Andy Couchman on Protection Review and the launch of the I Mark – MAF197

On the show this week, I talk to Andy Couchman, co-founder of Protection Review.

We chat about how the Protection Review Conference, Dinner and Awards has grown to become one of the premiere financial services events of the year and the new “I Mark” which seeks to recognise true innovation.

Welcome to episode 197 of the Marketing and Finance Podcast.

Andy Couchman on Protection Review and the launch of the I Mark - MAF197

What you’ll hear about in this episode

  • How Andy started Protection Review with another financial services luminary, Peter Le Beau
  • The process Andy goes through to write product reviews and how he scores them
  • What innovation really means in financial services
  • The reasoning behind the launch of the I Mark
  • What companies will have to do to receive the I Mark.

Who is Andy Couchman?

Andy started his career in product marketing roles in various large UK financial services companies.

After leaving corporate life he made a success writing about financial services topics. Together with Peter Le Beau he started Protection Review back in 2003. What started as a paper publication and an annual dinner has turned into a prestigious annual Conference, Dinner and Awards event and a popular website.

Although he has retired from the day to day running of Protection Review, Andy still writes the reviews published each month.

Summary of our chat

In his reviews Andy always remembers that teams of people will have worked hard on launching the product or service he is reviewing. They’ll be looking for the highest score possible. But over the years he’s developed a method of setting a benchmark for the products and services he’s reviewing.

He rarely gives a 10 out of 10. In fact this may only have happened a couple of times.

Until now, Andy has always acknowledged innovation in his reviews. Thinking back to the launch of Critical Illness Cover in 1986 he acknowledges that it was real innovation back then. However the current practice of adding new illnesses and conditions, whilst a good thing because it improves the product, is more evolution than innovation.

That’s why he’s please Protection Review is launching the “I Mark”. It will recognise and promote true innovation in the protection segment of UK financial services.

He’ll still mark his reviews on a scale of 1 to 10, but from now on he’ll also award the I Mark to products and services that offer something different.

Recommended business book

Andy likes Damon Hill’s Autobiography. The racing driver faced many mental health challenges over the years and Andy thinks this is sobering reading and reiterates how important it is for insurance companies to take care of people with similar issues rather than simply rejecting them for cover.

He also recommends Lucian Camp’s book about financial services marketing. Lucian was my first ever guest on the Marketing and Finance Podcast.


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Debbie Bolton on underwriting, simpler protection and trust – MAF158m

This week we dive back into the world of financial services and protection. My guest is Debbie Bolton.

We talk about underwriting, protection product development and whether products and processes are getting simpler for customers.

Welcome to episode 158 of the Marketing and Finance Podcast.

Debbie Bolton on underwriting, simpler protection and trust - MAF158

What you’ll hear about in this episode

  • A simple definition of underwriting anyone can understand
  • The role of an underwriting development team in an insurance company
  • How AIG Life is speeding up the application process for protection products
  • Why the industry is trying to simplify insurance products
  • How AIG Life works with financial advisers
  • Why trust is a three-way process

Who is Debbie Bolton?

Debbie works for AIG Life. She’s responsible for claims and underwriting strategy. She’s been in the insurance industry for 20 years. 17 in underwriting. The role was completely different when she started, for example, paper-based with stacks of case files.

Starting off in smaller companies, Debbie progressed in her career, moving to Ageas (as AIG was then) as manager for the underwriting development team. The company represented innovation, technology and automation. It was an exciting place. And she says it still does. Debbie says the work is fast-paced, and she loves her job.

Summary of our chat

Underwriting is the combination of science and maths to work out a price for a customer. It looks at an individual’s health, their hobbies, occupational risks and where they travel. Healthy office-workers will pay a lower price than unhealthy people in dangerous jobs.  But the aim is to charge as little as they can so everyone benefits.

Debbie’s team differs from typical underwriters. They set the philosophy of the company.  They’re involved in all AIG Life’s developments. From products to technology. They manage the rules engine, to incrementally and continuously improve the processes for assessing, simplifying and pricing risk.

AIG Life is aiming its “Instant” product at younger, healthier customers who want to take out protection at speed. The application process has no interruptions. So after completing a form, a person knows straight away whether or not they’ve got cover. AIG Life came up with a shorter list of questions people can complete quickly. It offers a favourable price.

Debbie says companies are simplifying products and the processes. She explains that AIG Life customers want instant results. They want their insurance policy as quickly as possible. The shorter quiz has specific questions for identifying risks that would increase premiums. It often cuts out the need for medical evidence.

The response to the “Instant” product has been overwhelmingly positive from financial advisers. AIG Life has a team of underwriters who speak to advisers every day. Their feedback gives the strategy team a better understanding of the issues they face and helps product development.

There needs to be trust between the customers, the advisers and the underwriters in insurance companies. Being available to the advisers builds trust with them, particularly those writing complex cases, so they know they’re getting the best rates. AIG Life want the public to have confidence in their automated service, and to trust the information they offer.

The one thing she’d like listeners to take away

Underwriters and claims assessors are the technicians of the whole case. They decide if a case can be underwritten or a claim paid. As a rule, underwriters start from yes; they want to get a case on the books or pay a claim, as quickly as possible. They don’t want to say no to people.

A marketing campaign or product Debbie loves

Debbie’s recently been impressed with parcel delivery. Wanting to send something to New Zealand at Christmas, she researched a quick and simple solution to get it there in time. She found a company online which gave her a competitive quote, collected her parcel and shipped it six hours after she started looking.

Links and contact details

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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.