Comment: An untapped resource? Why HR is key to the consumer protection market

Group Risk

It looks very much as though HR is the newest, and possibly most important, best friend to protection cover

I'm not fond of the term "human resources". It sounds too much like "natural resources", those mineral and metal products miners dig out of the earth.  I prefer "personnel" – it's people. I know I fight a losing battle here,  so HR is what it will have to be.

Whatever you call it, however, it looks very much as though HR is the newest, and possibly most important, best friends to protection cover. Why?  Simply because HR folk can be the key to unlocking potential policyholders.

Protection is now prime-time. Unum's "because everyone needs a back-up plan" spot seems to be ubiquitous across the channels. And Aviva's sponsorship of ITV drama specifically mentions protection - it's backed up with real life "drama" showing victims (and their gratitude to Aviva).

This creates the interest.  But does it turn the viewer into a policyholder? Probably not.

Consumers have a battery of normal excuses – it won't happen to me, it's too expensive, it's too complicated, and it could be "payment protection insurance". Or at least, those are the "rational" excuses.  It may be simpler.

For insurance is never a screaming need (until you are screaming to make a claim). The protection publicity turns cold consumers into warm consumers. 

But while they may think "protection" watching the ads, converting that into the top of the "must do" list is tough. Turning warm into hot is the task. 

And unless you want to spend your life bashing your head against a brick wall, look for another way into consumers' brains.

In October, I chaired a Guardian newspaper roundtable on employee benefits, sponsored by Unum. Participants included "wellness" managers and insurers, psychologists, public policy advisers – and HR professionals. The reference was wide – it could take in all sorts of employee benefits but, given the make- up of the group, discussion centred on protection insurance. 

Let's get the bad news out of the way. Group private medical insurance premiums are rising too fast for many organisations. According to one participant (roundtable rules preclude identifying which one) – blamed on GP's asking patients if they have private health so they can conserve their NHS budget.

The good news is firms are investing in wellness schemes which help towards a happy (and therefore productive and innovative) workforce as well as preventing private medical insurance costs from running away.

"Wellness" can take in preventative health measures to stop illness in the first place – something as simple as decent furniture costing hundreds can save thousands in backache absenteeism (and associated symptoms such as lower productivity and morale).

But several participants spoke of how group income protection (IP) schemes could also help. If staff know they will receive pay during long term sickness, it is another worry off their mind – another aid to a happier workforce with better outcomes. Unum's own IP product is mostly sold via group schemes. It sells a low proportion of plans to individuals.

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