It’s time for a story

The protection industry remains immersed in debate about whether the best way to transmit the many worthy things it tries to do is through statistics or stories.

What we call "Income Protection" is in reality sickness insurance or even inability to work due to sickness insurance. The real life events that have occurred to me and will be happening to many other families this month remind me of the need to truly help people.

As a peace keeper and pragmatist, I believe both are necessary if we are to succeed in gaining and keeping the trust of an understandably suspicious public.

I am sceptical about the value of fictional stories to support sales and marketing campaigns, however well-intentioned. I think the integrity and detail personal stories bring make all the difference in connecting with individuals in similar situations.

With this in mind I would like to share some things that happened to some people I love this January.

Great Grandad Bill

Bill was my wife's step-Grandad, and our children's Great Grandad. Great Grandad Bill was in his early 80s and had lost his wife of over 50 years in October last year. She was a lovely lady who had diabetes and in her later days dementia, and he was always by her side, putting her first.

In those three months he mourned the loss of his soulmate and life partner and began to establish a new future for himself. Our children spent more time with him including at my wife's father's birthday party. The day after Grandad's party we were shocked to learn that Great Grandad Bill had died having his morning shower. This led to the first conversations with our five-year-old son about death and all the various difficult and thought-provoking questions that need to be answered.

More fundamentally it's made me consider what we really want insurance to be for. Most protection propositions act as a safety net for those who fall, to stop them just before they hit the ground.

Great Auntie Pat

Auntie Pat was the healthiest 86-year-old you're ever likely to meet. She swam every day, was a prolific gardener and had that mischievous twinkle in her eye, more commonly seen in a cheeky child than someone of her experience. On New Year's Eve we were therefore shocked to be told that she was in hospital with Guillan Barre syndrome. This unusual disease is one I know about as an underwriter but hoped never to encounter in my real life.

In the four weeks that followed, Auntie Pat remained in hospital and had multiple blood transfusions. Throughout this time she remained on a ventilator with paralysis of her limbs and limited movement in her face. At the end of January she was asked to make a decision as to whether she would like to continue to be on the ventilator or to have the ventilator taken away in palliative care.

My son Alex

My son Alex is five. He is an energetic, cheery, mischievous and utterly brilliant young boy. One Thursday I took a call to say "there is nothing to worry about but Alex had fallen over in the school playground". Having gone up to school to comfort him, 36 hours later we were leaving hospital with Alex's leg in plaster from his toes to the top of his thigh, with 8 weeks ahead off school.

So – why these stories? Because they are true. Because they affected my life. Because the protection industry may hear them and says "that's sad, but what's it got to do with us?"

Obviously in different ways each of these incidents has had a huge impact on us. The emotional impact, the tears shed, the time both visiting and arranging to see the individuals and other family members.

Looking after Alex is now a full-time job split between my wife, grandparents and myself. The joy and opportunity to spend time with him as he learns to read (and is introduced to computer games!) has been immense – but it has caused a lot of life juggling.

It's tempting to conclude this with a suggestion that there needs to be an insurance product designed for people like me – people who have a really rubbish month once every 5 years and could do with a bit of help to get through it. But even I would admit that's probably a bit self-obsessed and reactive.

More fundamentally it's made me consider what we really want insurance to be for. Most protection propositions act as a safety net for those who fall, to stop them just before they hit the ground. I think we should be aiming higher and offering to step into the motorcycle riding display team or Spanish fiesta tower to enable someone to continue to soar rather than just not to crash.

In the time I spent in hospital with my son I heard others stories. Each set of parents had unique circumstances, individual needs and would have made different decisions as to what the most helpful thing for them and their family was at that point.

We must aspire to give someone a choice as to whether they want support to stay at the top of their tower or need help to get safely down for a while.

One short month ago I thought the fuss around the name of income protection was more navel-gazing from an industry that prefers to talk than to do. These experiences remind me of what a limited amount of protection we actually provide. This is particularly true for the self-employed like myself and my wife who have the ability to be flexible in trying times but must juggle that against the lost income.

What we call "Income Protection" is in reality sickness insurance or even inability to work due to sickness insurance. The real life events that have occurred to me and will be happening to many other families this month remind me of the need to truly help people.

The danger with real life stories is there aren't always happy endings or even perfect fits or easy solutions. This article doesn't have an emphatic conclusion that readers still with me may have hoped for. I simply hope it helps enable one more person to have one more conversation about their experiences. Thank you for listening to mine.