Covid Insights

Hi everyone, today I have with me Helen Croft. She is the Head of Underwriting Strategy at AIG and is talking all about covid.

We are chatting about why covid has meant that underwriting of insurance has had to change this past year, why covid is such a serious risk and the hope that we may start getting back to normal around Easter time.

The key takeaways:

  1. Why covid is presenting as such a big risk
  2. What the covid mutations could mean
  3. Some potential side effects of long covid

Next time, Matt Rann will be doing his first co-host with me, and we will be talking about mental health and underwriting.

Remember, if you are listening to this as part of your work, you can claim a CPD certificate on our website.

Kathryn:       Hi everyone, today I have Helen Croft, head of underwriting strategy at AIG with me.  Hi Helen!

Helen:         Hi Kathryn.

Kathryn:       We’re going to be talking about underwriting in 2021, the things that we are – well basically what things are looking like for the coming year and I think some listeners would really, really love to hear a really clear and trusted view about corona virus and kind of what’s going on in the world.  This is the Practical Protection podcast.  So Helen, how are you doing?  Before we start really getting into the heavy sort of like side of things, how are you?  How’s lockdown treating you?  I think we should probably do a bit of a disclaimer at first here as well – is that we both have young children, we’re both home-schooling, it’s very, very likely at some point that there’s going to be some kind of a shriek or some kind of interruption at some point from a child but how are things going?

Helen:         Yes I’m good.  So it’s Monday morning so I’m bracing myself for another week of home-schooling so if you asked me on Friday afternoon you might get a different answer but right now I’m good, I’m raring to go.  How are you finding it?

Kathryn:       I was going to say, it’s so good that you get to the end of Friday before being – needing to ask that.  I’m thinking about two o’clock today!  It’s tough but, you know, I think it’s one of those that – I was saying to someone the other day, I give myself – every now and then I’ll give myself like a half hour or an hour to think, “You know what, this really sucks and this is really outside my normal, I’m not meant to be sort of like a full-time worker, mum and teacher all in one go at the same time all day for five days in a row,” but then after I’ve done that I kind of think, you know, I go back to sort of like thinking about the positives.  I’ve really got into that thing of like, you know, focusing upon the positives you have so, you know, we’ve got – we’re safe at home, you know, we’ve got heating, we’ve got, you know, food and we are able to still work and, you know, the kids are still able to do work for the school.

They just – my eldest who’s nine is quite self-sufficient at doing it though I do have to check his work to make sure he’s actually done it to a quality I’m happy with and I know that sounds really harsh and I know I’ve turned into my Mum but – he’s clever and he tries to get away with things but my six-year old, obviously there’s so much interaction that you have to do with them to sort of – they are very – I mean he’s very, very good with things like the Chrome Books and things but still there is so much interaction and getting them to do the next sort of like thing and getting them to understand definitely what’s going on but – it’s intense but we get through it.  We get through it don’t we?

Helen:         Indeed, yeah and I think the kids seem to be taking it all in their stride anyway don’t they?

Kathryn:       Yeah.

Helen:         And enjoying being at home and playing and things.

Kathryn:      Absolutely.  I think, you know –

Helen:         Hopefully making some good memories.

Kathryn:       Yeah I think the one that finds it the hardest is my nine-year old because he’s so aware of not seeing his friends.  My six-year old is just kind of like, “La, la, la, la,” and just bouncing about the room quite happy whereas my nine-year old really, really feels it so just – I can’t wait for them to be – all be able to be together again and just have a good play, you know, and just, I don’t know, let’s get them out in a muddy field somewhere with a football and just let them just go crazy for a little bit.  They’ll enjoy it.

Helen:         Oh absolutely.

Kathryn:       So – absolutely.  So Helen, we’re clearly going to be chatting quite a bit about Covid today.  I don’t think there’s anybody who’s obviously not heard of it, not been affected by it in some way or other either or not it’s themselves or family, friends or even people that they possibly know through work, possibly even obviously a lot of people – we speak to advisers and people who are listening, you know, people who’ve got clients that have possibly been affected by this.  I know I certainly have done.  I think it would be really good to sort of like – if we can start off to chat about what it’s like for an insurer and an underwriter, especially when things all happened last March because I’m guessing it was quite a shock.  I know that, you know, for an adviser point of view, there was this kind of worry that we weren’t hearing anything and, you know, sort of we weren’t sure what was happening with underwriting, if cases were still going to go ahead, you know, obviously completely understood that this was a massive thing that everyone was having to react to but I think sometimes, obviously from an adviser side of things, we see it from potentially one perspective but it would be a really good idea to kind of have that in-depth view of an underwriter as to what it was actually like at that time.

Helen:         Yeah definitely.  I mean, it was – it was a really challenging time and it remains a challenging time as a lot of the underwriting processes and the philosophies that we have have had to be reviewed and changed as situations have changed so, as you know, the situation with the pandemic has evolved and moved on and we need to make sure that we’re moving on with it and that we’re having a controlled and proportionate response that adapts as the situation adapts.  One of the biggest challenges with that is that, as underwriters, we’re used to having a lot of data so we’re used to having guidance and rules that are based on, you know, years’ worth of data and that just wasn’t available for Covid so things were becoming available as we moved through the pandemic and we had to kind of adapt with that.

Kathryn:       Absolutely.

Helen:         Even to this day, things are still changing aren’t they?  I mean, last week we had the announcement from Nicola Sturgeon that the rules in Scotland would tighten and immediately insurers and medical screenings providers are having to work together then to understand, “What does that mean for our face-to-face screenings?  How do we adapt to that and how do we kind of reflect that in our processes so that people can still get the insurance that they need as well?”  So yeah, there’s a lot of monitoring and reacting and making sure that we’re doing what we need to do to kind of keep things going.

Kathryn:       I imagine as well – just going back to a couple of bits there.  Sort of like, you were saying about the data, you know, obviously I appreciate – obviously I’m assuming it’s a big thing between the underwriters and the actuaries working upon – I imagine it’s probably decades’ worth of data usually, you know, if it’s something like cancers and heart attacks, you know, there are so many years’ worth of data to look for the trends and to look for those generic patterns that you would see.  The common sort of like themes that run through in regards to, you know, if somebody is this age and they’ve had a heart attack or this is the likely outcome and I imagine that’s probably hundreds of thousands of people probably that there would usually be data for that all of a sudden, you know, there was this risk that they just – as I say, at first handfuls but it was very clear that it was going to be a very, very significant thing that was happening.

Helen:         Yeah, absolutely, so you’d normally have data from possibly the medical community on science and research and then there’d also be data from the insured population from the insurers who’ve got a bigger book of business and even from insurers where they’ve got a big book of business as well and we can look at our claims statistics or, you know, other data sources that we have to see what’s happening in the group of people that we insure.  So obviously none of that was available for Covid so it’s there – we’re using the information that’s becoming available at the time and kind of making adjustments to what we’re doing to reflect the risks as we became aware of them.  So it became quite apparent quite quickly didn’t it, that the risks were focused in certain areas which were older lives and people with significant underlying health conditions.  So underwriting philosophies had to reflect that so we weren’t taking a broad brush approach to everybody and restricting the access to insurance to areas where the risks weren’t being presented and I think that’s a tough balance that the underwriter’s almost in the middle of the situation so looking to make sure that we can keep the doors open, we can make sure people can still get insurance but also we’ve got to have an eye on making sure that the insurance industry is sustainable so that we can support all the millions of customers who’ve already got insurance and make sure that we can still provide them the support that, you know, they’ve signed up to.  So it’s this kind of tough balance isn’t it?

Kathryn:       Absolutely.  I think that was something that’s really important to focus on – is the fact that whilst, you know, sometimes it can seem as an adviser, you know, it can obviously seem frustrating – not at the insurers but, you know, with the situation, it can be frustrating because, you know, we’ve got people who maybe want insurance and they maybe can’t get it down the routes they’re used to be able to get to.

Helen:         Yeah.

Kathryn:       No matter what, you have to remember that the insurer is a business and it is a business of risk and you’ve made promises to millions of people and you need to be able to make sure that if there’s suddenly mass claims coming through that you honour those – obviously those people who’ve been paying into the insurances for so many years and there was quite a flood obviously – especially at the beginning of people wanting – well people were coming wanting income protection insurance but they were actually asking for unemployment cover and it was interesting to see that but then obviously as well as an adviser it was really horrible because obviously those policies were took away from new business and stopped being on offer and it was hard because, you know, it’s, you know, I think we’re all middle people in different ways, you know, as an adviser we’re middle people to the insurers and the public and obviously as you were saying, you’re kind of like a middle person as well because you want to still be insuring people but you also then have to make sure that you still remain financially viable as an insurer.

Helen:         Yeah.

Kathryn:       It was quite interesting as well when you were saying about the medical screenings and the GP evidence because that’s been one that’s been really strange I think from an adviser’s perspective and I’m sure it has been from an insurer side of things.  But with the – with GPs, we went from – a typical GP report we would say on average for us is probably about four to six weeks to return.  Now we ended up having it where some GPs just said, “We’re not doing GP reports at all,” and obviously that was a very difficult conversation to have with a client to say, “Well I’m sorry but your GP’s just not going to do this.”

Helen:         Yeah.

Kathryn:       But then we had other ones that were returning them within a week saying, “Well we’re not seeing anybody so yeah, we can do this really quickly,” and it was kind of like a really, really weird dynamic ‘cos it was all just again, like again we’re having to adapt and change constantly but I think just sort of like moving on to the next bit.  I think that most people understand that the risk that corona virus presents but I think, again we’ve all seen that there’s still some debate over it.  I was speaking to somebody the other week actually and they were just like – they said to me – they were like, “I’m not sure if it’s real,” and I’m just like, “Well actually, this person who worked here has passed away last week because of it and we’ve lost some family members because of it.  So it is real,” and I’m really surprised that some people still don’t think it’s real.  The whole debate about whether or not to wear masks or not is a completely different area but can you give us a bit more insight as to what corona virus is and what does make it such a worry?

Helen:         Yeah of course and this is part of the challenge isn’t it, that it’s a new virus so we’re still learning a lot about it.  We’re still understanding some of the mechanisms that make one person have a very mild illness and somebody else have a severe illness or, you know, a life-limiting illness so there’s research going on at the minute and one area that they’re looking at is genetics and whether there’s certain genes that are playing a part in that and making some people more predisposed to having a more severe reaction and where we understand that there are risk factors that make someone more predisposed to having a severe reaction like obesity or higher age or certain medical conditions, there’s still research going on to understand exactly what’s driving that.  So a good example of that is with obesity.  So we know that people who are overweight and obese have different metabolic reactions to people who aren’t overweight or obese and we know that they can have higher levels of inflammation and that they can have different immune responses to things but it’s not understood exactly which of those elements is the thing that’s making people have this kind of more serious risk from Covid in that group.  So I think there’s an understanding of what the risk factors are and there’s an understanding of some things that might be causing that but a lot of the research is still underway to fully understand the mechanics and that’s part of the challenge right, when we’re looking at underwriting the risks as well.

Kathryn:       Can I just quickly pop in there with that?  ‘Cos this is part of – obviously lack of knowledge on my part and I’m probably going to sound very, very silly to a lot of underwriters here who are listening but when you say that about how it’s like a bit to do with like the metabolic rate or the metabolism, now when I hear metabolism, I automatically think of food and the processing of food.  So how does the sort of like differences in the metabolism – are we talking sort of like – is it something to do with – I don’t even know how to link that in a sense to Covid in a sense, you know.  Does it affect the immune system, like the metabolism and stuff?  I’m getting myself lost a bit.

Helen:         Yeah, so it – so they think it’s around how their insulin response basically – so we know diabetes is a risk factor as well and with people who are overweight or obese, their metabolism can mean that they have a different response in terms of generating insulin so that can impact how their – how they respond to Covid but as I say, the actual mechanisms of that aren’t really fully understood.

Kathryn:       Okay.

Helen:         Just that there is this strong link between being overweight and obese and having a severe Covid reaction.

Kathryn:       Oh that’s interesting, thank you.  I didn’t realise that, I didn’t even think about insulin as an aspect of that so that’s really good, thank you.  Sorry, I know I’ve interrupted you there, if you want to carry on?

Helen:         No, you’re fine.  I think one of the – so one of the other things that’s a big challenge is that we have this proportion of asymptomatic people so I was reading something in the BMJ last week where they were talking about potentially one in five people who have Covid are asymptomatic which is – looking at the numbers of people who have been diagnosed at the minute, is a huge amount of people who, you know, they’ve got it and they don’t know and those people are spreading it without realising it and that’s, you know, that’s a big challenge ‘cos how do you – how do you manage that and how you manage that is unfortunately through the lockdowns that we find ourselves in now where, you know, we don’t mix with other people as much so that’s a big challenge in terms of how it’s spreading.  And the other kind of pertinent thing that’s really relevant to what’s happening in the news at the moment is the mutations so –

Kathryn:       Yes.

Helen:         When viruses spread they mutate.  All viruses mutate but the more it spreads, the more propensity there is for it to mutate so that’s what we’re seeing now is that, you know, there’s been lots of mutations that have happened and it hasn’t impacted anything but now we’re starting to see mutations which are changing the behaviours of the virus so – the mutation we had in the UK that made it more transmissible and the mutation that –

Kathryn:       Is that the Kent one?  Was that the Kent one?

Helen:         Yes.  Yeah.  There was the Kent one and then there was a similar one in South Africa which did a similar thing.  It was much more easy to transmit and the more it spreads, the more you’re likely that a mutation would happen that could be significant and obviously that’s a concern when we’re at this – the crux of getting these vaccines rolled out because it could impact how the vaccine works, if there was to be a mutation which impacted how the vaccine works versus how that particular strain of the virus is working.  So what – generally how the vaccines work is – so the virus attaches to human cells through a thing called the spike protein and the vaccine almost tricks your body into having a response which helps you respond to that spike protein if it becomes present in your body.  So if there’s a mutation to the virus which changes that spike protein, then it will – it would mean that potentially that response that the vaccines are generating wouldn’t work in the same way against that strain of the virus.  So we’ve been lucky so far that that hasn’t been the case and of course they’ll be able to generate more vaccines, you know, they’ve developed these vaccines in record speed and I’m sure there’s lots of work they can use from what’s gone on so far to develop more vaccines at a pace but it changes the game doesn’t it, if we –

Kathryn:       Absolutely.

Helen:         Don’t have that situation anymore so that’s a topical one with what’s happening with the new strains.

Kathryn:       Absolutely so I mean from my obviously very limited understanding of it in many ways, so we had obviously Covid-19, there was then a mutation in Kent, there was a mutation in South Africa and there’s one just been identified in Brazil.

Helen:         Brazil, yeah.

Kathryn:       So all of those are in a sense kind of independent – so the mutation in Kent is not the same as the mutation in South Africa?

Helen:         Yeah.

Kathryn:       They’re all kind of independent of each other?  Okay then.

Helen:         Yeah.

Kathryn:       And I think if I’m right as well from the vaccine, just to sort of like clarify ‘cos I think there’s been some confusion at times with it when I’ve heard people talking about it.  From my knowledge and again very limited knowledge and the vaccine isn’t going to stop people getting it, it just, as far as I’m aware, is just going to stop – hopefully stop people from having the really bad side of it.  Is that correct?

Helen:         Yes, yeah.  So this is my kind of stock response to everything isn’t it?  So I mean they’re still doing research and they aren’t 100% sure but yeah it’s – the intention is that it would – basically it impacts your response to the virus so it would mean that people weren’t having serious and life-threatening responses but they may still be able to pass the virus on to other people but that they’re not 100% sure on that at the moment.

Kathryn:       Yeah.  Yeah, of course.  I was going to say, just from what you were saying there as well, I think it’s absolutely incredible what the scientists and the medical community have been able to do and the fact that –

Helen:         Great isn’t it, in that period of time!

Kathryn:       I know and the vaccine numbers are – they’re incredible ‘cos they’re like way, way above target aren’t they and I like the fact as well that some of them are just – I’ve seen people on Twitter and they’re just like, “We had some spare vaccines at the end of the day so we just started ringing people up and just saying –”

Helen:         Yeah.

Kathryn:       “Come for one,” and they’re just like, “We’re not wasting anything.”  I thought, I’m really glad there’s that kind of common sense amongst it all as well, you know, just sort of like – just to go, “Right, we’ve got some spare, everyone for today is done, let’s just get whoever we can in and let’s just get everyone vaccinated as soon as possible.”  I think it’s brilliant.

Helen:         The medical profession are amazing aren’t they?  To be dealing with what they’re dealing with in terms of not just the Covid response but then the strain on the NHS as well generally that that’s created to then also take on the vaccine program and to be, you know, delivering that in such a well-organised way is just, yeah they’re phenomenal, hats off to all of those people.

Kathryn:       Absolutely.  Something we haven’t touched upon that I was wondering if we could quickly touch on is long Covid.  Now I’ve got a few people that I know who’ve had long Covid.

Helen:         Yeah.

Kathryn:       And I’m not sure – for them it almost – it almost kind of seemed as if it was presenting itself of kind of like chronic fatigue syndrome.  I don’t know, is that kind of what would be – is that kind of like a usual version of the long Covid or is there like other kind of things that are presenting themselves?  And possibly if you could just explain what that is kind of showing itself as at the moment?

Helen:         Yeah, so it is showing itself as a kind of post-viral fatigue-type symptoms but the symptoms can be really wide and varying so respiratory symptoms like shortness of breath, fatigue, neurological symptoms, headaches and the severity of those symptoms can vary as well and – so something that’s really interesting with long Covid is that it’s not just impacting people that have had severe Covid. It can impact people who have had a reasonably mild episode of Covid –

Kathryn:       Oh right.

Helen:         And that makes it hard to understand who, you know, who is going to be susceptible to that and as individuals ourselves but, you know, if we were to get the virus that’s a difficult thing and also from an underwriting perspective, that’s a difficult thing as well so it does seem to be affecting women more than men.

Kathryn:       Oh right.

Helen:         And the mechanics of that again aren’t known but yeah, it’s certainly one of the longer term risks that we need to be looking at in underwriting and how do we – how do we, you know, understand who is likely to be impacted by that, what are the long-term risks of that and then how do we reflect that in our underwriting approaches as well?  So yeah, it’s a very topical one.

Kathryn:       Yeah, absolutely, absolutely.  Well looking forward then, let’s look at this year coming up.  Hopefully it’s going to be a much, much better year than 2020.  There’s going to be a lot of advisers listening and they’re going to be sort of wondering when things might start getting back to normal underwriting-wise.  I’m sure that that is not going to be an easy answer especially as we have new strains popping up and, you know, I think, you know, we’re at a stage where, you know, sort of like the amount of people who are being – is it the amount of people being diagnosed with it is possibly starting to decrease a bit but then the hospital admissions are increasing?

Helen:         Yeah.

Kathryn:       It’s all still very much up in the air but what would you – what are your thoughts for the year to come?

Helen:         Yeah I’m feeling positive, you know, I know we’re in a difficult position right now.  Obviously we’re in lockdown, the numbers are not great but we are starting to see the impact of the lockdown with some of the diagnosis numbers coming down and the vaccine program is really the thing that’s the light at the end of the tunnel for all of us isn’t it?  So it’s being rolled out at a pace like we’ve already spoken about and although the fact that people now need to wait 12 weeks between their two doses and they need to have two doses to have that kind of full level of protection does elongate the timeline a bit between where we might be able to start changing things underwriting-wise.

When you look at the numbers from the Government in terms of their estimations of how many people are going to have the vaccines and by what point, they’re talking about all of the very highest risk people having had the vaccine by mid-February, everybody over 50 having had the vaccine by mid-March and the rest of us having had the vaccine by September so the risk changes significantly once those higher risk people have had their vaccines so I really don’t think it’s unreasonable to be expecting things to be starting to change in Q2.  So I know that probably still feels like quite a long time away but also, you know, we do have this – we have the light at the end of the tunnel and yeah, I’m feeling optimistic that things will, you know, start to change by that point in time.  I think one thing I would say is that, in the same way that the hospitals aren’t going to go from having full Covid wards to having no people in them, I suspect it won’t be the case that underwriting philosophies go from being what they are now to immediately back to what they were pre-Covid.  I think there’ll be some kind of stepping in there and obviously we don’t know what that looks like just yet but yeah, I expect there to be some kind of stepped approach but that yeah, Q2 would be a reasonable time to be expecting things to change.

Kathryn:       Well that sounds brilliant.  I think we’ll all have our fingers crossed but obviously we won’t hold you to that Helen.

Helen:         Don’t hold me to that yet!

Kathryn:       Let’s just wait and see what happens with everything, just we never know at this moment do we?  I don’t think there’s much that can shock us going forward this year which kind of feels like there’s lots of things happening that in any kind of usual time period, we’d all be like absolutely either mortified or completely shocked and we wouldn’t stop talking about it for weeks ‘cos it would just be such a shock and then because of this past year it’s just kind of like, “Yeah, that’s just – well it’s just 2020 isn’t it so anything could have happened?”

Helen:         Yeah, anything goes!

Kathryn:       Yeah, aliens could have landed and we’d just be like, “Well, it’s 2020, it was going to happen this year wasn’t it?”  But obviously we’ve spoken a lot there about Covid so thank you so much for going through that and obviously helping me understand it more and I hope helping our listeners understand it too.  So what do you think – roughly – so, you know, like not Covid for a little bit. What do you think we’re going to be seeing in underwriting in 2021?  What’s sort of like your thought of just generally how – I mean obviously, we know we talked about the Q2 thing but just generally, what’s your thoughts on what’s going to happen?

Helen:         Yeah I think it will be a really big year for underwriting again.  You know, obviously Covid will continue to be a big focus and part of that will be underwriters looking at what’s gone on in 2020 and how can we learn from some of that as well?  So with evidence gathering for example, where there’s been a necessity to use customer-supplied evidence, well what can we learn from that to put into normal practice to make it easier for people where we need medical evidence?  So I think there’ll be a lot of reflection and learning on what’s gone before because we need to – like you were saying at the start of the call, we need to take the positives right?  We need to learn and take things where we can and that will be a positive that will come from this situation.

With evidence gathering as well, I think there will be a big focus on electronic evidence gathering so partly because of Covid and it being easier for GP surgeries to – and quicker for GP surgeries to complete the electronic reports and partly because that’s the industry – the direction the industry has been trying to go in anyway and I feel there’s a momentum building within the ABI and the PDG wanting to get involved in, you know, this kind of shared goal of how do we increase electronic report uptake so I think there’ll be good progress made on that with us all being behind it so some industry collaboration there.

Kathryn:       Absolutely.  I think what’s interesting about that as well is that’s something obviously we really welcome because, you know, we have so many instances and I’m sure we can’t be the only firm obviously we often do see the GP reports or medical records for clients.

Helen:         Yeah.

Kathryn:       And we find – it’s not a criticism at all of the NHS or anything, I would never, ever do that because I’m here because of the NHS, you know, they’re absolutely amazing.  But the amount of errors that are in these reports is incredible, you know, it could just be, you know, tucked away somewhere that somebody’s, you know, been diagnosed with something and it’s just an error in the document that, you know, they’ve never had that condition.  You know, ‘cos you speak to people –

Helen:         Yeah.

Kathryn:       And just say, “Well you never told me that you had this,” and they go, “Well I never had this, what’s –”  You know, and then you have to challenge it and get it all changed and get letters of correction for it and I think we need to try and make it easier for people to be able to see – and also data protection-wise, the laws that have come in, for people to be able see what’s been recorded about them because another thing that kind of worries me as well is that, you know, with all the cases of people that go straight through online as well without any kind of advice or any kind of medical reports, whilst that’s brilliant, again I kind of think, well could there be something in those medical reports that’s in there inaccurately that actually when the claim comes around, there could be quite a big issue because they’ve been unaware of it.  But yeah, sorry that’s a completely different – I’ve just gone off on a complete side project there.

Helen:         You are right though, like – and there’s definitely a long game there isn’t there with the NHS digitisation once we’ve got – once it’s, you know, accurate and also we’ve got a really quick and easy mechanism for getting hold of customers’ information electronically, then you can do that at a much larger scale and then that does give you this claims protection as such that you’ve already checked stuff out at underwriting stage so it’s much easier then at claims stage which is good for all of us, you know, it’s good from an underwriting perspective.  It helps with our application form and making sure that we’re asking the right questions in the right way.  It’s good for you as distributors because you can understand how to position things with customers to get those disclosures and then it’s really good for the customer because it gives them some reassurance as well that, “Yeah, we’ve already checked that stuff out and we’re happy that everything’s matched up.”  So yeah, there’s a definite – there’s a good long game there for sure.  We’ve just got to get to a point where the technology’s there and the GP surgeries are able to and happy to kind of complete reports in an electronic way.

Kathryn:       Yeah definitely and is there anything else sort of that you’re thinking for the next year that you’ll be focusing on?

Helen:         Yeah I think the other big thing that we’ll see will be the work on mental health with the kind of result of the – so everyone’s kind of signing up to the ABI mental health standards and that will involve insurers making changes to their processes and their underwriting.  I think we’ll see some really positive changes but also positive conversations so just a lot more openness and transparency around that ‘cos that can be one of the blockers, right, that it’s –

Kathryn:       Yeah.

Helen:         Just not clear what’s going on behind the scenes sometimes so specifically in relation to mental health but also more generally I think we’ll see more of that transparency that we’re already starting to see from underwriting across the industry.

Kathryn:       Absolutely and as I’m sure you’re aware, I’ll be very, very happy to see discussions about mental health happening because one of the things I’ve always said and even before 2020, is that thing of like if you ask somebody, “Have you ever felt anxious or stressed?”  You know, I can’t imagine anyone can really say no to that, you know –

Helen:         Yeah.

Kathryn:       I think we’ve all, you know, it depends upon the level of anxiety and stress, you know, we all can have that, you know, when you go for your driver’s test, you’re probably a little bit anxious, when you go for your GCSEs, you’re probably a little bit anxious so I find it hard to sort of have that yes or no question and I think after 2020, I could be wrong but I doubt that nobody has felt at some point a bit unsettled in this last year, whether or not that’s physically or mentally, you know, I think it would be – I think it would be quite unusual not to have.  I think it’s a very natural and healthy response to feel a little anxious and a little stressed.  So – but I think as we always say, it comes down to then potentially how you are able to process that and focus that going forward.

Helen:         Yeah I think you’re right.  The pandemic brings that into focus.  It’s been a longstanding conversation but a pandemic really brings that into focus because insurers do need to be able to differentiate between what is a normal response to this incredibly bizarre situation we all find ourselves in versus what is a diagnosable medical condition that, you know, has a different risk associated with it.

Kathryn:       Yeah.

Helen:         So that will certainly be an area of focus for insurers to have a better understanding of that and apply appropriate philosophies in those two distinct camps.

Kathryn:       Absolutely.  Well thank you so much for joining me Helen, and thank you everybody for listening and I say, it really, really helped me to understand Covid a bit more so thank you.  I’m going to be back in about two weeks’ time and I’m going to be chatting with Matt Rann and quite well actually, we’ll just segway straight into this – we’re going to be chatting about mental health and underwriting so that’s quite good that we just tied that up perfectly with you mentioning those.  If you’d like a reminder of the next episode, please do drop me a message on social media or visit the website www.practical-protection.co.uk.  And don’t forget that if you’ve listened to this as part of your work, you can claim a CPD certificate on the website too.  Thank you so much for joining me Helen.

Helen:         Thanks Kathryn.

Kathryn:       Bye.

Covid Insights

Hi everyone, today I have with me Helen Croft. She is the Head of Underwriting Strategy at AIG and is talking all about covid.

We are chatting about why covid has meant that underwriting of insurance has had to change this past year, why covid is such a serious risk and the hope that we may start getting back to normal around Easter time.

The key takeaways:

  1. Why covid is presenting as such a big risk
  2. What the covid mutations could mean
  3. Some potential side effects of long covid

Next time, Matt Rann will be doing his first co-host with me, and we will be talking about mental health and underwriting.

Remember, if you are listening to this as part of your work, you can claim a CPD certificate on our website.

Kathryn:       Hi everyone, today I have Helen Croft, head of underwriting strategy at AIG with me.  Hi Helen!

Helen:         Hi Kathryn.

Kathryn:       We’re going to be talking about underwriting in 2021, the things that we are – well basically what things are looking like for the coming year and I think some listeners would really, really love to hear a really clear and trusted view about corona virus and kind of what’s going on in the world.  This is the Practical Protection podcast.  So Helen, how are you doing?  Before we start really getting into the heavy sort of like side of things, how are you?  How’s lockdown treating you?  I think we should probably do a bit of a disclaimer at first here as well – is that we both have young children, we’re both home-schooling, it’s very, very likely at some point that there’s going to be some kind of a shriek or some kind of interruption at some point from a child but how are things going?

Helen:         Yes I’m good.  So it’s Monday morning so I’m bracing myself for another week of home-schooling so if you asked me on Friday afternoon you might get a different answer but right now I’m good, I’m raring to go.  How are you finding it?

Kathryn:       I was going to say, it’s so good that you get to the end of Friday before being – needing to ask that.  I’m thinking about two o’clock today!  It’s tough but, you know, I think it’s one of those that – I was saying to someone the other day, I give myself – every now and then I’ll give myself like a half hour or an hour to think, “You know what, this really sucks and this is really outside my normal, I’m not meant to be sort of like a full-time worker, mum and teacher all in one go at the same time all day for five days in a row,” but then after I’ve done that I kind of think, you know, I go back to sort of like thinking about the positives.  I’ve really got into that thing of like, you know, focusing upon the positives you have so, you know, we’ve got – we’re safe at home, you know, we’ve got heating, we’ve got, you know, food and we are able to still work and, you know, the kids are still able to do work for the school.

They just – my eldest who’s nine is quite self-sufficient at doing it though I do have to check his work to make sure he’s actually done it to a quality I’m happy with and I know that sounds really harsh and I know I’ve turned into my Mum but – he’s clever and he tries to get away with things but my six-year old, obviously there’s so much interaction that you have to do with them to sort of – they are very – I mean he’s very, very good with things like the Chrome Books and things but still there is so much interaction and getting them to do the next sort of like thing and getting them to understand definitely what’s going on but – it’s intense but we get through it.  We get through it don’t we?

Helen:         Indeed, yeah and I think the kids seem to be taking it all in their stride anyway don’t they?

Kathryn:       Yeah.

Helen:         And enjoying being at home and playing and things.

Kathryn:      Absolutely.  I think, you know –

Helen:         Hopefully making some good memories.

Kathryn:       Yeah I think the one that finds it the hardest is my nine-year old because he’s so aware of not seeing his friends.  My six-year old is just kind of like, “La, la, la, la,” and just bouncing about the room quite happy whereas my nine-year old really, really feels it so just – I can’t wait for them to be – all be able to be together again and just have a good play, you know, and just, I don’t know, let’s get them out in a muddy field somewhere with a football and just let them just go crazy for a little bit.  They’ll enjoy it.

Helen:         Oh absolutely.

Kathryn:       So – absolutely.  So Helen, we’re clearly going to be chatting quite a bit about Covid today.  I don’t think there’s anybody who’s obviously not heard of it, not been affected by it in some way or other either or not it’s themselves or family, friends or even people that they possibly know through work, possibly even obviously a lot of people – we speak to advisers and people who are listening, you know, people who’ve got clients that have possibly been affected by this.  I know I certainly have done.  I think it would be really good to sort of like – if we can start off to chat about what it’s like for an insurer and an underwriter, especially when things all happened last March because I’m guessing it was quite a shock.  I know that, you know, for an adviser point of view, there was this kind of worry that we weren’t hearing anything and, you know, sort of we weren’t sure what was happening with underwriting, if cases were still going to go ahead, you know, obviously completely understood that this was a massive thing that everyone was having to react to but I think sometimes, obviously from an adviser side of things, we see it from potentially one perspective but it would be a really good idea to kind of have that in-depth view of an underwriter as to what it was actually like at that time.

Helen:         Yeah definitely.  I mean, it was – it was a really challenging time and it remains a challenging time as a lot of the underwriting processes and the philosophies that we have have had to be reviewed and changed as situations have changed so, as you know, the situation with the pandemic has evolved and moved on and we need to make sure that we’re moving on with it and that we’re having a controlled and proportionate response that adapts as the situation adapts.  One of the biggest challenges with that is that, as underwriters, we’re used to having a lot of data so we’re used to having guidance and rules that are based on, you know, years’ worth of data and that just wasn’t available for Covid so things were becoming available as we moved through the pandemic and we had to kind of adapt with that.

Kathryn:       Absolutely.

Helen:         Even to this day, things are still changing aren’t they?  I mean, last week we had the announcement from Nicola Sturgeon that the rules in Scotland would tighten and immediately insurers and medical screenings providers are having to work together then to understand, “What does that mean for our face-to-face screenings?  How do we adapt to that and how do we kind of reflect that in our processes so that people can still get the insurance that they need as well?”  So yeah, there’s a lot of monitoring and reacting and making sure that we’re doing what we need to do to kind of keep things going.

Kathryn:       I imagine as well – just going back to a couple of bits there.  Sort of like, you were saying about the data, you know, obviously I appreciate – obviously I’m assuming it’s a big thing between the underwriters and the actuaries working upon – I imagine it’s probably decades’ worth of data usually, you know, if it’s something like cancers and heart attacks, you know, there are so many years’ worth of data to look for the trends and to look for those generic patterns that you would see.  The common sort of like themes that run through in regards to, you know, if somebody is this age and they’ve had a heart attack or this is the likely outcome and I imagine that’s probably hundreds of thousands of people probably that there would usually be data for that all of a sudden, you know, there was this risk that they just – as I say, at first handfuls but it was very clear that it was going to be a very, very significant thing that was happening.

Helen:         Yeah, absolutely, so you’d normally have data from possibly the medical community on science and research and then there’d also be data from the insured population from the insurers who’ve got a bigger book of business and even from insurers where they’ve got a big book of business as well and we can look at our claims statistics or, you know, other data sources that we have to see what’s happening in the group of people that we insure.  So obviously none of that was available for Covid so it’s there – we’re using the information that’s becoming available at the time and kind of making adjustments to what we’re doing to reflect the risks as we became aware of them.  So it became quite apparent quite quickly didn’t it, that the risks were focused in certain areas which were older lives and people with significant underlying health conditions.  So underwriting philosophies had to reflect that so we weren’t taking a broad brush approach to everybody and restricting the access to insurance to areas where the risks weren’t being presented and I think that’s a tough balance that the underwriter’s almost in the middle of the situation so looking to make sure that we can keep the doors open, we can make sure people can still get insurance but also we’ve got to have an eye on making sure that the insurance industry is sustainable so that we can support all the millions of customers who’ve already got insurance and make sure that we can still provide them the support that, you know, they’ve signed up to.  So it’s this kind of tough balance isn’t it?

Kathryn:       Absolutely.  I think that was something that’s really important to focus on – is the fact that whilst, you know, sometimes it can seem as an adviser, you know, it can obviously seem frustrating – not at the insurers but, you know, with the situation, it can be frustrating because, you know, we’ve got people who maybe want insurance and they maybe can’t get it down the routes they’re used to be able to get to.

Helen:         Yeah.

Kathryn:       No matter what, you have to remember that the insurer is a business and it is a business of risk and you’ve made promises to millions of people and you need to be able to make sure that if there’s suddenly mass claims coming through that you honour those – obviously those people who’ve been paying into the insurances for so many years and there was quite a flood obviously – especially at the beginning of people wanting – well people were coming wanting income protection insurance but they were actually asking for unemployment cover and it was interesting to see that but then obviously as well as an adviser it was really horrible because obviously those policies were took away from new business and stopped being on offer and it was hard because, you know, it’s, you know, I think we’re all middle people in different ways, you know, as an adviser we’re middle people to the insurers and the public and obviously as you were saying, you’re kind of like a middle person as well because you want to still be insuring people but you also then have to make sure that you still remain financially viable as an insurer.

Helen:         Yeah.

Kathryn:       It was quite interesting as well when you were saying about the medical screenings and the GP evidence because that’s been one that’s been really strange I think from an adviser’s perspective and I’m sure it has been from an insurer side of things.  But with the – with GPs, we went from – a typical GP report we would say on average for us is probably about four to six weeks to return.  Now we ended up having it where some GPs just said, “We’re not doing GP reports at all,” and obviously that was a very difficult conversation to have with a client to say, “Well I’m sorry but your GP’s just not going to do this.”

Helen:         Yeah.

Kathryn:       But then we had other ones that were returning them within a week saying, “Well we’re not seeing anybody so yeah, we can do this really quickly,” and it was kind of like a really, really weird dynamic ‘cos it was all just again, like again we’re having to adapt and change constantly but I think just sort of like moving on to the next bit.  I think that most people understand that the risk that corona virus presents but I think, again we’ve all seen that there’s still some debate over it.  I was speaking to somebody the other week actually and they were just like – they said to me – they were like, “I’m not sure if it’s real,” and I’m just like, “Well actually, this person who worked here has passed away last week because of it and we’ve lost some family members because of it.  So it is real,” and I’m really surprised that some people still don’t think it’s real.  The whole debate about whether or not to wear masks or not is a completely different area but can you give us a bit more insight as to what corona virus is and what does make it such a worry?

Helen:         Yeah of course and this is part of the challenge isn’t it, that it’s a new virus so we’re still learning a lot about it.  We’re still understanding some of the mechanisms that make one person have a very mild illness and somebody else have a severe illness or, you know, a life-limiting illness so there’s research going on at the minute and one area that they’re looking at is genetics and whether there’s certain genes that are playing a part in that and making some people more predisposed to having a more severe reaction and where we understand that there are risk factors that make someone more predisposed to having a severe reaction like obesity or higher age or certain medical conditions, there’s still research going on to understand exactly what’s driving that.  So a good example of that is with obesity.  So we know that people who are overweight and obese have different metabolic reactions to people who aren’t overweight or obese and we know that they can have higher levels of inflammation and that they can have different immune responses to things but it’s not understood exactly which of those elements is the thing that’s making people have this kind of more serious risk from Covid in that group.  So I think there’s an understanding of what the risk factors are and there’s an understanding of some things that might be causing that but a lot of the research is still underway to fully understand the mechanics and that’s part of the challenge right, when we’re looking at underwriting the risks as well.

Kathryn:       Can I just quickly pop in there with that?  ‘Cos this is part of – obviously lack of knowledge on my part and I’m probably going to sound very, very silly to a lot of underwriters here who are listening but when you say that about how it’s like a bit to do with like the metabolic rate or the metabolism, now when I hear metabolism, I automatically think of food and the processing of food.  So how does the sort of like differences in the metabolism – are we talking sort of like – is it something to do with – I don’t even know how to link that in a sense to Covid in a sense, you know.  Does it affect the immune system, like the metabolism and stuff?  I’m getting myself lost a bit.

Helen:         Yeah, so it – so they think it’s around how their insulin response basically – so we know diabetes is a risk factor as well and with people who are overweight or obese, their metabolism can mean that they have a different response in terms of generating insulin so that can impact how their – how they respond to Covid but as I say, the actual mechanisms of that aren’t really fully understood.

Kathryn:       Okay.

Helen:         Just that there is this strong link between being overweight and obese and having a severe Covid reaction.

Kathryn:       Oh that’s interesting, thank you.  I didn’t realise that, I didn’t even think about insulin as an aspect of that so that’s really good, thank you.  Sorry, I know I’ve interrupted you there, if you want to carry on?

Helen:         No, you’re fine.  I think one of the – so one of the other things that’s a big challenge is that we have this proportion of asymptomatic people so I was reading something in the BMJ last week where they were talking about potentially one in five people who have Covid are asymptomatic which is – looking at the numbers of people who have been diagnosed at the minute, is a huge amount of people who, you know, they’ve got it and they don’t know and those people are spreading it without realising it and that’s, you know, that’s a big challenge ‘cos how do you – how do you manage that and how you manage that is unfortunately through the lockdowns that we find ourselves in now where, you know, we don’t mix with other people as much so that’s a big challenge in terms of how it’s spreading.  And the other kind of pertinent thing that’s really relevant to what’s happening in the news at the moment is the mutations so –

Kathryn:       Yes.

Helen:         When viruses spread they mutate.  All viruses mutate but the more it spreads, the more propensity there is for it to mutate so that’s what we’re seeing now is that, you know, there’s been lots of mutations that have happened and it hasn’t impacted anything but now we’re starting to see mutations which are changing the behaviours of the virus so – the mutation we had in the UK that made it more transmissible and the mutation that –

Kathryn:       Is that the Kent one?  Was that the Kent one?

Helen:         Yes.  Yeah.  There was the Kent one and then there was a similar one in South Africa which did a similar thing.  It was much more easy to transmit and the more it spreads, the more you’re likely that a mutation would happen that could be significant and obviously that’s a concern when we’re at this – the crux of getting these vaccines rolled out because it could impact how the vaccine works, if there was to be a mutation which impacted how the vaccine works versus how that particular strain of the virus is working.  So what – generally how the vaccines work is – so the virus attaches to human cells through a thing called the spike protein and the vaccine almost tricks your body into having a response which helps you respond to that spike protein if it becomes present in your body.  So if there’s a mutation to the virus which changes that spike protein, then it will – it would mean that potentially that response that the vaccines are generating wouldn’t work in the same way against that strain of the virus.  So we’ve been lucky so far that that hasn’t been the case and of course they’ll be able to generate more vaccines, you know, they’ve developed these vaccines in record speed and I’m sure there’s lots of work they can use from what’s gone on so far to develop more vaccines at a pace but it changes the game doesn’t it, if we –

Kathryn:       Absolutely.

Helen:         Don’t have that situation anymore so that’s a topical one with what’s happening with the new strains.

Kathryn:       Absolutely so I mean from my obviously very limited understanding of it in many ways, so we had obviously Covid-19, there was then a mutation in Kent, there was a mutation in South Africa and there’s one just been identified in Brazil.

Helen:         Brazil, yeah.

Kathryn:       So all of those are in a sense kind of independent – so the mutation in Kent is not the same as the mutation in South Africa?

Helen:         Yeah.

Kathryn:       They’re all kind of independent of each other?  Okay then.

Helen:         Yeah.

Kathryn:       And I think if I’m right as well from the vaccine, just to sort of like clarify ‘cos I think there’s been some confusion at times with it when I’ve heard people talking about it.  From my knowledge and again very limited knowledge and the vaccine isn’t going to stop people getting it, it just, as far as I’m aware, is just going to stop – hopefully stop people from having the really bad side of it.  Is that correct?

Helen:         Yes, yeah.  So this is my kind of stock response to everything isn’t it?  So I mean they’re still doing research and they aren’t 100% sure but yeah it’s – the intention is that it would – basically it impacts your response to the virus so it would mean that people weren’t having serious and life-threatening responses but they may still be able to pass the virus on to other people but that they’re not 100% sure on that at the moment.

Kathryn:       Yeah.  Yeah, of course.  I was going to say, just from what you were saying there as well, I think it’s absolutely incredible what the scientists and the medical community have been able to do and the fact that –

Helen:         Great isn’t it, in that period of time!

Kathryn:       I know and the vaccine numbers are – they’re incredible ‘cos they’re like way, way above target aren’t they and I like the fact as well that some of them are just – I’ve seen people on Twitter and they’re just like, “We had some spare vaccines at the end of the day so we just started ringing people up and just saying –”

Helen:         Yeah.

Kathryn:       “Come for one,” and they’re just like, “We’re not wasting anything.”  I thought, I’m really glad there’s that kind of common sense amongst it all as well, you know, just sort of like – just to go, “Right, we’ve got some spare, everyone for today is done, let’s just get whoever we can in and let’s just get everyone vaccinated as soon as possible.”  I think it’s brilliant.

Helen:         The medical profession are amazing aren’t they?  To be dealing with what they’re dealing with in terms of not just the Covid response but then the strain on the NHS as well generally that that’s created to then also take on the vaccine program and to be, you know, delivering that in such a well-organised way is just, yeah they’re phenomenal, hats off to all of those people.

Kathryn:       Absolutely.  Something we haven’t touched upon that I was wondering if we could quickly touch on is long Covid.  Now I’ve got a few people that I know who’ve had long Covid.

Helen:         Yeah.

Kathryn:       And I’m not sure – for them it almost – it almost kind of seemed as if it was presenting itself of kind of like chronic fatigue syndrome.  I don’t know, is that kind of what would be – is that kind of like a usual version of the long Covid or is there like other kind of things that are presenting themselves?  And possibly if you could just explain what that is kind of showing itself as at the moment?

Helen:         Yeah, so it is showing itself as a kind of post-viral fatigue-type symptoms but the symptoms can be really wide and varying so respiratory symptoms like shortness of breath, fatigue, neurological symptoms, headaches and the severity of those symptoms can vary as well and – so something that’s really interesting with long Covid is that it’s not just impacting people that have had severe Covid. It can impact people who have had a reasonably mild episode of Covid –

Kathryn:       Oh right.

Helen:         And that makes it hard to understand who, you know, who is going to be susceptible to that and as individuals ourselves but, you know, if we were to get the virus that’s a difficult thing and also from an underwriting perspective, that’s a difficult thing as well so it does seem to be affecting women more than men.

Kathryn:       Oh right.

Helen:         And the mechanics of that again aren’t known but yeah, it’s certainly one of the longer term risks that we need to be looking at in underwriting and how do we – how do we, you know, understand who is likely to be impacted by that, what are the long-term risks of that and then how do we reflect that in our underwriting approaches as well?  So yeah, it’s a very topical one.

Kathryn:       Yeah, absolutely, absolutely.  Well looking forward then, let’s look at this year coming up.  Hopefully it’s going to be a much, much better year than 2020.  There’s going to be a lot of advisers listening and they’re going to be sort of wondering when things might start getting back to normal underwriting-wise.  I’m sure that that is not going to be an easy answer especially as we have new strains popping up and, you know, I think, you know, we’re at a stage where, you know, sort of like the amount of people who are being – is it the amount of people being diagnosed with it is possibly starting to decrease a bit but then the hospital admissions are increasing?

Helen:         Yeah.

Kathryn:       It’s all still very much up in the air but what would you – what are your thoughts for the year to come?

Helen:         Yeah I’m feeling positive, you know, I know we’re in a difficult position right now.  Obviously we’re in lockdown, the numbers are not great but we are starting to see the impact of the lockdown with some of the diagnosis numbers coming down and the vaccine program is really the thing that’s the light at the end of the tunnel for all of us isn’t it?  So it’s being rolled out at a pace like we’ve already spoken about and although the fact that people now need to wait 12 weeks between their two doses and they need to have two doses to have that kind of full level of protection does elongate the timeline a bit between where we might be able to start changing things underwriting-wise.

When you look at the numbers from the Government in terms of their estimations of how many people are going to have the vaccines and by what point, they’re talking about all of the very highest risk people having had the vaccine by mid-February, everybody over 50 having had the vaccine by mid-March and the rest of us having had the vaccine by September so the risk changes significantly once those higher risk people have had their vaccines so I really don’t think it’s unreasonable to be expecting things to be starting to change in Q2.  So I know that probably still feels like quite a long time away but also, you know, we do have this – we have the light at the end of the tunnel and yeah, I’m feeling optimistic that things will, you know, start to change by that point in time.  I think one thing I would say is that, in the same way that the hospitals aren’t going to go from having full Covid wards to having no people in them, I suspect it won’t be the case that underwriting philosophies go from being what they are now to immediately back to what they were pre-Covid.  I think there’ll be some kind of stepping in there and obviously we don’t know what that looks like just yet but yeah, I expect there to be some kind of stepped approach but that yeah, Q2 would be a reasonable time to be expecting things to change.

Kathryn:       Well that sounds brilliant.  I think we’ll all have our fingers crossed but obviously we won’t hold you to that Helen.

Helen:         Don’t hold me to that yet!

Kathryn:       Let’s just wait and see what happens with everything, just we never know at this moment do we?  I don’t think there’s much that can shock us going forward this year which kind of feels like there’s lots of things happening that in any kind of usual time period, we’d all be like absolutely either mortified or completely shocked and we wouldn’t stop talking about it for weeks ‘cos it would just be such a shock and then because of this past year it’s just kind of like, “Yeah, that’s just – well it’s just 2020 isn’t it so anything could have happened?”

Helen:         Yeah, anything goes!

Kathryn:       Yeah, aliens could have landed and we’d just be like, “Well, it’s 2020, it was going to happen this year wasn’t it?”  But obviously we’ve spoken a lot there about Covid so thank you so much for going through that and obviously helping me understand it more and I hope helping our listeners understand it too.  So what do you think – roughly – so, you know, like not Covid for a little bit. What do you think we’re going to be seeing in underwriting in 2021?  What’s sort of like your thought of just generally how – I mean obviously, we know we talked about the Q2 thing but just generally, what’s your thoughts on what’s going to happen?

Helen:         Yeah I think it will be a really big year for underwriting again.  You know, obviously Covid will continue to be a big focus and part of that will be underwriters looking at what’s gone on in 2020 and how can we learn from some of that as well?  So with evidence gathering for example, where there’s been a necessity to use customer-supplied evidence, well what can we learn from that to put into normal practice to make it easier for people where we need medical evidence?  So I think there’ll be a lot of reflection and learning on what’s gone before because we need to – like you were saying at the start of the call, we need to take the positives right?  We need to learn and take things where we can and that will be a positive that will come from this situation.

With evidence gathering as well, I think there will be a big focus on electronic evidence gathering so partly because of Covid and it being easier for GP surgeries to – and quicker for GP surgeries to complete the electronic reports and partly because that’s the industry – the direction the industry has been trying to go in anyway and I feel there’s a momentum building within the ABI and the PDG wanting to get involved in, you know, this kind of shared goal of how do we increase electronic report uptake so I think there’ll be good progress made on that with us all being behind it so some industry collaboration there.

Kathryn:       Absolutely.  I think what’s interesting about that as well is that’s something obviously we really welcome because, you know, we have so many instances and I’m sure we can’t be the only firm obviously we often do see the GP reports or medical records for clients.

Helen:         Yeah.

Kathryn:       And we find – it’s not a criticism at all of the NHS or anything, I would never, ever do that because I’m here because of the NHS, you know, they’re absolutely amazing.  But the amount of errors that are in these reports is incredible, you know, it could just be, you know, tucked away somewhere that somebody’s, you know, been diagnosed with something and it’s just an error in the document that, you know, they’ve never had that condition.  You know, ‘cos you speak to people –

Helen:         Yeah.

Kathryn:       And just say, “Well you never told me that you had this,” and they go, “Well I never had this, what’s –”  You know, and then you have to challenge it and get it all changed and get letters of correction for it and I think we need to try and make it easier for people to be able to see – and also data protection-wise, the laws that have come in, for people to be able see what’s been recorded about them because another thing that kind of worries me as well is that, you know, with all the cases of people that go straight through online as well without any kind of advice or any kind of medical reports, whilst that’s brilliant, again I kind of think, well could there be something in those medical reports that’s in there inaccurately that actually when the claim comes around, there could be quite a big issue because they’ve been unaware of it.  But yeah, sorry that’s a completely different – I’ve just gone off on a complete side project there.

Helen:         You are right though, like – and there’s definitely a long game there isn’t there with the NHS digitisation once we’ve got – once it’s, you know, accurate and also we’ve got a really quick and easy mechanism for getting hold of customers’ information electronically, then you can do that at a much larger scale and then that does give you this claims protection as such that you’ve already checked stuff out at underwriting stage so it’s much easier then at claims stage which is good for all of us, you know, it’s good from an underwriting perspective.  It helps with our application form and making sure that we’re asking the right questions in the right way.  It’s good for you as distributors because you can understand how to position things with customers to get those disclosures and then it’s really good for the customer because it gives them some reassurance as well that, “Yeah, we’ve already checked that stuff out and we’re happy that everything’s matched up.”  So yeah, there’s a definite – there’s a good long game there for sure.  We’ve just got to get to a point where the technology’s there and the GP surgeries are able to and happy to kind of complete reports in an electronic way.

Kathryn:       Yeah definitely and is there anything else sort of that you’re thinking for the next year that you’ll be focusing on?

Helen:         Yeah I think the other big thing that we’ll see will be the work on mental health with the kind of result of the – so everyone’s kind of signing up to the ABI mental health standards and that will involve insurers making changes to their processes and their underwriting.  I think we’ll see some really positive changes but also positive conversations so just a lot more openness and transparency around that ‘cos that can be one of the blockers, right, that it’s –

Kathryn:       Yeah.

Helen:         Just not clear what’s going on behind the scenes sometimes so specifically in relation to mental health but also more generally I think we’ll see more of that transparency that we’re already starting to see from underwriting across the industry.

Kathryn:       Absolutely and as I’m sure you’re aware, I’ll be very, very happy to see discussions about mental health happening because one of the things I’ve always said and even before 2020, is that thing of like if you ask somebody, “Have you ever felt anxious or stressed?”  You know, I can’t imagine anyone can really say no to that, you know –

Helen:         Yeah.

Kathryn:       I think we’ve all, you know, it depends upon the level of anxiety and stress, you know, we all can have that, you know, when you go for your driver’s test, you’re probably a little bit anxious, when you go for your GCSEs, you’re probably a little bit anxious so I find it hard to sort of have that yes or no question and I think after 2020, I could be wrong but I doubt that nobody has felt at some point a bit unsettled in this last year, whether or not that’s physically or mentally, you know, I think it would be – I think it would be quite unusual not to have.  I think it’s a very natural and healthy response to feel a little anxious and a little stressed.  So – but I think as we always say, it comes down to then potentially how you are able to process that and focus that going forward.

Helen:         Yeah I think you’re right.  The pandemic brings that into focus.  It’s been a longstanding conversation but a pandemic really brings that into focus because insurers do need to be able to differentiate between what is a normal response to this incredibly bizarre situation we all find ourselves in versus what is a diagnosable medical condition that, you know, has a different risk associated with it.

Kathryn:       Yeah.

Helen:         So that will certainly be an area of focus for insurers to have a better understanding of that and apply appropriate philosophies in those two distinct camps.

Kathryn:       Absolutely.  Well thank you so much for joining me Helen, and thank you everybody for listening and I say, it really, really helped me to understand Covid a bit more so thank you.  I’m going to be back in about two weeks’ time and I’m going to be chatting with Matt Rann and quite well actually, we’ll just segway straight into this – we’re going to be chatting about mental health and underwriting so that’s quite good that we just tied that up perfectly with you mentioning those.  If you’d like a reminder of the next episode, please do drop me a message on social media or visit the website www.practical-protection.co.uk.  And don’t forget that if you’ve listened to this as part of your work, you can claim a CPD certificate on the website too.  Thank you so much for joining me Helen.

Helen:         Thanks Kathryn.

Kathryn:       Bye.

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