How to encourage more people to protect their families should the worst happen is the perennial challenge for those in life insurance.
But new product innovation is not the answer says Steve Marshall. Effective conversations and an excellent customer experience are.
But proposition managers needn't worry.
I'm not saying new product innovation has no place. It can help to get consumers interested if they are in the right target niche.
But based on what we've achieved at Reassured I am now convinced that more families could have the protection they need if we all spent more time and energy on getting the underlying basics right.
That means getting better at how we talk to our customers and appeal to their individual motivations, and investing in more processes that get customers what they need as quickly and easily as possible, and at an affordable price. Adding up to an excellent customer experience.
It doesn't sound like rocket science, but it isn't easy. First, you need to find the customers that need protecting. With such a large pool of the uncovered to fish in, this is where the opportunity starts.
Recently we've begun investing more in our own brand and in online direct marketing techniques that let us use very specific - and cost-effective - targeting criteria to identify people who have never previously bought life insurance.
It's been successful too. Since we began (towards the end of 2016) a quarter of our customers now come to us through these routes.
Once you've found the people, the next job is to help them recognise the general need for protection and then, very quickly after that, help them understand their own specific requirements.
Following this, it's all about providing the assistance they need to act on their new knowledge and get appropriate life cover in place as quickly and easily as possible at a price they can afford.
Online quotes can work well for some in the digital age but we still find that talking to prospective customers delivers the best results all round.
This might feel counterintuitive from the cost point of view, but it makes absolute sense in practice.
It lets our consultants take individuals through a careful process, helping them to understand and then buy into the vital need for family protection in their own mind. We focus on putting the customer at ease and in control. The best conditions for a successful outcome.
Talking means we are also able to pick up quickly on any potential challenges to arranging cover and get a specialist involved right away. Being rejected initially for insurance can be an upsetting experience and leave a poor impression.
We have a strong track record of achieving results for those who might otherwise find themselves in that position or possibly already have elsewhere.
It's important to be fully supportive of people seeking advice for more complex protection requirements.
But our experience clearly demonstrates that the direct to customer approach can also have a vital role to play in generating interest and closing the protection gap - even for those trickier cases where pre-existing health conditions are involved.
Broader market statistics show that direct sales are on the rise generally, with Swiss Re's 2017 Term & Health Watch report suggesting they grew by 22.2% across the protection market last year and that nearly 11% of all protection cover is now bought directly.
But making the most of the direct marketing opportunity is only half of the battle.
Ineffective processes are, without doubt, among the factors contributing to the protection gap. Customers often give up if progress is slow and/or they don't know if they can get the cover they need. Speed, efficiency and reliability are therefore essential requirements.
We make a point of understanding the priorities and frustrations of our customers and have worked hard to improve process efficiency and so the speed with which cover can be arranged. This extends to those complex cases, where too often people are deterred from seeking cover.
For instance, we have well-developed processes behind the scenes for collecting and analysing customer data. Having masses of data at your fingertips and not using it is depressingly common in this industry and a wasted opportunity. It was our data analysis on impaired customers that drove one of our most successful commercial developments so far - developing the new business journey tailored specifically to their particular needs.
We have also implemented processes to reduce the number of days that customers wait to be underwritten and we have Internal Service Level Agreements around feeding back medical decisions to customers.
Around half (47%) of customers who don't sail through the application process because they require further investigation, still get a decision within five days. In 90% of cases we get back to customers within four hours of their decision being known.
In a market where decisions can take up to two months and people are at risk of being wrongly screened out, all efforts to deliver a more efficient and accurate service can help raise standards. improve the perception of the sector and encourage more people to take the protection plunge.
We know we're doing something right, with an average Trustpilot satisfaction score of 9.6, taken from more than 10,000 reviews.
And we're determined to continue helping people identify their need for protection and to make it as simple and affordable as possible for them to get covered.
Protection makes a positive difference to people's lives. It's a social good and we should never stop striving to do our very best to help them get it.
Steve Marshall is Chief Executive, Reassured