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Viewpoint: Canada Life’s Paul Avis: Support services for a modern day workforce

Group risk is becoming much more than a financial benefit
Paul Avis

Almost 98% of protection claims were paid in the UK last year, but there are still areas that need work to establish the true value of protection.[1]

For example, from the 2,457,049 employees covered under group income protection (GIP),[2] 5,595 were returned to the workplace before they needed to claim.[3] This represents 0.23% of those who are insured. GIP is undergoing a makeover thanks to the extensive development of early intervention services (EIS). Utilisation of this service is currently still tied in people’s minds to conditions likely to result in a GIP claim.

These numbers can improve if the scope of EIS is expanded to any non-trivial absence, whether or not it is expected to last long enough to become a claim. EIS is evidenced to work, and effective absence management is a good habit for employers to get into. Communicating the best way to engage with EIS is an area for insurers to work on, providing a compelling case for advisers to engage with those responsible for benefits purchases.

The figures show 52% of the 5,595 referrals were for mental health. While the claims report states 24.1% of all claims were for mental health,[4] the situation could have been worse. New claim numbers could have been as high as 8,167 without EIS; with mental health representing 51% of them. Even in this most complex, emotive area of absence, insurers can support many more employers and employees.

Support services interaction

Specialist nurses and rehabilitation experts, and the expertise to signpost to pertinent materials and groups, are often overlooked benefits of engaging with insurers and their EIS propositions.

Group Risk Development (GRiD) reported on the volume of interactions with support services – 75,466 – showing the growing importance of this aspect of the benefits.

This is only the tip of the iceberg: it excludes self-referrals. When organisations have access to employee assistance programmes, second medical opinion services, online and phone-based legal services, bereavement and probate helplines, it is clear the service elements of group risk benefits are as important as the financial ones.

The burgeoning utilisation of support services is in no small part due to the efforts of insurance providers, strenuously making their case to advisers. Beyond EIS, group risk as a whole in the UK is being gradually but inexorably changed. Simple, reactive financial payments are unsuitable for the modern workplace. Employers and employees are more health-aware and greater emphasis is placed on flexibility and non-traditional work practices to improve productivity and wellbeing simultaneously.

Demonstrable benefits

Group risk must evolve to meet the challenges faced by the modern workforce. The suite of products being offered these days include lifestyle benefits, particularly under GIP, and a personal nurse adviser service with group critical illness (GCI).

The cost of insurance is easier to justify to organisations when there are a wide range of services which can be used day in, day out. Better still when those services have demonstrable benefits to the business in terms of improved productivity, reduced sickness absence and associated costs, recruitment and retention support and an evidence-based return on investment model.

All of this positions group risk benefits very differently from how they have previously been seen. In many cases even employees who are not provided with the financial benefits of a group insurance policy can take advantage of the support services, providing tailored support for virtually any situation life throws at them.

Cost control

It is in the interest of all parties – insurer, adviser, employer and employee – to embrace any tools which can control costs (such as EIS). Referring to these services as cost-control measures is a cold reality of our business, but it is vital that insurers and employers both remember that at the heart of these services are people doing their jobs.

Cost control for a group risk insurer means going above and beyond to ensure people struggling through any number of unpleasant circumstances get the help they need. Cost control for an employer means taking care of the people who keep your company running. It means showing flexibility and compassion and consequentially being rewarded with loyalty and hard work; creating a community bonded by shared values and the drive to succeed for everyone’s sake.

The focus of this market should be the quality services available to the 12.5m employees covered and bringing those services to the millions more who are not able to make the most of the support that is out there.

Changing that perception is key to the long-term survival of the market, and it begins with insurers making their message plain to advisers and helping them spread the word to employer customers.

Paul Avis is marketing director at Canada Life Group Insurance


[1] https://www.abi.org.uk/news/news-articles/2019/04/protection-payouts-see-insurers-support-record-numbers-through-bereavement-sickness-and-injury/

[2] Swiss Re Group Watch 2019

[3] GRiD claims stats 2019

[4] GRiD claim stats 2018