A project that highlights just what can happen if a serious illness suddenly strikes explains the broader value of insurance. Maggie Williams reports

health insurance

The 7Families project, run by the Income Protection Task Force (IPTF), is an innovative approach to explaining the role of income protection. The charity-led campaign provides a tax-free income for one year to seven people who have lost their income because of a serious or long-term illness or disability.

The aim is to highlight the need for people to plan financially in case they become too ill to earn a living.

As these five key findings show, there is no doubt that it has helped to raise the profile of a benefit that is too often overlooked and under-valued by employers and staff alike.

1 It’s not just about the money

Paul Pickford and his wife, Vicky, was one of the seven families involved in the project. He suffered a brain stem stroke while working at the car dealership that he ran. As a result, he was paralysed from the neck down, unable to speak, but unaffected cognitively.

In addition to access to rehabilitation services, he has been able to use some of the money he received to invest in IT equipment that will enable him to earn an income in the future.

“I was able to tap into a wealth of knowledge and advice,” he says. “Being part of the project enabled me to upgrade IT, which is already helping to provide income. While it is only small now, I hope to grow this, hopefully enough to come off benefits completely.” Pickford also points to his rehab as another important element: “Taking part meant I was able to keep up rehab intensity for longer.”

“Financial support is vital, but the need for a broader network of support and signposting is also great,” says Nick Homer, head of market management, corporate risk at Zurich. “When someone has a long-term injury, the mechanism of support falls away once you’re not in the workplace. The insurer becomes your key contact. It’s important that it’s not just financial support, but also engagement.”

Christine Husbands, managing director of support services Red Arc, says: “While all of the families appreciated the financial benefits of the project, it was surprising how strongly they valued the support services from the insurers and other third party providers.”

She adds: “It also demonstrated the wide range of non-financial support needed to get people back into financial security, whether by returning to their original role, retraining for a new role or by adjusting their lifestyles.”

From an employer perspective, too, losing staff to long-term absence can have serious consequences. “The employees that a business retains over time become increasingly important – you risk losing stakeholder relationships as well as productivity,” says Homer.

2 Industry-wide collaboration can work

“One of the biggest lessons we learned was that collaboration, even between competitors, can work,” says Kevin Carr, managing director of Carr Consulting and Communications, which project-managed 7Families. “We had more than 20 companies joining together to raise awareness of income protection.”

It also helped the income protection industry as a whole to understand best practice around communications, says Chris Morgan of digital group risk insurer Ellipse. “The industry can learn from the way 7Families used digital marketing really well to get the message across.

“The social media campaign was very successful,” Morgan says. He also points to the project’s use of video. “The fact the 7Families videos were filmed as a story made them more memorable, distinctive and personal.” He adds: “All these techniques can be used to promote the take-up of cover in a group scheme, especially in voluntary ones where staff are choosing whether to buy or not.”

3 Real life examples bring the benefits home

“Group income protection might only kick in to support a small number of individuals, but it has powerful, visible knock-on effects,” says Homer. If employees see that a colleague has been supported through long-term illness, it can help to boost engagement.

Pickford adds a different, personal perspective. “People are unaware of how circumstances could affect them, and the chance to help them understand was a huge motivation for me,” he says.

“Educating people on the reality of finding myself, through no fault of my own, in a predicament that I’d never thought I’d be in, with all that entails, seemed and still seems to me a worthy message.”

Morgan of Ellipse agrees: “Real-life examples make a huge difference in explaining how valuable the cover is.”

The independence of the 7Families stories helped the project, in his view. “The stories weren’t led by a major brand, they were real and personal – that made them highly credible.”

However, employers also have to play their part in communicating the benefits. Morgan says: “Group risk products are the foundation of many staff benefits plans, but perhaps they’re taken for granted. We know employees value this cover, but it is often the least communicated benefit.”

4 Income protection needs a joined-up approach

Keeping stakeholders co-ordinated, connected and supportive lies at the heart of good income protection practice. Making sure that everyone involved, such as medical practitioners, GPs and other third party bodies are co-ordinated in the support they give is vital. “That came out clearly in the 7Families project,” says Homer of Zurich. “It doesn’t help anyone to get better when that isn’t in place.”

That joined-up approach includes the employer. Homer believes closer, better collaboration could help employers get more from their investment.

He says: “There are still many employers who are shy about what they provide and what it delivers. There are also far too many employers who don’t tell us soon enough about absences. Not enough have processes in place to trigger effective use, and as a result they are not reaping full benefits. Employers shouldn’t be waiting beyond a month to inform the insurer. Everything is less effective then, and that’s a missed opportunity.”

5 There’s still a long way to go

“Perhaps we need a 7Employers,” says Morgan. “Something that similarly takes real-life examples, but adds the workplace element. It would make employers think about how they would handle a serious absence.”

That’s certainly one angle that the Income Protection Task Force could consider. Discussions on the next steps, or follow-on projects, will be happening over the summer. One option includes a TV-style debate with experts and an audience, to examine some of the most important aspects of income protection, and make the videoed findings available to employers and advisers.

When it comes to encouraging employers to offer income protection to their staff, it’s also early days. Homer says: “Income protection is still perceived as a top-end perk, but that’s changing and there’s an understanding that it’s more than that. It’s a part of employee risk management strategy, including health and safety.”

However, as 7Families has shown, the difference it can make to individuals is substantial.