ITIJ 209, June 2018
The UK insurance market has attempted to lead the way in terms of assisting customers in finding suitable policies to meet their needs around pre-existing medical conditions and upper age limits. Amid doubts from some corners, Mandy Langfield asks if ‘signposting’ is working
ITIJ 207 (April 2018) reported on a study by the Co-Op in the UK, which found that one-third of British travellers report struggling to obtain travel insurance coverage. The study, which took in results from 2,000 UK holidaymakers, found that of those who say they find it difficult to get coverage, 60 per cent cite pre-existing medical conditions as the primary reason. Cancer (21 per cent), diabetes (18 per cent) and low blood pressure (18 per cent) were the most common health issues creating hurdles for UK travellers looking for coverage for the trips, according to respondents.
Age UK is a nationwide charity organisation that offers information and advice to older people regarding their health and wellbeing, as well as campaigning for their rights and providing support in the community. It has in the past been vocal about the need for the insurance industry to do more to provide easily accessible insurance policies to the older community, a significant proportion of whom have pre-existing medical conditions. Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director at Age UK, pointed out: “With many more older people continuing to drive and travel into later life, access to insurance is an essential service. The Equality Act contains an exemption for risk-based products, but this comes with conditions that the industry must meet and expectations that insurers should act to ensure that people are able to get the cover they need.”
Graeme Trudgill, British Insurance Brokers’ Association (BIBA) Executive Director, told ITIJ that recent moves by the financial regulator in the UK to look more deeply into the issues customers have accessing the right insurance was a good move: “The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) was right to launch its ‘call for input’ on ‘access to insurance’,
of those who say they find it difficult to get coverage, 60 per cent cite pre-existing medical conditions as the primary reason
highlighting the challenge that three million people feel they have been turned down or charged extra for insurance because of their impairment or condition. Recent research showing that of those that find it difficult to get travel insurance cover, 32 per cent of people simply go without travel insurance and 19 per cent do not declare their condition is extremely worrying.” BIBA has been consulting with the FCA and charities such as national disability charity Scope, to look at constructive ways forward that will make accessing insurance easier for those currently having difficulty.
Charlie Campbell, Senior Policy Adviser for Protection, Health and Travel at the Association of British Insurers (ABI), said: “Insurers want everyone to be able to find the right cover for their needs, at a competitive price, as easily as possible. However, we recognise there can be challenges encountered by consumers.”
‘Signposting’, as it is known in the UK market, came into effect on 6 April 2012 when the UK Government and the country’s insurance industry struck a deal that requires insurance sellers to automatically refer the customer to an alternative provider who can meet their needs, or to a dedicated signposting service such as that provided by BIBA, if they are unable to offer cover to an older traveller, or one that is suffering from a pre-existing medical condition. BIBA’s Find a Broker service has helped over 401,000 customers seeking motor and travel insurance since its introduction. Trudgill commented: “BIBA receives over half a million enquiries every year from customers seeking insurance. However, it seems clear to us that a lot more could be done to help people with medical conditions who are struggling to access insurance and are unaware of specialist brokers and are subsequently travelling uninsured.”
Mike Preston, Business Development Director at insurance comparison site The Idol, believes that despite the figures above, many in the industry are doing their best to help people with pre-existing medical conditions find appropriate cover: “We have worked hard with our panel of travel insurers over the past five years to ensure that we provide products for as much of the population of the UK as is possible,” he told ITIJ, “including people travelling with pre-existing medical conditions. Through our panel, approximately one-third of customers declare pre-existing conditions and of those who do so, over 95 per cent receive quotations online. For those with more complex medical conditions for whom we are unable to provide online quotations, we signpost them to a telephone service with specialist providers who can be contacted directly by customers. The vast majority of those who use this service will receive quotations. We do therefore believe that our aggregator partners provide a comprehensive proposition that enables the vast majority of their customers with declared pre-existing conditions to receive a selection of quotations and so purchase a travel insurance product appropriate for their needs.”
Kate Huet, Managing Director of International Travel and Healthcare Limited, a specialist broker, believes that part of the problem in terms of people finding it difficult to find insurance when their circumstances change – either reaching an age limit of a policy, or developing a condition that is not covered by their previous policies – is that the majority of people are covered by mass-market policies that will limit coverage when it comes to age and medical conditions, and have a price point that reflects this. Often, when a customer’s circumstances have altered, and they return to a previous high-street company with whom they have been insured, they find out that they are no longer covered, she said, and then aren’t given the right advice or options for researching policies that do suit their needs. “So, when a consumer is reaching the upper end of this mass market’s, relatively unimpaired risk parameters, for any number of a wide variety
a lot more could be done to help people with medical conditions who are struggling to access insurance
of reasons, then they start to enter a new market for the first time – a specialist market. One that is less well served by the likes of the price comparison websites and high street banks. These consumers find they are poorly served in this transitionary phase, by their first (and probably only to date) habitual port of call,” said Huet. “It is these environments, that failure to signpost well, simply because there is no decision making after a decline decision is an outcome, there is no facility to ask questions during the application process and, worryingly, no one to guide or advise on the consumer’s specific set of circumstances. Neither are these environments designed for accurate signposting to an alternative provider, to one who can serve the client’s specific needs. Yes, there is some signposting, but it’s not a qualified process – because of lack of financial reward; so [it] often leads consumers to what feels like a hunt for hens’ teeth.”
In the more specialist broker market, however, the understanding and knowledge of the market exceeds any one broker’s own set of underwriting parameters. A specialist broker will recognise if what they are presented with is a risk they can’t underwrite very quickly, so can, and do, make suggestions as to whom the risk may be better directed. “The more wily will have TOBAs in place with a number of their competitors for this very reason,” added Huet. “These businesses are fundamentally based on recommendation and referral. They can’t afford to compete on keywords and SEO. Yes, their products are more expensive because their underwriting risks are far greater, but their volumes are significantly lower.” Huet believes that there is ‘excellent signposting’ among the specialist providers, and once customers are aware of these providers, they become very loyal to them.
More to be done
It’s encouraging that specialists are able to work in such a manner, but the challenge remains for the consumers to find these specialists in the first place. Are people simply not searching for the right keywords, so not getting the right results from their search engine?
Making it easier for this group of travellers to find the right insurance is key, and calls have been made in some areas for mainstream providers to step up to the challenge of providing insurance policies for older travellers, and those with pre-existing conditions. Caroline Abrahams of Age UK said: “Age UK would like to see a review of how the signposting service is working for older consumers – not just in terms of the numbers of referrals, but whether people are able to get the cover they need, at a reasonable price. However, the wider question is whether the market as a whole is working for older people. Age UK’s strong preference is for a mainstream market that keeps up with the needs of our ageing population.”
Charlie Campbell of the ABI said that working together more is the answer: “One approach to address these [challenges] is to build on work between insurers and charities, who consumers trust and look to for advice, to jointly develop further effective messaging and guidance. The industry is constantly looking for new ways to develop consumer understanding and improve products.”
Trudgill is in agreement that a cohesive approach is the answer, and that in working with regulators, the Money Advice Service, charities and the media, insurers could create a solution that works effectively: “[We could] create what we call ‘universal signposting’. That way, if a client seeking insurance approaches one of these organisations, the organisation (if unable to assist directly themselves) actively signposts the customer to someone who they know can help.” He added that the signposting agreement set up by the insurance industry and government in 2012 is ‘a successful precedent’ with over 460,000 enquiries from older people seeking motor and travel insurance being signposted to BIBA’s Find-A-Broker service. “With this working so well, we think there is every reason to widen the support out at least to people with cancer, disabilities and other medical conditions,” said Trudgill, giving the example of Scope, which has said that ‘insurers should proactively support all customers to whom they are unable to provide affordable insurance cover, in ways such as better use of signposting to insurance brokers or a specialist provider’.
This is certainly something the industry might be onboard with. As insurer Avanti wrote in ITIJ 205 (February 2018): “Signposting should be an integral part of customer service best practice, not just based on age, but to ensure every person gets appropriate cover for the type of trip they go on.”