As we move out of lockdown, many of us are reflecting on the changes we’ve made during this period and what this means for us as we move towards the new normal.
As an employer and as a protection provider - Royal London had to swiftly adapt over the past four months.
We reviewed and changed our approach to business week-by-week leading up to the peak of the virus in April. And, like the national effort, our changes were made to make life safer and easier for our customers and the professional partners that help us deliver our business on a daily basis – including the NHS and other medical services.
For example, towards the end of March, as we were all adjusting to lockdown, we added a new question to our application form to capture a customer’s risk of exposure to COVID-19. Due to the emerging pressures on the NHS we quickly identified that not only would we start to see delays in the completion of evidence such as GP reports, we didn’t want to add to that burden on the NHS at this crucial time. Therefore, where possible we requested medical evidence from our customers first, before deciding whether it was appropriate to still request a full GP report.
By mid-April, when the UK was experiencing the peak of COVID-19 cases, we’d implemented several other changes. Recognising there were customers who were more exposed to severe consequences of a COVID-19 infection, we introduced age and rating thresholds that focussed on customers with significant pre-existing conditions. By April, obtaining evidence was challenging, with some GP surgeries redirecting their resources to cope with the pandemic and medical examinations not being able to be completed due to government social distancing measures. In response we increased the non-medical limits for Life cover for people under age 60. This meant fewer customers needed medical evidence, ensuring customers could still access larger amounts of cover with fewer delays.
During lockdown - because people were being encouraged not to leave their homes unless it was absolutely necessary - we challenged ourselves to find more efficient ways of validating that a death had occurred to ensure our claims process was as streamlined as possible. Where appropriate, we used, and are continuing to use, electronic means of validating the death certificate.
Furthermore, we took steps to protect our more vulnerable customers. Firstly, we extended the validity of HbA1c blood test results for Diabetes Life Cover customers, so they didn’t feel pressured to supply this information at a time when it might not be possible or appropriate to attend their GP or clinic. In addition, we wanted to ensure customers kept the cover they needed during an uncertain time. So, we encouraged customers facing financial difficulties and worried about paying their monthly premiums in the short term, to get in touch to discuss options that would help them during the crisis.
Claims during a challenging time
As you can imagine, we’ve received an increase in claims due to the pandemic.
Up to end May this year The Royal London Group paid 1,158 claims related to COVID-19, with total payout to our customers of just over £6.8 million1.
Although predominantly death claims, we have also received claims to help support the recovery of customers affected by this disease. As we now know, COVID-19 can be unpredictable – producing mild symptoms in some people, while causing devastating illness and incapacity, often for weeks or months, in others.
The average age of customers claiming for CI and IP makes sobering reading - just 38 and 40 years respectively. In fact, the largest percentage of claims paid in relation to COVID-19 were for customers of working age – 60 years old or under (41%)2. These people, in the middle of their working lives, likely never expected to make a claim on their policy. However, their protection plan gave them a vital safety net during an unprecedented time.
A changing world
The COVID-19 pandemic has been devastating for many people and industry sectors, but it’s also brought rapid change in how we all conduct business and interact with others. Now that we’re easing out of lockdown, some social distancing measures seem to be here to stay, at least for the rest of this year. Of course, adapting to change is vital in our industry - it’s why protection providers like us will continue to make improvements to products and services.
We’re already seeing lasting changes in service – for example video calls for GP and hospital appointments are becoming more widespread.
At Royal London we’ve also been looking at what different services we can adopt to make it easier for a customer to obtain protection. For example not all customers may wish to have a face-to-face exam, and others may be unable to if, for example, they or a member of their household have a medical condition that puts them at high risk from COVID-19. We can now offer a virtual medical exam as an alternative in certain circumstances, which will cut the time it takes to accept a customer’s application and in a way that supports the customer’s needs.
And now that we’re potentially on the eve of a recession and entering another period of change – we may soon find that our industry needs to adapt again and work to remind consumers that protection is an essential spend even in hard times – because as we’ve learned from the past few months, you never know what’s around the corner.
Whatever happens next for our industry, we’ll continue to focus on making sure we provide customers with the cover they need and to support them if they need to make a claim.
1 – Royal London UK Protection business claims paid (1 March to 31 May 2020)
2 – Royal London UK Intermediary Protection business claims paid (1 March to 31 May 2020)