Alan Knowles from Cura Financial Services takes part in out 2020 Adviser Interview.
Why is protection important to you as an adviser and to your business?
As a father to three young boys, I simply cannot imagine not being there to see them grow up. But, if something bad happened and I was to die or be diagnosed with the big C I would want to know that I did everything I could, to make sure they were looked after. I work hard to give them a good life, so why would I not want the same for them if I wasn’t here anymore? I suppose I’d also want to make sure Kathryn is looked after too…
Even before having children though, protection insurance was important to me. When Kathryn and I got our first mortgage, I was 22 and we protected it with life insurance on me, Kathryn was still studying for a few years so we didn’t cover her then, stupid we know! But, we did come to insure her some years later and only then did we realise how unfair the protection market could be.
Due to her medical conditions, we found it hard to get her cover. Many companies simply would not touch her and it took a lot of work on our part, including going through her full medical records (all 500 pages) and pitching to a number of insurers before we were able to get her cover. Little did we know that this would be the spark, that would one day prompt us to start Cura, an advisory firm dedicated to helping people who struggle to get protection insurance
Why are you successful as a protection adviser?
There are some great protection advisers (some not so good too), and everyone has their own way of being successful. I’ve never seen myself as a natural salesperson, and I know I would never survive in a hard sell/volume business. I could simply never sell something that I don’t believe in. But what I perhaps lack in natural sales ability I make up for in knowledge and passion. I strive to know everything that I can about a product or service and I only recommend what I truly believe people need. I know I do well at it because I don’t ask my clients if they want to go ahead, instead they ask me how quickly I can set it up for them.
What do you want to see from insurers this year in terms of products and added value services?
Honestly, I would be delighted to never see ‘more conditions’ added to a critical illness policy again. Sometimes I feel lucky that at Cura we often don’t have the luxury of choice when recommending critical illness. For most of my clients, I recommend the company which I can access based on their declared risks, rather than which critical illness contract is the most comprehensive, or cheapest. Critical illness cover simply has become a minefield of complexity and medical terminology. I would love to see insurers simplify their offering, rather than adding conditions for the sake of numbers.
I also want to see a continued strive to offer fairer terms to more customers. Income protection providers are getting this, with offerings now available for many people living with conditions like diabetes and HIV. But, critical illness has gone the other way with terms for people with some conditions becoming worse. Treating customers fairly is a common reason for making decisions harsher - yes you read that right! It wouldn’t be treating our customer fair if we increase the price that much, or if we exclude those conditions… but it’s fair to decline any cover to them instead?
Many customers do not fear exclusions or price increases, insurers do - I think it’s time to reassess our interpretation of ‘treating customers fairly’ and start treating customers like adults, who can make their own mind up on whether or not insurance is worth the price. Remember, if we decline to insure somebody we are excluding claims for all conditions, not just a couple.
What do you want from the Protection Review Conference this year, and from Protection Review in general?
I would like to see an in-depth debate around access to insurance. I’d love to hear from a reassurer, an insurer, a broker and a charity or representative for the public. I’d like to explore why we cannot offer critical illness cover on the standard market to someone that has had a heart attack, or why a customer who had leukaemia as a child needs to wait 20 years before they can have critical illness cover (even though they may have been long since discharged by their medical practitioners).
What’s the one major issue facing protection in 2020 and how would you like to see it fixed?
Access to appropriate insurance. As an industry we see insurers boast their STP (Straight Through Processing) rates. Great, that means business has been put on risk quicker and it’s cost the insurer less money to get there. Ultimately this has meant more and more focus being placed on application questions which can be answered via a tick box, black and white answer, which leaves little room for the grey and the explanations behind a disclosure. I’m not saying we shouldn’t do this, but I would like to see less of ‘we accept 70% of our business straight online” and more ‘we will treat all your customers as individuals and assess them as such’. I want to see insurers really looking for reasons to insure customers, rather than to not insure them - a simple but powerful mindset change that we are starting to see in some areas. And if all else fails, signpost. Find someone else who can help if you are not sure of where to go next and ensure that we do everything in our power to get customers insured, even if not through ourselves.