Healthy optimism

There are grounds for optimism in the industry as autumn approaches

Corporate intermediaries returning to work after the summer break are likely to be in more optimistic spirits than many other parts of the financial services sector, reflecting the durable nature of workplace solutions and products.

While fee-based advisers are paid for the solutions they put in place rather than by the weight of products sold, intermediaries of all hues should be encouraged by the batch of recent figures on business volumes reflecting positively on workplace benefits.

Despite market turmoil, and some intermediaries are reporting a bloodbath in certain of their clients’ sectors, ABI figures show group pensions leading the way in terms of new business, up 44.5 per cent in the second quarter of 2008 in comparison to the same period last year.

Meanwhile this year’s Laing & Buisson report shows an increase of 2.8 per cent in the number of employees with private health insurance in the last two years. A modest increase maybe, but positive news in light of market difficulties and against the backdrop of an improved NHS, and better than the small decline in coverage in the individual market.

The PMI sector is likely to be in the headlines in the near future. We will find out in the next few weeks whether it is in for a boost with the publication of cancer tsar Professor Mike Richards’ report into NHS top-ups. In this issue Sam Barrett looks at some of the life and death issues that Richards is currently grappling with, and ponders what outcomes we might see. If he comes down in favour of top-ups then rapid product development is sure to follow.

And whichever way Richards goes the NHS funding gap identified by Bupa as on course to grow to £11bn by 2015, will surely fuel further debate over the tax burden placed on those employers that do right by their employees and provide them with PMI. To tax three times, through National Insurance, P11D and insurance premium tax, a benefit that promotes a healthy, productive workforce and reduces the burden on the state system seems counter-intuitive. This is a debate I predict is coming of age.

There are around 4.25m people now covered by private health insurance through their employers, and the current trend is upward. The amount flowing into pensions coffers is also something that corporate intermediaries can feel proud of.

This may not be enough to stop you wishing you were back on your lounger, if indeed you were one of the lucky ones who actually found the sun this summer. But at least there are grounds for professional optimism as autumn draws in.