The group risk market is getting its act together

New entrants and fresh initiatives from existing players are putting the group risk sector on track says Jamie Barnes, senior director - development of partner and service offering, Enrich

Historically, intermediaries have been very critical of the group risk market operating in very poor fashion with out-dated processes and products leading to poor customer service. More recently, things are undoubtedly getting better in some quarters.

Over the last two years, Unum has launched new products and ideas to the market, while Canada Life has led the way with their online facilities. And now most providers have a form of employee assistance programme (EAP) that is included “free of charge” in the basic offering of their product range. It would appear that positive progress is being made.

In addition to improvements the current providers have implemented, there have been several new entrants in the risk market, including Zurich Life, Sagicor and Ellipse. Each of them brings a different proposition and different ways of doing things in order to challenge the traditional insurers for market share.

Zurich’s proposition is one of a traditional group risk insurer. Products are as good as they need to be and very fit for purpose. Their service does not have the usual legacy that the traditional group risk provider has had to deal with and to date they have made a good first impression in the market.

In my opinion, Zurich has performed well to date, turning around the mundane processes that historically have been a struggle for insurers, in a timely and accurate manner. The obvious challenge for Zurich is to maintain this level of service as their portfolio grows, which many of the newer players to this market have struggled to do historically. Given Zurich’s financial strength – and if they do manage to maintain their current levels of service and continue to develop their proposition – they have the credentials to become a very credible player in this space.

Sagicor launched their group life offering a little over 12 months ago and really are a different animal from the traditional players in this market. Sagicor is part of a Lloyds underwriting syndicate and they are limiting their offering mainly to companies with circa 100 employees. Our experience of them is limited, but their contract, like Zurich’s, is fit for purpose in most circumstances. They do not have the legacy admin issues and they are a welcome addition to the group risk market.

It’s great having these new choices and options for our clients, but what we also really need to do is generate increased volumes of new business

Ellipse is the latest new player to the market and offers a completely different and refreshing approach to transacting group risk business. The Ellipse model focuses on technology to manage data and processes, a facet that has been sadly lacking in our industry for far too long. We have all complained since time began how slow it is to produce accurate accounts and medical underwriting efficiently and now we have a provider that has, at last, tackled these thorny issues. We should wish them well in their quest for change.

One of our more prominent and well known personalities recently suggested that the Ellipse model may well be the future, but it might not be. If the Ellipse model, or something very similar, is not the way forward then we should hang our heads in shame, as Ellipse has listened to our continual grumbles and acted on them by doing something different, innovative and solution-driven to improve market efficiency.

Finally, it’s great having these new choices and options for our clients, but what we also really need to do is generate increased volumes of new business by bringing new business to the market place and this could be done potentially through previously uninsured schemes, together with making the most of opportunities that 2012 may offer in bringing uninsured lives into existing schemes. In addition can insurers add to their propositions to encourage an employee to self-fund higher benefits for themselves and partners?

There is obviously a lot more that can and should be done to generate new business but that is for a rainy day. In summary it feels like the risk market is actually getting its act together and is making some real progress at last.