In research conducted by the Protection Review over a decade ago, a group of advisers questioned were pessimistic about their future and that of their peers, remembers Paul Yates.
They predicted that the number of advisers in the UK would fall during the next decade. Not by much, but a predicted fall, nonetheless. When this research was repeated just two years later, the picture was even bleaker. This time respondents predicated a substantial decline in adviser numbers in the years to 2023.
Thankfully, for all involved in the protection industry and for the future financial security of millions of families, this prediction hasn’t proved to be the case. Adviser numbers have remained stable in the last 10 years.
So, was the prediction flawed, or has there been a change to the market which wasn’t foreseen during the early part of the last decade? What factors drove advisers to think so negatively about the future of their profession and how has that view proven to be wrong?
Is the world moving that fast?
The last 10 years has seen almost unprecedented change, as the digital revolution has increased pace. But, has this pace matched our expectations, and did it, therefore, impact the views of respondents when they were asked for their future outlook?
Technology has had a very real impact on the way we manage our lives day-to-day; impacts that have perhaps intensified in the past 15 months. For most, online shopping and retail is a reality – multiple door-knocks each day delivering the ‘essentials’; everything from the weekly shop to birthday presents.
In a sense, this is just a change of delivery mechanism for the same goods. Technology hasn’t driven a fundamental change in what we want, just how we access it.
There’s a lesson here for protection and for the advisers who took a grim view on their future. Whilst tech has a hugely important role to play in delivering protection in a quick and efficient manner, the role of advice, whether that is face-to-face or over the phone remains key. Consumers invariably still need that gap in their financial plan identifying by another human; before the advice process even begins to go about finding the right solution for their needs.
So, the parallel argument is that increased tech hasn’t made consumers want to go and buy protection in greater numbers; that role is still down to advisers.
Perhaps, this is a change forecasted by advisers all those years ago that has yet to come to pass; perhaps it never will. During Covid, we saw a surge in online searches for protection, but this did not translate into more sales in 2020 than 2019. This shows that advisers are still key to the distribution of protection. Interestingly, during the great house purchase race of 2020 and 2021, it is the bandwidth of advisers that has restricted the sales of protection.
However, what is sure is that the huge enhancements in tech have made protection advisers jobs easier in the last decade – making them far more efficient. Sure; there is more to do, but we are now part of a market that is embracing technology that has the power to change the relationship between consumer’s and their protection policies. Embedding protection into life events and daily life.
As platforms evolve and insurers begin to take advantage of new functionality such as forward or live underwriting and self-serve benefits, which put advisers and customers in greater control; increasing ongoing engagement in protection.
The question for the next generation of technology, and indeed the next generation of advisers is; are we moving from a market of policy purchase and payouts to one focused on predicting, preventing and protecting against perils?
I for one hope so. I suspect that those advisers who were surveyed back in 2013 would too.