Like a great many of us, I've been snowed in and without power - anyone would think I lived out in the wilds but no I am just a few miles from Henley on Thames.
But the scenery is breathtaking. Well I guess snow of such severity is quite unusual but was 2009 an unusual year in protection - has very much changed from this time last year?
From my perspective I think not. No doubt the broader financial environment has moved on and some stability has returned but for the protection industry little has changed. Consumers are probably slightly more inclined towards protection, which is good news, and brokers likewise as they have seen their investments business suffer, although the markets did provide some cheer for investors prepared to stick with it through 2009.
Competition amongst providers has remained as fierce as ever, benefiting consumers with further reductions. Although ever-thinner rates and margins do restrict the industry's capacity to invest in research and development activities and, like previous years, we see relatively little in the way of innovation.
Tight budgets for providers has also meant that initiatives such as Tom Baigrie's Consumer Awareness Campaign have found it hard to get financial support despite all concerned believing it to be a good thing. There is no doubt that consumers need to better understand their needs and the protection products that will meet their requirements - this emphasises the important role of advisers but it would be much better for everyone if consumers better appreciated what they need and have.
Another major initiative, the Retail Distribution Review, is providing future change but the good news for protection is that it remains "outside" the review allowing commissions to be taken upfront and, therefore, allowing advisers to continue to support consumers as they have done, but with the option to charge fees if it meets client requirements..
We have also seen The Law Commission recommendations, but again not much change for the industry as we have largely already adopted their recommendations although the impact on the laws of agency are a little unclear at the moment.
So by the end of 2009 I don't believe that we saw much change but it has felt an incredibly tough year. Perhaps it is because there has not been much change that competition has been so tough, but as they say: "when the going gets tough, the tough get going".
So here's looking forward to 2010 and I hope it brings you all much success although I'm sure there will be tough times ahead.
Graham Harvey is managing director of Axa's protection business
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