The Financial Services Authority has recently carried out a review of the way in which information and advice is given to retail customers purchasing financial products. One of the products which they considered was the sale of Critical Illness Cover.
Critical Illness Cover is often taken out by people taking out a mortgage, usually as part of a term assurance policy. It may also be purchased as a stand-alone product. The policy will pay out a lump sum if the borrower becomes seriously ill with one of a list of specified illnesses, commonly cancer, heart conditions, stroke etc.; this will help with loss of earnings due to the illness and general life-style changes which may be the result of the illness.
Firms selling critical illness cover are required to comply with certain standards and although these are being met reasonably well, the survey showed that there could be some improvement in the way in which they could help the customer to gain a better understanding of the product.
The FSA have visited firms and employed mystery shoppers to look specifically at how compliancy is working out with regards to sales processes when selling critical illness cover.
Supervision visits were paid to 42 firms. Whilst in the main these were financial and mortgage advisers, they also included banks, building societies and insurers. The market research company, Research International, carried out 80 mystery shops to 51 firms in total, to report on what actually occurs.
Director of Retail Firms, Sarah Wilson, has said that whilst many of the findings were positive, a few problems had been identified. Initiatives have been launched in order to deal with them. The fair treatment of customers is of prime importance, especially with regard to making policy application forms and documents more easily understood. So far these changes seem to be helpful.
Critical illness cover is, however, complex and some of the problems cropped up in the context of the financial promotion of the schemes and general insurance documentation. Customers sometimes have difficulty in comprehending exactly what they are being sold. Therefore it is difficult for them to assess whether this is the correct cover for them, or whether a payment of income protection product would be more suitable.
The needs of the customer have to be taken into account and there should be a careful assessment of the type of protection which they need. However, where there were two or more types of policy, the cost was sometimes the only aspect taken into account when recommending the most suitable one. Other factors may have been left out of the equation, such as conditions covered or whether there were other products more suited to a particular client’s requirements.
Miss-selling is a risk, but most firms had taken reasonable measures to manage this. There were found to be good training programmes and risk based monitoring.
As is the case with prime mortgage payment products, customers have time to consider their options before they make the decision to purchase the cover.
The results of the survey offer some reassurance that the needs of the customer are being protected and any changes to be implemented can only offer change for the better.