I came across a new management "buzz phrase" the other day. You know the sort of phrase I mean? "We need to touch base offline in order to think outside the box so that we can pick off some low hanging fruit and take a blue-sky approach."
If you go onto the Internet and try Googling “management jargon” or “consultant speak” you can find whole websites devoted to translating these often-preposterous phrases. I am sure you have come across many yourselves, either in your own companies or at conferences, or when dealing with consultants.
So now that we are all singing from the same hymn sheet (sorry that one slipped in under the radar), let me tell you about this new phrase. I first heard it at a recent protection conference. The speaker was addressing an issue about underwriting that we have faced in the industry for many years and he described the issue as, “elephant in the room”. I thought that this was a very strange turn of phrase.
Funny thing is though for a phrase I had never heard before it suddenly seemed to turn up everywhere I looked. On the very same day as the conference, whilst travelling back to Edinburgh I read an article in the paper and low and behold here was another “elephant in the room” – this time in the context of the airline industry. The following day I heard a politician talking about an elephant in their room, and then in a presentation from a group of visiting consultants – there it was again.
The problem was that on none of the occasions I heard this phrase did any of the people using it ever actually explain what it meant. In exasperation I resorted to Google and found out that an elephant in the room is a way of describing a huge problem that everyone knows exists but pretends to ignore rather than trying to solve it.
Now it had been explained to me I suppose it made a sort of sense – but why not just call it “our big problem”? Inventing a witty and meaningless phrase to describe an issue almost reduces it to a figure of fun, which makes it even easier to ignore than before. So do we have any elephants in the protection industry?
Well when it comes to income protection I think we have a small herd of elephants. Here we have a product, which meets a genuine consumer need, and yet year on year it fails to sell and in many cases has become a marginal product few companies feel it’s worth investing in.
What are the issues? Occupational databases often differ from company to company and the client can be given an incorrect quotation. Once they apply the underwriting can be slow and laborious. A long application form (whether on or offline), further medical evidence, GP reports and medical exams, financial questionnaires and occupational questions as well. Once the product is accepted the client is not guaranteed to get the benefit they are paying for. If they become over insured then they may find that their income is reduced when claiming.
Over the last few years the ABI Protection Committee and the Income Protection Taskforce have looked at these issues and whilst agreeing what these problems are, no one can agree how we as an industry can fix them without being accused of anti-competitive behaviour – despite the fact that better income protection products can only be good for the customer. Product developers cannot get the product on the agenda because as a marginalised product business cases rarely stack up.
So unfortunately it looks like the elephants in our income protection room are going to be around for a while unless we can find a way of digesting them in bite sized chunks. So, let’s start by taking a helicopter view of the current paradigm, have a brain dump of ideas by thinking outside the box, perhaps with a little river jumping until we all have our ducks in a row about how to finesse the paradigm to allow us to ascend to the optimal outcome.
Roger Edwards is products director at Bright Grey.
The views expressed in this blog are those of the individual and not necessarily the company he represents.
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