Are some specialist PMI brokers in denial when it comes to the threat posed by comparison sites?
Green and well looked after – and that was just the MK Dons football pitch attached to the Association of Medical Insurance Intermediaries (AMII) autumn conference venue. And within the meeting itself, I am not sure how many of the full to the rafters room arrived in a non-polluting manner (I came by train and bike so I score highly) although everyone was well looked after with fascinating talks, eager exhibitors and enough sandwiches for anyone's appetite.
But I could not help thinking the 200 or so who attended might have been too well looked after, too comfortable in what they do, and too little aware of what happened to specialist intermediaries in other areas of insurance.
A speaker in a panel session asked the audience whether price comparison sites would become a major force in individual private medical insurance (PMI) over the next five years. The question arose from a long discussion on PMI specialists using their skill sets and experience to move away from an 'obsession with price'.
There was much talk about how brokers need to understand – and more importantly to communicate – their added value, and how they could get the customers, often with a cheapest must be best mindset, to buy into this offering. Ignore the quality, feel the price had already become the staple of consumer websites well before the economic slump.
For proof, look at the appeal of the pound shop where many believe a set of spanners for £1 are the equivalent of the same tools elsewhere for a tenner. No matter how hard the expensive specialist tool shop tries – or how much advice it offers such as open-ended against ring spanners or the sizes that are most necessary – it is hard to fight against the 'everything comes down to the price tag' mentality. Perhaps even worse, customers take the advice and then find it cheaper online.
So when the question about price comparison sites was put, I expected at least some involved in individual PMI (the sites do not really apply either to group or international PMI) to put up their hands.
Instead, barely a single, if any, hand was raised. The vast and overwhelming majority believed that price comparison sites would not make a major impact on their business model between now and 2018.
Now I am not an AMII member so I did not get to display my view. But if I had been a paid up AMII person, I would have put up my hand. Perhaps that huge majority had no interest in individual PMI, or they were thrown by the word "major", or they were thinking of their lunch break, or they were in the 'I'm a really hard working person who puts everything into client relationships and then some more, so worries are for others' category.
Or – and let's be blunt about this – they were apathetic, complacent, and had failed to learn anything from insurance over the past three decades.