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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

After more than a year of what will undoubtedly be an unforgettable period of our lives, we’re beginning to see some light at the end of the tunnel.

The UK’s response to the vaccination programme and all that it entails is nothing short of remarkable. Our pathway out of lockdown continues, with huge thank you to be given to the NHS and all health workers.

Looking back

At the start of last year, facing into the unknown, I am proud of how our underwriting approach responded to the COVID-19 pandemic. We were able to continually provide protection insurance to our customers and their families, which remains our highest priority.

Like the rest of the market, our initial changes involved adding Covid specific questions to applications, meaning that in some instances, customers may have been postponed for a short period of time. Our overall underwriting philosophy changes were a top priority and something we really focused our energy on, given the increased risks of COVID-19 for customers with certain high risk medical conditions. We pursued many avenues to ensure we did the right thing for our customers.

Our approach was to look at the cases individually based on the circumstances at the time. Most importantly, we maintained our high point of sale outcomes for customers. We also maintained our service levels throughout the pandemic, as colleagues adjusted to a new, agile environment.

Immediate Underwriting Decisions

Scottish Widows has long been a champion of accessing insurance. Even in the eye of the pandemic, making sure customers were able to get cover guided every decision we made. We were confident that our changes would also have a very low impact on the number of customers who would no longer be able to access cover. Overall, less than 2% of our customers were affected by our changes.

Approximately 4 out of 5 of our customers receive an immediate underwriting decision at the point of sale*, and we made sure this continued. I am pleased to say the changes we made to our overall philosophy achieved that, while allowing us to balance the increased medical risks associated with COVID-19, and the challenges we faced obtaining medical evidence.

Processes remain in place to allow increase in sums assured over our normal medical limits and we’ll continue to use different ways of obtaining the medical evidence we need. Our underwriters continue to use their experience to gather the necessary information to make accurate assessments, including direct contact to end customers where appropriate.

A notable impact of the pandemic has been a marked increase in the number of mental health disclosures made on applications which has increased from 15% to around 20% in Q1 2021. We are proud to say that despite this trend we have been able to offer normal rate acceptances on 85% of these applications, with rated terms being offered to a further 10%***.

Looking Ahead

Alongside the roll out of the vaccine programme, we have been able to remove some of the restrictions that we put in place. We are almost back to our pre-covid position for most customers in what the government call ‘high risk’ or ‘clinically vulnerable’ groups, however we know there’s still more to be done. Customers who have had both of their vaccinations will have this considered by our underwriters within our remaining restrictions, meaning we are able to look over and above the maximum ratings applied to life cover of 250%.

The challenges associated with underwriting during the COVID-19 pandemic will not go away for some time to come. There are millions in the backlog for screenings and more routine procedures halted to allow the NHS response to the pandemic. We understand we will see many customers suffering with symptoms of Long Covid, as government research shows one in 10 people have reported symptoms for longer than 12 weeks**. Medical research and data emerging over time will continue to inform our underwriting approach.

We will continue to monitor government guidelines and progression against expected roadmaps out of restrictions, alongside our own data, as we all take steps closer to normality.


* SW MI 2021

** The prevalence of long COVID symptoms and COVID-19 complications - Office for National Statistics

*** Scottish Widows data

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