The BBC news team likes to conclude features with a bit of wordplay and the story of Edgar Tropp is no exception. “Where there’s muck there’s brass”, signs off the presenter after interviewing city-worker turned paddock-clearer Tropp.
Proverbs aside, the item is something of a coup for the income protection (IP) industry, a positive story of a family man who suffered a nervous breakdown but was able to start over anew thanks to his Norwich Union Healthcare policy. Given that IP invariably appears alongside the word “undersold” and worrying statistics about the number of incapacity benefits and the paucity of the payments claimants can expect, Norwich Union Healthcare is understandably proud of securing some air time dedicated to a happy ending.
“Making an IP claim is one of the worst times of people’s lives,” points out new claims manager Kevin Coen. “They’re worried about both their health and their finances.”
While you expect somebody working in claims management to espouse the importance of customer care, Coen seems genuinely passionate about his job. He is also quite the raconteur, and a source of some surprising information.
“Did you know that there’s a hidden network of toilets in the UK?” he asks me. Apparently it can be unlocked if you buy a £2.50 radar key. This is just one example of a wealth of information he has uncovered while trying to help claimants cope with the onset of an illness.
Coen’s team is the first port of call for policyholders making a claim.
“Some people them have been building up to calling us all weekend – you can hear it in their voice,” he says.
Norwich Union Healthcare has invested in staff accordingly so that every member of the team is either a trained counsellor or in the process of securing certification. This can take years to achieve and the rigors of the course are testament to their commitment.
“Calling us is a way of getting counselling without actually getting counselling,” explains Coen. “People often just want to pour their hearts out. They are never going to meet us, and I think that reassures them, men in particular.”
Given the increase in the proportion of claims relating to mental health – up 10% from 28% in 2005 – the demands on the team are likely to grow. Bupa’s latest review of workforce health warns that the economy is shifting towards those jobs with higher prevalence of psychological problems. According to research commissioned by Teachers TV, the pressure of the workplace has led half of all teachers to consider leaving the profession.
“Claims are becoming less and less simple,” agrees Coen.
While the average call to a new claims adviser takes about 40 minutes, in rare cases it can take up to three and a half hours to go through the form in detail while offering information and support. Guidance can range from advice on benefit entitlement to providing details of legal aid. During my visit an adviser explains to a claimant with breast cancer how she can access free beauty advice and products from Look Good…Feel Better, a charity devoted to female chemotherapy patients.
Like all providers, Norwich Union is keen to stress that IP is not a retirement policy but a tool to facilitate the return to work.
“We need to get people away from the mindset of ‘I’ll never work again’,” explains Kevin. “We start from a position of ‘Tell me what the problem is’. We say, ‘ignore the policy, what can we do to get you back to work?’”
It would seem that the toilet key is just the tip of the iceberg. Advice on getting back to normal and retraining is a significant part of the team’s work, and the insurer employs three advisers to visit claimants, discussing with them face to face how best they can help.
A favourite example of Coen’s is the HGV driver with epilepsy who, with some advice from Norwich Union, retrained as locksmith. He is now employed by Norwich Union’s general insurance division to deal with break-ins.
“It’s an example of how people who want to get back to work,” says Kevin. “He had an own occupation only policy but he wanted to work.”
Like the story of Edward Tropp, it demonstrates the potential to distance IP from its association with life-long claims and market it as a tool that enables people to rejoin the workforce. The policy environment is certainly right for such a message. After all, as national director for health and work Dame Carol Black is keen to remind us, work is good for us.
While the industry has long debated the merits of shocking the public into tackling the protection gap, perhaps the best way to boost sales is to promote the retraining message. And if protection advisers succeed in getting the industry to fund an advertising campaign I suggest they approach the BBC for an ever so slightly cheesy tagline.