As they enter the third year since the beginning of the pandemic, group risk intermediaries have been busy formulating plans for 2022 that extend well beyond mere personal New Year’s resolutions. And most are starting from a position of relative strength.
Covid-19 has been far less detrimental to their industry than to many others as it has placed mortality, wellbeing and absenteeism at the forefront of employers’ minds.
Effective innovation from providers, which has ensured that most group risk products now automatically include an array of additional wellbeing benefits readily accessible to homeworkers, has also played a major part.
According to Group Risk Development (Grid) research, interactions with embedded services like employee assistance programmes (EAPs), online GP services, second medical opinion services and physical and mental health apps increased exponentially during 2020 to a record number of 138,222 interactions –compared with only 74,707 during 2019.
Barnett Waddingham consulting lead, health and risk Kevin O’Neill says: “The whole pandemic has been better than expected for us, and we have been very busy. Since lockdown began we’ve moved up a gear, and now we’re moving up another one. Throughout the pandemic we were doing overviews of packages, although initially it was largely about helping clients understand what benefits they had.
“Since around the middle of last year, however, it’s been more about seeing whether added-value benefits actually fit in with clients’ wants and needs and, if they don’t, perhaps considering elsewhere. This new emphasis is in large part triggered by the realisation that these features benefit employers as well as employees.”
In particular, the importance of a good benefits package to aid recruitment and retention has been highlighted by surveys predicting ‘The Great Resignation.’ For example, according to a Microsoft study published last June, 41 per cent of employees worldwide were considering quitting their jobs.
There is also a realisation that, unlike at the start of the pandemic, employers are once again beginning to shop around between different intermediaries.
Kerr Henderson managing director John Kerr says: “Clients are now looking for ideas and are asking what we are doing better than competitors, who are starting to be more proactive in chasing switch business.”
So, intermediaries have been busy organising internal meetings to plot ongoing strategy, although commercial considerations inevitably restrict what they are willing to reveal.
Most insights volunteered refer to generalities, such as the knowledge that the acceleration in the usage of video meetings means there is no reason to restrict targeting new clients to local firms. Towergate Health & Protection head of group risk David Williams sees cross-selling as a particular opportunity.
He says: “Since last November we’ve been sitting down and doing group brainstorming about how to support clients in a more targeted way and take advantage of growth opportunities. We are conscious of having a book of business that sits at the smaller end on the general insurance side, and there are a lot of cross-sale opportunities for group risk.
“We have been doing this for years, but the messaging is now different as clients are more eager and willing to listen on health and wellbeing subjects, and a lot of the time they are coming to us.”
How providers can help
When it comes to what providers can do better to aid these quests to thrive and prosper, however, intermediaries have lots of ideas.
LifeSearch would like to see more synergy between business protection and group risk, and to have more clickbait apps to encourage employee engagement. Buck wants embedded EAPs to provide better quality
management information, and it would also like processes to encourage employees to access information and support services outside restrictive flex windows.
But the most commonly expressed beefs are directed towards service standards, although there is acknowledgement that homeworking hasn’t helped admin staff – who are likely to benefit from working collaboratively in the office.
Mattioli Woods employee benefits team director Sean McSweeney says: “I couldn’t name a single group risk insurer where I’m happy with the service. Quotes and renewal documents are much slower, and it’s not unusual to get renewal terms after the renewal date. I’ve even had one as long as six days after the renewal date on a standard group income protection scheme.
“Perhaps they could look at expanding their online propositions to allow them to be used for bigger risks to prevent us having to go through the sausage machine. At the moment it’s hard to do schemes with over 100 lives online, and maybe they should remove the limit altogether.”
Also commonly highlighted is a need for providers to work on digitalisation, particularly with regard to increasing the usage of eSignatures and making group risk products more available via employee portals, and to help more with communication.
Barnett Waddingham’s Kevin O’Neill says: “Insurers are all very good at providing online information but they need to increase awareness of benefits more widely with the general public. Past attempts at this from Grid and Unum didn’t work out but I would like to see something very major and basic.
“Grid should be best placed to coordinate such a campaign but it will need buy-in from providers. Long Covid could provide a gilt-edged opportunity to advertise the virtues of group income protection and its added-value benefits.”
Some intermediaries also single out long Covid as an area in which providers need to introduce better tracking and management pathways and greater clarity.
Howden Employee Benefits & Wellbeing head of benefits strategy Steve Herbert says: “Over 500,000 people in the UK have already had long Covid for over a year, and these could be just the tip of the iceberg as they were contracted before the more virulent recent viruses. So, we need providers to come up with specific structures on how they’re going to support long Covid sufferers rather than just generic promises.”
Unfortunately, as it remains unknown how long the worst long Covid cases may last for, this subject is still likely to figure prominently when advisers formulate their plans for 2023 and beyond.
Box: The providers’ view
Legal & General has been receiving requests in a number of different areas from advisers wishing to have educated conversations with their corporate clients.
Legal & General distribution director, group protection Colin Fitzgerald says: “They are asking us more to make sure the messaging is clear around health and wellbeing plans and the services they are providing, and are after more and better industrywide data on the relationship between benefits and productivity and between communication and engagement levels.
“Advisers are also wanting up-to-date assessments of the importance of the line manager, as they realise that if line managers aren’t fully engaged then employees might not be either.”
The post New strategies for the post-pandemic group risk market appeared first on Corporate Adviser.