Lifesearch LifeSearch voted the Protection Intermediary of the Year for 2013 by Money Marketing magazine
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2013 LifeSearch Awards Opening Talk

Hello! Thank you all for coming to the 10th LifeSearch awards.

You all know, well many of you do, that I like to think I might change the industry for the better a bit, but I never quite manage it.

So there may be no industry advertising campaign, other than bits of Unum and Aviva brand building, which all helps Louise, don’t get me wrong, and there may still be 100’s of salesmen who claim not to be advisers while giving really bad advice to the gullible under the cover of your brands, and the public may still be buying less protection each year than the last,

but, but, but,

last year I challenged you all a bit about the high level of turnover in the top jobs in the protection sector and asked that you all should stop career managing and sort out the companies you are already working for, and lo’ you have!

Unlike 2011, 2012 saw almost no top exec churn. Of course Lucky Trevor Matthews moved on after his hat-trick, but hey, when you are an industry’s answer to Jesus, you have to keep working new miracles of shareholder confidence! But that was about it.

So a stable leadership year, not because of my chirruping from the side-lines of course, but rather because of the truly powerful game-changers, the ones with no interest whatsoever in your and my P&Ls or payrolls or careers, the ones who deal only in theoretical perfection, the well-meaning, but monstrous judges and juries of the ECJ and FSA and whoever it is that decides on I-E and the daddy of them all, Solvency 2.

It is they who have had your noses to the grindstone trying to avoid catastrophic change management failure, and sensibly worrying far more about cocking up your CV than your next move up the ladder.

The effort and cost of all of these changes has paralysed all new product development and focused all of us on survival, not strategy, and there is more to come, for the FCA threaten to make the FSA look positively laissez-faire when it comes to telling us how to run our businesses.

Pretty soon we might have to pay our laziest advisers the same as our most energetic, and perhaps charge you a fee for doing your distribution for you. Pretty soon the FCA might grant the ABI what might just be its darkest secretest wish, the ending of all scale independent distribution by a total ban on commission.

Of course I’m talking conspiracy theory nonsense Richard, but imagine a world where only those who could profit directly from premiums could distribute policies. Gissusajobmate!

So as ever, we plough on hoping the regulator will get it right as they did when leaving Protection out of the RDR originally, and that they’ll twig that it isn’t the way you are paid that governs the way you behave, but rather the culture you work in.

Retail banks weren’t evil because they paid bonuses, they were evil because some of their approach to product charging development and thus to their trusting customers was institutional cut throat sales sharkery.

It’s cultural change that should become the focus of our new post-modern regulator.

For rules always spawn unintended consequences. I’m not clever enough to write the book, but there is a credible logic in saying that the global financial crisis we are still living with was caused and made catastrophic by regulation itself.

It’s accepted that its root was the US sub-prime mortgage boom and bust, and that market took off when AIG seized a regulatory arbitrage opportunity when they realised they could lend mortgage money in ways that US banking regulations forbade banks doing. There you go!

By trying to control things you don’t like through law, not education and cultural enforcement, you often eventually create far worse pain than ever existed before you stepped in. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if Martin Wheatley saw that point and deployed MAS as effectively as once the ABI life committee dreamed of.

Ah well! Enough macro- whinging, forgive me, let’s focus on our local positives.

Steve Payne got to grips with his IT and it now runs like silk, Richard Verdin is recasting the labyrinthine systems he inherited and hoping the train will leave from his new platform on time, and he and Louise have IP,CIC and Life on the TV most nights, Iain Clarke is flat out trying to keep pace with LV’s booming motor division but is confident has a great play in the new markets, Deepak has found an old one to reinvent and work amazingly effectively, with a field sales force. Who’d have thought it. Darren Spring has Ageas making silk out of sow’s ears and Peter Hamilton at Zurich and Roger Edwards at Royal London are shaking their behemoths awake and Scottish Widows still threaten a return. The Friendly’s British and Exeter Family continue to grow market share, despite the consumer’s amazing reluctance to protect their income, and of course Beagle Street are certain they will change the world. They just might.

And you provider leaders may have come up with a different G-day plan each and every one, and made our lives a near impossible jigsaw. But never mind the pain of being a true independent, in the end we had choice and you handled it all pretty damn near faultlessly and what could have generated 1,000 complaints at LifeSearch generated about 10.

And your pricing currently seems to me to be like a market should be, different strokes for different folks. I like it that you are either unable or unwilling to re-start up the price war, long may that caution last.

It does consumers no good when their insurance is so underpriced that neither distributors nor manufacturers have the funds to effectively market the need for their products.

And so I hope that the regulatory lull is allowing you to spend all day every day working on innovation and differentiation and improvement. Or is it all Solvency 2 round by you? I read that the total spend will be around £4bn. Now that really is how perfecting markets sucks the very life out of them! Oops sorry macro-whinging again!

Are you are holding your first post G-day brainstorming sessions and are they are all about how you will differentiate yourselves so you can price properly? Like E-sure or Sheila’s wheels do, say! Did you see their returns to shareholders? That’s how you do it, not by being the cheapest date, but by being the most attractive. My hope is that you are all working on how to make different product and pricing and marketing strategies work boost your margins.

One way you might like to think about is trying to retain customers a bit better. Offer loyalty discounts perhaps, or other incentives like PruProtect do with increasing effectiveness. Or allow us to put policies in trust easily, not with 1970’s style documents, envelopes, stamps and ink; for trusts cut churn.

And how about all of you doing what the best of you do, telling us electronically as soon as you learn that a DD is going south, rather than telling us about a lapse when you claw back 3 months or more later. What the hell help is that!

And how about making reinstatement easy and attractive? In some cases your rules make rebroking always better for the client, and we hate it and so should you. Listen to the F&TRC Protection Forum and change your rules and cut your (and our) churn.

And what about respecting our relationship and reputation, by telling us when our customers call you to change something about their policy because they see your name on their bank statements, rather than stealing them off us by asking them if they want to deal with us at the same time as offering them a deal there and then direct! They’re our customers we sent to you, you should not hide behind systems deficits or worse still TCF, in pretending to police our relationship with our customers when finding fault with us, profits you. We are coming after this institutional theft, you have been warned!

Last year I wondered whether the theoretically perfect world the regulator sought might start to become practical perfection in 2013, and the huge cost of RDR thus prove worthwhile.

It’s perhaps too early to tell, but I wonder if you have seen a surge in those hoping to make a living by selling protection. I hope so, but I wonder if your distribution marketing team will lead you to support all of them, even those who you know will mislead consumers, or will your risk control team Click into action and Jump to stop you providing free credit to the incompetent and overambitious and not too bothered about the rules?

If you manufacturers control your distributors’ behaviours properly, our market could see genuine long-lasting quality supply side growth, and with products that are still very often sold not bought, that could drive genuine buy side growth.

In fact trust me on this. I’m a distributor. The consumer will buy more protection if more people are selling it. Lots more.

Trouble is the people selling it have to do so properly, or otherwise our collective reputation will continue to languish and the regulator will step in.

That need for quality control is why, a year ago I laid out a Protection Distributors Code of Conduct, designed to apply not just to advisers, but to all who distribute protection by any means. We gathered support for it’s five rules from 50 major firms right across distribution, and a steering committee has been appointed and had its inaugural meeting. It consists of one of each different type of Distributor:

  • D2C is represented by Mike Ward of
  • R2C non-advised by Luke Ashworth of
  • R2C advised model by me and LifeSearch
  • Independent FTF by Roy McLoughlin at Master Adviser
  • Tied FTF by Claire Limon of Countrywide.

And the Protection Review are acting as an honorary secretariat.

We think all Providers, especially those with their own in house distribution should join us, and we’ll be moving our agenda forward through this year now that G-Day is out of the way!

And now can I end by getting a little sentimental. Our little business started 15 years ago, and 10 years ago Kevin talked me into this do, because if we’re always telling you what you could do better, we should also recognise what’s being done really well.

Few things in our FS world last that long unscathed, so I’m really proud of our achievement. And I’m hugely proud of the LifeSearch team - We started by bidding against Mike Ward for space on the front page of Money Mail on Sunday and then became surely the largest player in the online lead buying market and now are positioned as an increasingly trusted service provider to the people who have serious marketing budgets and genuine consumer appeal, the price comparison sites.

We have adapted pretty damned fast to a market most akin to the shifting sands of the Kalahari. Stand still and you’re buried overnight.

Well we’ve kept moving, moving, moving, but always remembering the bit that I personally tell every person that comes to work at LifeSearch;

What we do is good, it’s good because it properly protects families and individuals, it’s life-changingly good for those who claim and because it helps keep families together and out of DSS land it’s good for our wider society.

So we should be proud and never do it badly. But as I say that to them I say it to you: what you do is good, good for all the people you do it for, and you should be as proud of what you do as we are of what we at LifeSearch do.

You could exist with us, but we could not exist without you. We are grateful and proud to be a part of your world.

So thank you for tolerating us and can I propose a toast in honour of our 10th awards, but not a toast to us, rather a toast to the most important person of all of us in our market…. the Protected Consumer!


We thought we should mark this Decade of awards and recognition by presenting a special award to the Protection Provider of the Decade.

Sadly, some aren’t here any more.

Two both came and went in the 10 years, Axa and Royal Liver.

Swiss Life left early, but Bupa and Unum disappeared too as Individual Protection brands, and more happily, NU became Aviva and Friends Prov got a life at last.

And even more happily there are several here now who didn’t exist 10 years ago, so well done Ageas, Beagle Street, Bright Grey, British Friendly, Exeter FF, Friends Life and Pru Protect

And some just stayed the course, L&G, Aegon, Zurich, Scots Provident, LV; while of course the reinsurers, who almost outnumber their clients, grind on in their mathematical remorselessness.

10 years ago the key awards went to


With L&G getting the gong for Best Overall

And over the 10 years the most awarded is the combination of the 3 within Friends Life with 28 awards total, if you allow it, which I don’t!

So of those who have remained corporately intact the leaders are:

L&G with 18 wins, LV= 9, Ageas 8, and Bright Grey and NU/Aviva 6 times.

But before we finish off today’s proceedings with our special presentation, may I ask you to recognise 2 colleagues who have served LifeSearch and the Protection Market fantastically well for these last 15 years.

My second ever recruit didn’t last long, he got into trouble with a Russian mail-order bride, bloody funny story, ask me in the bar!

But Brian Wilson was the first and Mark Lewis the third and they are now head of Advice Quality and IT respectively. Gentlemen, please come up and collect your winnings!

And so to the final presentation of the day.

The vote was made before we counted up the awards, and the winner was clear by miles. They face far stiffer competition these days, and will hopefully avoid resorting to the price war tactics they once preferred, but be it Electronic processing, Tele-Interviewing or Preferred Life Underwriting, they have led the way and have had a consistently strong proposition throughout the last ten years.

It therefore gives me great pleasure to give this award, Protection Provider of the Decade, to L&G!

LifeSearch Protection Awards 2013 >>>

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Our Awards
LifeSearch wins another prestigious award for 2013

Best Protection Adviser
9 years in the last 10
for advice, service, innovation

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