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.

Alan and Kathryn Knowles on zombies, gnomes and quirky financial services marketing – MAF145

This week on the show my guests are Alan and Kathryn Knowles.

We talk about how they became an award winning specialist financial adviser firm by using zombies, gnomes and advent calendars to create some quirky marketing campaigns.

Welcome to episode 145 of the Marketing and Finance Podcast.

What you’ll hear about in this episode

  • How Alan and Kathryn developed a niche focusing on people who find it difficult to get protection insurance
  • Dealing with clients individually and taking referrals from other financial advisers
  • How Kathryn comes up with the ideas for marketing campaigns based on popular culture
  • Trying to make boring insurance a little more engaging and more about planning
  • Why content rather than in your face promotion leads to better engagement with customers

Who are Alan and Kathryn Knowles?

Alan and Kathryn  run Cura Financial Services Ltd which is the holding company for the Special Risks Bureau.

Based in North Yorkshire they won Best Protection Intermediary at the Money Marketing Awards in June 2017. More recently, at the Cover Magazine Awards 2017 in October, they were Highly Commended in the Best Promotion by an Intermediary category and won Best Specialist Intermediary.


If you enjoyed – Alan and Kathryn Knowles on zombies, gnomes and quirky financial services marketing – please leave a comment or a review on iTunes.

And if you know anyone who would enjoy the show – please share it with them. You can use the buttons below to share on social media.

Don’t miss an episode of the MAF Podcast – subscribe now.

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