The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner

In the last 37 years, I have had relatively few disability claims. However, in the last two years, I have had to handle three claims, all for depression. These particular claims, because they were emotionally oriented, gave me a very valuable insight into the claims process. So when Richard Klipin asked me to pen an article for the “Claims in Focus” feature, I saw it as the opportunity to express concern over a couple of attitudes which I think are detrimental to the life insurance industry in particular, and only reinforce the public’s negative attitude towards insurance claims in general.

Firstly, I have always maintained the attitude that my credibility as a Financial Adviser stands or falls at claim time! In one of the claims dealt with I had the need to meet with the Claims Manager of a major life insurance company to express my concern over a couple of things, which I’ll touch on in a moment. However, at the conclusion of that particular meeting, I thanked him for his time and his assistance and he then made a comment which absolutely staggered me! He advised me that he, too, appreciated the opportunity to meet with me because his experience was that approximately only 20% of Advisers ever get involved in the claims process! What? Yes, with that particular life office, 80% of claims are dealt with directly between the client and the life office! How does a person on a depression claim handle that form of communication?

As an aside, I attended an industry seminar a couple of years ago and was horrified to hear a speaker indicate that he/his firm charges a fee to handle every disability claim. Putting aside the trail commissions received over the years, I was left wondering how that Adviser would justify to a depression claimant how he was going to help him with his claim for a monthly benefit but, at the same time, was also going to reduce that same benefit by some sort of a service fee.

There is no question that claim handling is time-consuming, but this is where we get the chance to reward our long-standing clients for the number of years that they have continued to do business with us; in the case of a relatively new client, the opportunity to effectively justify our reputation of putting our client’s interests first. Our clients get to see us demonstrate that we are taking time away from making calls and attending meetings that could very well generate income, just to be with them.

Back to my meeting with the claims manager. In a six-month period leading up to that meeting , the claimant told me on three separate occasions he wanted to withdraw from the claims process because he could not handle the “insensitive correspondence” he was receiving from the life office. As an aside, this individual was a “captain of industry-type individual”, so no shrinking violet when it came to standing up for his rights. However, any Adviser who has handled depression claims knows just how emotionally devastating they can get . From the time he first explained his medical condition to me, I could see he definitely needed someone like me in his corner (fancy my having to tell him at the time I’d be happy to help, but I would be charging a fee for that assistance!)

It was after his third request to cancel out of the claim that I arranged to meet with the Claims Manager and took along with me the templated-insensitive correspondence. To his credit, the Manager took the time to carefully examine each piece of correspondence and commented that “obviously templated correspondence does not fit every occasion”. He promised me he would look into a review of this type of correspondence.

I might also add that when I was assisting my client to complete the initial claim form, I decided to contact the life office in advance, find out who the case manager would be and see if I could have a meeting with that person to give him the background on my client etc. When I called to speak with him he was not in so I left a message for him to call me back. When he called I was out, but when my PA explained why I was calling, he advised her “tell Mr Collins that I don’t meet with Advisers. If he needs me, we can talk over the phone.” Welcome to the public relations arm of that life office!

So what is my point? In the first place, after my client eventually returned to the workforce, he took the opportunity to tell me that there is no way he could have got through the claims process without my help. He has told me the same thing on several occasions since. That reinforces my desire to continue to be involved in a Practice which is happy to be part of the 20%!

Secondly, by being personally involved with claims, we Advisers get the opportunity to influence that process—I don’t believe that a claimant dealing direct with the life office would achieve the same result. Where there is a problem, the Adviser can either deal with the symptom or the cause. In my case, by going to the Claims Manager, I left that meeting satisfied that I was able to have the cause addressed.

Finally, we will always have to live with the negativity of the financial press – when there is a problem with a claim, they are happy to highlight it because bad news sells. However, it’s what the client thinks of us that really counts . And when we go into bat for them at claim time I am of the opinion that we can’t help but raise the professional image of the Financial Adviser.