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Helen Dick


Written by Helen Dick, Senior Manager Underwriting and Claims Strategy, Scottish Widows.


In this article we consider the impact of COVID on our underwriting philosophy

Protection providers are in the business of insuring against the unexpected but few of us were fully ready for COVID. Insurers are most comfortable working with long term data but COVID required an instant response that was flexible and dynamic.

Providers rallied around and quickly introduced their own COVID philosophies. At Scottish Widows we introduced a temporary philosophy that had to strike a balance between the potential increased risks of COVID, whilst protecting our existing customers and continuing to offer valuable protection cover to as many people as possible.

  • Application - We quickly introduced COVID related questions to our applications and developed an underwriting rule to assess customers who disclosed a history of COVID, had been advised to self-isolate or had symptoms or direct contact with someone who has or is suspected to have had COVID.
  • Health workers – Front line health workers were at risk of not getting cover when the temporary philosophy was first introduced due to their contact with COVID positive patients. This was swiftly updated to ensure they didn’t need to disclose this information.
  • Maximum loadings – We introduced a maximum loading for customers who applied with conditions that were known to represent an increased risk from COVID (key conditions being High BMI, heart disease, lung conditions, immunosuppressant treatment).
  • Medical Evidence – We were keen not to burden the health service with requests for medical evidence so we focussed on getting more information from customers rather than requesting GP reports or sending customers for a medical examination. Surprisingly the issue we were expecting didn’t transpire during the first peak, with GP surgeries quieter than normal and due to them working more remotely we found a substantial increase in reports being returned electronically. We have long been advocates of iGPRs and really appreciated seeing an increase from GP surgeries who are enabled to do this. However, with surgeries currently supporting the administering of the vaccine, we will continue to look for alternative means of gathering medical evidence.
  • Non-Medical Limits – We reached an agreement with our reassurers to extend our medical limits for life cover by 10%. This meant we could offer more cover at point of sale and avoid the need to request medical evidence within the 10% extension.
  • Long COVID – This is a term used to describe a range of symptoms following an acute infection such as fatigue, shortness of breath, cough, joint/muscle pain or cognitive impairment (brain fog). As its prevalence has become apparent we have adapted our philosophy to provide clarity on how these customers should be underwritten.
  • COVID vaccination – as the roll out of the vaccine continues we will continue to review and interpret our COVID philosophy more favourably.

Impact on mental health

Mental health is by far our biggest disclosure and the most talked about side effect of social distancing and lockdown. Evidence is pointing to a further increase in customers experiencing mental health conditions so it’s important, in these difficult times, we let our customers know we are fully open for business.

Changes to our mental health philosophy at the start of the year put us in a great position to increase the number of customers we offer cover to, and the terms we offer them.

  • After consultation with Mental Health UK we improved the language used in our questions.
  • We simplified the question set to make it easier for customer to tell us about their condition.
  • We signposted customers who may be experiencing a mental health condition to professional help.
  • We want to recognise customers who are taking positive actions to improve their mental health, and where we can, we will reward this by offering more favourable terms.
  • We now give our customers the option to tell us their story in free text for any applications that are referred for further underwriting.

Mental Health Performance 2020

95% overall acceptance for customers disclosing a mental health condition 85% offered standard rates 4% increase in standard rates (life)
Maintain high POS rate 90% Positive Lifestyle Changes Signposting


Impact on other top medical disclosures

BMI Cover offered to 99.7% of customers at POS
Hypertension 83% of customers offered terms at POS
50% standard rates
The remainder manual underwritten
Back Problem 99% offered standard rate terms at POS
Asthma 99% of customers offered terms at POS
95% standard rates
Raised Cholesterol 82% of customers offered terms at POS
54% standard rates
The remainder manual underwritten
Diabetes 75.6% of customers offered terms at POS
17.9% standard rates
The remainder manually underwritten

pie chart

pie chart

At Scottish Widows we aim to provide protection to as many people as possible; pandemic or no pandemic. When COVID hit at the start of 2020 we very quickly adapted our philosophy and practices to ensure we continued to offer cover, and we will continue to monitor and respond to the current situation to provide the best possible service and cover to our customers. We find ourselves in very difficult times so it’s more important than ever that we are here to provide access to insurance and support our customers and their families should the worst happen.

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