McGill of customer experience experts, Ashton Mcgill. It might have been one of the times I was on hold because the insurance company was, as always, experiencing particularly high call volumes.

Alasdair’s article laments the lack of empathy displayed by companies in all industries not just financial services. He mentions communications providers like BT and BA as examples of big corporates that just don’t show any sign they understand how their customers feel.

The experience made me think about empathy and its place in customer service and indeed marketing.

Empathy is, “the capacity to understand or feel what another person is experiencing from within the other being’s frame of reference, i.e., the capacity to place oneself in another’s position.” Do we understand how our customers feel?

I worked in the protection industry for many years on the marketing side. Company sales consultants talk about death disability and disease all the time. And you become immune to the actual enormity of what you are saying.

I’ve done it myself over the years. Standing up in front of an audience of financial advisers and quoting stats at them about the likelihood of a person getting cancer in their lifetime. It’s a marketing pitch. Giving them a reason why they should talk to their clients about critical illness cover.

Having a real work colleague discover they have cancer, or losing a loved one is when the enormity of what we are talking about hits home. That’s when you realise just what a big deal it is. 

It’s not numbers on paper or stats on screens. It’s real people facing life changing illness or dying. As big a deal as there ever can be.

How does the customer feel?

Do the CEOs of life companies know what it feels like to hang on the phone for 45 minutes waiting to report the death of a loved one whilst being reminded by a pre-recorded voice how important our call is to them? Can they imagine how upsetting it must be to have to jump through all their hoops and deal with a bored employee who sounds like they’d much rather be at home playing on their XBOX?

Many people in the financial services industry talk about the need to do more advertising to grow the protection market. To make the products simpler. To educate the customer.

The reality is they need to empathise more with their customers.

They must understand how customers feel about insurance companies and protection products.

How they feel about having to fill in a 32-page application form?

How they feel about being told their claim will be declined on a technicality?

Now, many companies just don’t get it. Granted some delegate empathy to external providers like Red Arc (a provider of emotional and practical support), if customers choose to use them, but the general experience is poor.

At a recent conference, some senior industry figures said financial services providers should stop publishing claims statistics. Perhaps this is because they don’t want customers finding out how bad their stats are?

Again, this shows a complete lack of empathy.

Customers think insurers don’t pay claims. They “feel” companies will find any way they can to weasel out of paying. Publishing claims statistics and trying to overcome those perceptions is one of the most important things insurance companies can do to convince the public what they do is good.

Suggesting they stop publishing demonstrates a worrying lack of empathy with customers and will do more to convince them they were right about financial services and the industy does have something to hide.

Alasdair’s article reminded me many companies across many industries lack empathy with their customers. But financial services companies deal with such emotional, deeply personal issues they cannot afford not to fully understand how their customers feel.

Finding real empathy is the only way they’re going to change the what consumers think of them.

Now it’s your turn:

A bit of a rant that. What do you think companies could do to better empathise with their customers? Please leave a comment below or share this on social media and invite your colleagues or friends to join the debate.

Cover Magazine published a shorter version of this article in 2016 – you can find it here.