Scottish Widows' Johnny Timpson talks to The Journal about his lifelong interest in insurance, and his passion for helping others
- Starting out: Johnny began his career in insurance through a three-year training programme at Commercial Union before joining Scottish Widows in 1987.
- Head of operations: He recruited Dr Marius Barnard, a cardiac surgeon and the inventor of critical illness insurance, to join the Scottish Widows protection team.
- Solid foundations: Johnny lives on a coastal small holding with dogs, cats, sheep and hens and, in Grand Designs fashion, he and his wife, Anne, built their own home.
From a very young age, insurance was a career that really appealed to Scottish Widows protection specialist Johnny Timpson. And, while he is the first to admit that he does not conform to the industry stereotype, his experience means he is passionate about ensuring others benefit from insurance, whether as a career or through better access to the cover it provides.
"I'm one of the few people in this industry who always wanted to work in insurance," says Mr Timpson. "My father worked in the industry so insurance matters were always being discussed over breakfast and dinner, and I remember going into his office with him when I was five years old.
I found it fascinating."
His first steps were at Commercial Union where, as part of a three-year training programme, he was able to spend a few months in each department. Life insurance stood out and after working in various technical roles, he was approached by Scottish Widows in the late 1980s to take up the position of junior sales inspector. "I've been involved in so many interesting projects," he adds. "I've worked in direct sales, on partnerships with the likes of Virgin Money and Asda, in bancassurance and with intermediaries. Across all these channels, one of my key objectives is to improve access to insurance."
This passion meant Mr Timpson was appointed to the role of disability champion for the insurance industry and profession at the Department for Work and Pensions in February. This comes with a remit of improving access to insurance and careers in insurance. "I'm the son of a mother who was disabled, so I was always conscious of the impact that disability can have," he explains.
As an example, he points to a recent report by charity Scope that found disabled people pay a financial penalty on everyday living costs. On average this works out at £570 a month, with one in five disabled people paying more than £1,000 extra every month.
Although he is pushing for further change, including the removal of income protection benefit from welfare benefits means-testing, Mr Timpson says the industry is already taking some important steps to ensure insurance does not add to this burden on disabled people. As well as launching protection products designed for individuals with diabetes or a high body mass index, improvements in underwriting have also helped.
"The protection industry has been great at shouting about its claims statistics but it has not done enough to promote the improvements it's made in underwriting outcomes," he adds. "In the past, just about anyone who had a health problem or disability would have been declined but, through better understanding of the risk, acceptance levels across all protection products are now pretty high."
Advisers also have an important role to play in ensuring that people do not miss out on the opportunity to take out cover. "There needs to be more collaboration in the market, with advisers referring cases that might be outside their expertise to specialist advisers," Mr Timpson says. "It's about building professionalism: a GP has no problem referring a patient to a specialist when additional expertise is needed and we need to replicate this in the financial advice sector."
He believes the introduction of the Insurance Distribution Directive later this year will give the industry a great opportunity to focus on continuing professional development and to drive through these changes.
While his work in protection means campaigning for people with disabilities and health issues is a key objective, Mr Timpson is actively involved in making insurance fairer for other groups too. This includes his work as an advisory panel member for the Chartered Insurance Institute's Insuring Women's Futures programme. "More women than ever are employed in the UK but there is a huge disparity in the numbers that are protected, compared with men," he explains. "An important part of changing this is to encourage more women to work in the insurance sector, especially in leadership roles."
As well as initiatives such as supporting women back into work, he would also like to see the industry engage with woman more generally. "We need to change the distribution models to reach more women," he explains. "Ninety percent of advisers are like me but, as well as encouraging more women into these roles, there's no reason why we don't consider how we engage with them through other channels, such as digital."
Mr Timpson would also like to see diversity and inclusion becoming a key consideration when assessing any insurtech and fintech initiatives. "Any development needsto embrace accessibility," he adds. "It wouldn't be healthy to overlook this."
But, whether ensuring greater access to cover, or creating a more diverse and inclusive industry, Mr Timpson believes the insurance sector should look to one of its key characteristics. "Insurance is an enabler," he explains. "We're here to help people protect what matters and achieve their goals. We need to make sure we offer this opportunity to everyone."