Johnny Timpson's Blog

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A personalised approach to underwriting

New protection products, innovations and adaptations regularly fill the trade press headlines, but it’s rare to hear about the service that improves access to the actual benefits of advice - in particular, underwriting philosophy and practice. While quote portals and engines present you with a fairly similar range of prices for cover, as financial protection specialist advisers will confirm, there are glaring differences between the decisions insurance providers offer.

Many insurance companies will decline customers at point of sale for various medical issues in the drive to provide immediate acceptance. Examples of these include some types of cancer, heart attack, multiple sclerosis and mental health issues where there have been multiple suicide attempts. When terms are offered, there are many different decision types that you will also need to contend with. A leading adviser recently cited an example of someone with chronic myeloid leukaemia (CML) - some insurers outright declined, some offered per mille loadings, and some a percentage loading.

At Scottish Widows, our underwriting helpline is staffed by qualified underwriters who help you navigate the online journey. We are in the business of underwriting risk and are committed to keeping things personal, speaking to you and your clients about their individual circumstances during the underwriting process. This is something as an industry that we need to get much better at.

There is also an issue of underwriting decision transparency and communication, especially at point of rated decision or decline. To help support advisers, at Scottish Widows my underwriting colleagues are happy to speak to your clients directly, to explain a decision and if required, can email them (securely) when requested to provide much greater information. This is important as this direct contact can identify errors in medical records/reports and sometimes provide further information to overturn the decline.

In my opinion there are very few people that cannot be served with some form of protection, and at Scottish Widows we have an unbroken underwriting track record going back over 200 years. We have invested heavily over the last 20 years in developing an extensive underwriting rule set. This enables us to be an inclusive underwriter and offer a world class acceptance rate*, especially at point of sale.

We continue to innovate and improve access to our underwriting capability, our recent partnership with UnderwriteMe being a case in point. We are also proud to support the DWP Access To Insurance initiatives by publishing our underwriting acceptance statistics, plus the most common disclosures consumers make when applying for cover. Take a look at my colleague Scott Cadger's 'Underwriting - risk selection not avoidance' TechTalk article on this issue. Scott is Scottish Widows Head of Underwriting and Claims Strategy.

For me, Scottish Widows underwriting really is a service that improves access to the benefits of advice by design, not by afterthought.

*: Swiss Re November 2018

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