With the proportion of critical illness (CI) claims paid now more than 90% on average, providers are turning their attention to the experience of claimants and their families. Madeleine Davies asks insurers what they are doing to make the process as painless as possible.
Those tasked with taking phone calls in the claims departments of protection providers are invariably speaking to families facing some of the most difficult times in their lives. Death, or the diagnosis of a critical illness, is the trigger for a call made to a financial services company the caller may never have dealt with before. It was with this in mind that Legal & General decided to arrange for a leading cancer charity, Macmillan Cancer Support, to deliver training to its claims staff.
“We wanted to get as close as you can to putting ourselves in the customer’s shoes,” says training manager (claims) Leanne Amicucci-Brown. “Our staff already know a lot about cancer as a medical condition, but we wanted them to learn about the impact that cancer has on someone’s life.”
The training, which is delivered in two sessions, focuses on the journey that a cancer patient takes from diagnosis onwards, and encourages staff to think about the most appropriate way of communicating with them at various points of this journey. It also covers signposting – helping assessors to advise callers on services they may wish to contact for further advice and support.
“Financial matters are a massive issue for people with cancer,” explains Suma Surendranath, learning and development manager for people affected by cancer and volunteers at Macmillan Cancer Support. “From fuel bills, to employment, to car parking charges. Knowing that the person on the other end of the line has some understanding is going to make that call a little bit easier.”
The training is already making a difference according to those who have undertaken it and L&G is now exploring other sources of training in other areas.
Empathy and efficiency
L&G’s training is just one example of the ways in which the protection industry is facing up to its responsibility to not only pay valid claims but to make the process as painless as possible.
Roger Edwards, proposition director at protection providers Bright Grey and Scottish Provident, agrees with Amicucci-Brown that gaining an insight into the customer’s experience is important.
“I think the L&G idea is quite a good one,” he says. “It is all about empathy and understanding the sort of feelings the person might be having. We train staff using both internal senior people and reinsurance companies who have been around in this area for even longer, to give them that level of empathy. At the same time we want to convey that we want to make the process as quick and easy as possible.”
Bright Grey provides policyholders with access to Helping Hand, a service provided by the nurse-led team at RED ARC, offering support, advice and access to help from other sources such as counselling.
“What the customer wants is to get everything on the move so it’s a balance between empathy and efficiency,” says Edwards.
Les Dilley, claims manager at insurer LV=, agrees that speed is of the essence.
“Different customers with different illnesses want different things,” he says. “We offer customers access to RED ARC. They are the professionals in this and can put people in contact with various charities and support groups and lend help to the family as well as the individual. We are good claims people and we try not to take on things which are outside our area of expertise.”
The focus at LV= is on meeting a target of responding to all customer communication within three days and keeping customers informed at every stage of the claims process.
“Some files are dormant because we are waiting for medical evidence to come in,” he explains. “That is half the stress, sometimes. We don’t keep customers in limbo.”
Over at AEGON the focus is on teleclaims, a process whereby a member of the claims team completes the claims form while in conversation with the customer on the telephone. According to technical claims manager Helen Morris, this has resulted in the time it takes to assess claims falling from nine to ten weeks in 2009 to seven weeks today.
“It’s swift, efficient and enables them to focus on their illness rather than worry about the claims form”, she says. “We are looking to improve that process even further by reducing the form they have to check, sign and send back to us to just one page. It’s just the really vital information that we need them to check.”
Morris is keen to stress that AEGON is committed to keeping advisers abreast of this process.
“Sometimes it is the policyholder’s adviser who first gets in touch,” she explains. “They are very protective of their clients and we always get their permission to suggest that the client goes down the teleclaims route and keep them advised about whether the claim has been paid. This might be a good time for them to contact their client again.”
AEGON is also investigating whether it could raise the limit under which it will pay life claims without the customer producing a grant of probate, currently £25,000. The Association of British Insurers (ABI) is also making moves to speed up the life claims process. In May it issued members with a guide which it claims can reduce the process from four months to four weeks. Insurers who follow this procedure will ask the main beneficiary of the policy to complete a declaration where they agree to pay back any money they receive from the policy if the legal process decides they were not the rightful recipient.
While AEGON reports that more than 75% of customers are choosing to undergo teleclaims, LV=’s Dilley reports that around 90% of customers continue to prefer to complete a paper form, despite the fact that the insurer is happy to adopt the AEGON approach or visit policyholders in their own homes. He speculates that “when people first have that diagnosis they don’t want to chat about it”.
Keeping in touch
At PruProtect, a new relatively new provider with relatively little claims experience, the focus is on ensuring that each claimant has a personal claims handler throughout their journey. This is particularly important given the nature of the contract, under which payments are made on a severity basis, with potential for multiple claims.
“The big difference is that our claims handlers don’t just manage the claim through to payment but post pay-out,” explains Phil Jeynes, head of account development at PruProtect. “They will keep in touch with that customer throughout treatment and recovery and if the condition progresses they can manage that as well, so if there is scope for further payment we can do that really quickly.”
While advisers are likely to welcome this, and other moves to improve the service offered to claimants, they remain, in many cases, at some remove from the process. Several years can elapse between securing cover for a client and that client making a claim and the result is that advisers may have relatively little insight into the claims experience of their clients. LV=’s Dilley reports that most clients do not give the insurer permission to contact their adviser.
“About 95% of the claims we get for CI disability come directly from the customer” he reports. “We have a tick box on the claims form to find out whether the customer wants us to contact their adviser. Very few people do this, unless there is a long-term relationship with an IFA.”
Given this state of affairs, it remains important that the financial press go beyond monitoring the proportion of protection claims paid to investigating the experience of those making and receiving those difficult phone calls.