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When insurers are human

Having just had a minor internal flood at home, I’m in the process of claiming on my home insurance, which has caused me to reflect on my own industry’s performance. We all expect our insurance to pay out when we need it, and group risk protection (employer-sponsored life assurance, income protection and critical illness) is no exception to this.

“It’s all about the claim” is a common turn of phrase within the protection industry and rightly so. Why else do we have insurance if not to be sure that the unexpected won’t derail us financially?

Group risk protection benefits pay out in the absolute worst of circumstances: on death, a life changing accident, illness or disability, or a devastating diagnosis, so I think it’s actually about much more than the claim for us.

Every number is someone’s story
The group risk industry has long recognised the importance of supporting people through difficult times.

What goes on behind the scenes is the most telling. These stories don’t often get shouted out, through sensitivity for those involved. When we can tell them, they’re really powerful in demonstrating that the group risk industry is all about people, life and relationships and behind every number there’s a human story, dealt with humanely.

This month is the 30th anniversary of the Piper Alpha disaster, in which 167 men lost their lives when the oil production platform exploded.

In recognition of the extraordinary circumstances, group risk providers quickly alleviated any financial worries for the victims’ families by paying out death claims immediately they were notified that an insured employee had been on that rig and was not among the survivors, rather than protracting matters by insisting on seeing a death certificate or declaration of presumed death.

The industry has similarly been there for victims of more recent catastrophic events, such as the Manchester bombing, bringing not only speedy financial settlements but also much needed ongoing support and counselling for victims and their families, which will be provided for as long as it’s needed into the future.

Julie’s story below also demonstrates the way in which those in need of help and support make it through some really difficult times by virtue of the fact that the group risk industry takes a tailored approach to helping people rather than taking a one-size-fits-all attitude.

When people can’t work
For group income protection, as well as the claims paid, many people are helped back to work both before and after a claim becomes payable, with the support of the insurer.

2,989 people were helped back to work during 2017 through an early intervention initiated and often paid for by a group risk insurer, such as fast-track access to counselling, physiotherapy or other treatment. 52% of these people had help overcoming mental illness and 17% had support overcoming a musculoskeletal condition.*

On top of this, out of the 5,255 group income protection claims that went into payment during 2016, 1,955 people were helped by the insurer to make a full return to work during that year or during 2017*. This shows that even once a group income protection claim is in payment, help and support back to work continues,  people are not forgotten.

Everyday help and support
Group risk providers can and do provide everyday help to HR, line managers, business owners and employees alike. This is partly to give value on a daily basis – as making a claim is not an everyday occurrence – but mostly to help mitigate worst-case scenarios or to pick up the pieces when these can’t be avoided.

It’s not practical to list everything, but for employers support can include HR and employment-law advice, legal document-writing systems, absence management, telephone support for difficult situations and mediation.

For employees, help can include access to an Employee Assistance Programme, second medical opinion, fast-track access to counselling, physiotherapy or treatment, helping people make changes towards better health behaviours, liaison and mediation, bereavement support and help with probate.

An astonishing 7,879 people accessed extra help and support during 2017 following a referral by a group risk insurer, in addition to countless self-referrals.*

When insurers are human
Going back to my initial reflection, it’s clear to me that group risk providers deliver above and beyond the claim and I’m proud to be a part of an industry which meets people’s needs by treating them as individuals and with compassion – we do so much more than it says on the tin. Here’s hoping my home insurance is half as good!

Julie’s story (not her real name)
During her work for a global professional services firm, Julie had become so stressed and anxious she found herself unable to speak when working with and around colleagues. The office was open-plan and the nature of her fixed, desk-based work meant there was little respite for Julie – and there was no option for her to work from home.

Julie’s line manager was unsupportive, disagreeing with her requests, distrusting her reasons and questioning whether Julie’s sickness absence was genuine. The result of being at odds with her boss led to a complete breakdown of the relationship between the two, Julie’s disengagement with both the process and her work, and – in a vicious circle – an increase in Julie’s stress and anxiety levels.

The group income protection insurer facilitated an initial return to work interview between Julie, her employer’s HR representative and her line manager in a candid, but supportive manner where all parties could outline their concerns. The insurer was able to address the flashpoints highlighted and create practical solutions acceptable to all.

A point was reached where everyone understood the need for Julie to be able to work, but in an environment that supported her recovery. Julie’s line manager agreed to provide a laptop to ensure some flexibility within the office. The insurer also highlighted the importance of work and health, and the impact one had on the other, in order to encourage Julie to try a graduated return to work plan.

The ability to clear the air and listen to each other within a non-confrontational, mediated environment was key to building bridges. The provision of the laptop allowed Julie some much-needed flexibility. If Julie’s anxiety flared up, she was able to remove herself from the pressures of a busy office to work in a quiet meeting room.

As a result of the insurer’s support, the relationship between Julie and her line manager greatly improved, removing another stress factor and barrier to her recovery. Since completing the graduated return to work plan, Julie is now successfully fully back at work.

Katharine Moxham – Group Risk Development (GRiD)

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