The new Public Trust Index from the CII examines how trust in insurance can be measured for the benefit of members and the wider public.
Since 1912 the CII's Royal Charter has obliged us as the major professional body for insurance to build public trust. Fast forward over a century and the publication of the Strategic manifesto -- the 'Road to 2021', has renewed the CII's commitment to supporting members to rise to the challenges and seize the opportunities of the future based on building trust. We have gone about fulfilling this promise by undertaking research to answer what is actually meant when we, as a professional body, refer to 'trust' in insurance, and how exactly this trust can be measured for the benefit of CII members and the wider public, both now and in the future.
We firstly commissioned academic Katherine Hawley from the University of St Andrews to reach a practical working definition of trust, and to clarify what we mean by the simple words often used interchangeably to describe this relationship.
Professor Hawley describes trust as the product of two ingredients: competence and 'basic good will'. In our context, the more technically competent or qualified an insurance professional is, the greater the expectation that that individual will behave in an ethical manner. Competence can otherwise be a double-edged sword, as without a moral underpinning it can be used to the detriment rather than for the benefit of the customer. This is where the boundary between services provided by a professional and other services lies, as with the former something happens because the person who's responsible for making it happen has a moral commitment to doing so. Professionals have to bring an element of good will and ethical behaviour to the table to achieve a level of trust.
But what is the meaning of 'trust' to consumers, and does this differ from what it means to the insurance profession? Is it a word that consumers would necessarily use to articulate the sorts of relationships they have or want to have with the organisations they deal with?
To explore the world of the consumer, we conducted 40 telephone interviews -- 20 customers with who have travel, buildings &contents, motor and/or employers liability insurance, in addition to 20 small businesses. As part of the interviews, the participants were asked to film short videos of themselves to reveal what matters to them in their daily lives. Through finding out about their life story, we were able to contextualise what it is that makes insurance products relevant and important, and what really matters to them in the process of buying or claiming. These same participants were then asked to reflect on their insurance experiences in order to consider what the profession could do differently to better support their lives.
'BUILDING BLOCKS' TO BUILD TRUST
9 key themes or 'building blocks of trust' emerged from the language the consumers themselves used in the video blogs -- 6 relating to buying and holding insurance, and three associated with claims.
BUILDING BLOCKS OF TRUSTS -- BUYING & HOLDING:
Confidence -- Certainty that my insurer will look after me
Price -- Getting the best value for my situation
Loyalty -- My loyalty is recognised
Ease -- It's easy for me to get the protection I need
Relationship -- My insurer cares about me during the policy term
BUILDING BLOCKS OF TRUST -- CLAIMS
Speed -- Getting me back on my feet quickly
Respect -- Treat me as a fellow human being and not as a potential fraudster
Control -- I have a meaningful say how my claim is settled
These themes and opportunity statements were then tested in an online pilot consumer survey of 500 consumers and 500 small businesses, which was then followed by a wider survey of 2000 general insurance customers and 1000 small businesses from a nationally representative sample. This allowed us to capture the relative level of importance that customers attached to each theme and opportunity statement against their perception of insurer performance, and reach an 'opportunity score' for each.
In order to achieve a balance of perspectives we also sought the views of senior insurance executives across the market as well as from the regulator through 10 in-depth 'reality check' interviews, and discussed some of the main findings further at a high-level roundtable with senior practitioners across the CII membership.
The 'Overall themes for consumers' graph highlights how at present, 'Loyalty' and 'Relationship -- my insurer cares about me during the policy term' stand out as the themes where the performance of the profession is poorest.
Our analysis is consistent with the renewed attention that has been dedicated to the treatment of existing customers in the FCA Business Plan for 2018-19, and how from the perspective of the regulator, competition in a market -- if working well -- should not overly disadvantage existing customers over new ones. Despite the influence of consumer groups and wider regulatory pressures encouraging the use of price comparison websites to keep insurance companies 'on their toes', our research demonstrates that price in fact is not as important to consumers as one might assume, and an over-fixation on price (rather than value) has gone some way to erode the insurer-consumer relationship.
Consumers want to stay with the same insurer, but don't believe their insurer does enough to recognise or value their loyalty. On the contrary, many feel as though their loyalty is being punished or exploited. So according to our research it is the effectiveness with which the profession tackles the broken system of dual pricing -- the policy of charging excessive differences between new customer premium prices and that at renewal for long standing customers -- where the biggest opportunity to build trust in insurance lies at present. It is up to insurers to recognise and reciprocate their customer's loyalty for relationships to feel genuine.
CLAIMS -- A SUCCESS STORY
There are also areas of importance to the customer where insurers are performing well which deserve recognition. The profession rises to the different challenges posed by what to the customer is the 'moment of truth', to pay out on a claim when conditions of a policy have been met. The conundrum inherent in the very nature of insurance is that it is those who have been through the claims process that have a more favourable opinion of their insurer -- yet the majority of the public do not have personal experience of reaching this stage where insurers are able to evidence their competence. Insurance products are rarely 'used' in the way that retail banking is used for example, so it must be remembered that the main interaction consumers have with insurance providers is one-way: paying for a mostly invisible benefit. Opinions are instead often informed by damaging experiences at renewal, which is where the insurance 'experience' is currently weakest in the eyes of consumer. This significant group within society -- the consumers of insurance products that haven't claimed on a policy -offer another clear opportunity to build trust.
CREATIVITY PAYS OFF
The theme of 'Relationship' is considered an area where insurance providers do not match customer expectations, and yet according to our analysis there is no desire on the part of the customer to become best friends with their insurer, so achieving the level of brand identification that other retail sectors might enjoy is unlikely. This in part explains why consumers do not consider 'Relationship' to be as important when compared with other themes, but 'Confidence' or a certainty that they are covered for what they really seek and know extras will be beneficial to their needs -- or in other words, to have the peace of mind that they are paying for a service provided by professionals, is indeed critical.
Consumers desire information from their insurer that provides them with an additional sense of safety and security -- which doesn't have a price -- on top of the policy they have bought, as well as guidance on how to avoid losing what is considered irreplaceable. This is where creativity on the part of the provider can really pay off in building trust, and why product innovations such as the use of telematics in providing instant feedback to improve driver behaviour and therefore lower premiums are becoming increasingly popular, and help combat the perception that insurers are only acting in self-interest.
"It is up to insurers to recognise and reciprocate their customers' loyalty for relationships to feel genuine."
NO 'ONE OFF'
The CII's Public Trust Index is not going to be a one-off project that disappears after generating a few headlines. As we have committed to conducting this research on an annual basis, its real value will emerge when we are able to demonstrate how the response of the profession to the key opportunities to build trust has improved customer sentiment, and how these opportunities shift year on year. We will be talking to members over the next few months about how they might be able to use the insights we have collected to align themselves much more closely around customers by focusing efforts and investment on improving the experience in the areas where it matters to them. This is a nuanced conversation with the public too, involving an acknowledgement of where the profession is performing well, as in the case of the ease with which an insurance products can now be transacted. But at present there is clearly a necessity for insurers to review this structural focus on price, rather than value, that has resulted in the unintended consequence of punishing customer loyalty.
This voluntary action would be more powerful than any new directive from a regulatory body, but firms will not be able to do this on their own. Trust can only be built together through galvanising a united profession, and as the sector's major professional body in the public interest the CII is ideally placed to lead this initiative.
To read more on the 'Public trust in insurance' research:
An introduction to the Public Trust Index by CII Chief Executive Sian Fisher
Academic brief by Professor Katherine Hawley of St Andrews University
'The challenge' by broadcaster, writer and author Liz Barclay