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Income protection: a potential casualty of COVID-19

There is a difficulty in rating income protection products at the moment - the market is changing fast, and not all the changes being implemented by the market are yet formal policy. Decision-making is emergent, cases are being reviewed as they arrive. Economic data which may have an effect on the views of underwriters contemplating, say, the financial underwriting aspects of cover on self-employed businesses (even if the case were submitted weeks ago) is not yet available. Just how substantial the impact on the economy has been is yet to be revealed. We are all, to some extent, guessing. 

Insurers are conservative in their views - they must be - and have to protect first and foremost the interests of existing customers, who expect them to meet claims. Income protection is not, for example, a form of redundancy insurance. What that means is that they are taking considerably more care with underwriting new cases than they would. Partners Life has made the most detailed announcements about their treatment of income protection policies and Quality Product Research Limited has adjusted ratings showing (for subscribers) on Quotemonster. However, this plainly fails to take into account the attitudes of underwriters to the cover across the market: Advisers tell me that variety of measures are being employed on a case-by-case basis: referring cover to reinsurers, reducing cover amounts, substituting indemnity contracts for other contract types, applying exclusions by endorsement, seeking additional financial information, deferring, and declining cases. The extent to which this all remains fluid over the next few weeks or coalesces into a new normal which becomes formalised in changes to income protection product ranges will very much depend on events: how soon we emerge from level four restrictions, more data about the impact on the local economy, and because we are a relatively open trading nation, the state of the economies of our main trading partners.

COVID-19 is most serious for people who already had underlying health impairments. Income protection is similar in that it already had serious problems before the COVID-19 pandemic, and the ensuing economic problems. It is in very bad shape now and we cannot say for sure how the product will fare over the next few weeks. It may never be the same again. 

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