people using technology / Miakievy

As an insurance advisor, you can play a crucial role as a field underwriter as you assess your clients’ financial needs, make sure applications are filled out accurately and set your clients’ coverage expectations.

Advisors need to exercise care and concern when field underwriting, said Rehan Bhanji, national best practice leader with Desjardins Insurance in Toronto.

In addition to getting hard facts to enter into an application form, you should care about a client’s “soft” facts, he said, such as lifestyle, diet and family medical history. That way, health information is fully disclosed.

You also should be concerned about a client’s insurance needs, which may include income replacement or mortgage coverage and can be assessed through a needs analysis, Bhanji said.

A properly completed policy application is critical, said Jay Sankoff, assistant vice-president of high-net-worth solutions and field underwriting with Sun Life Financial Distributors (Canada) Inc. in Toronto. One of the most important ways for your clients to receive appropriate coverage and quick approval is for you to adhere to a repeatable onboarding process to make sure nothing is missed. That process would include “open and honest” discussion, he said.

Sankoff also noted that advisors can educate clients about underwriting processes.

Each insurer has a field manual that helps advisors ask followup questions if a client answers “yes” to any medical questions. Electronic applications make field underwriting easier by automatically prompting the next question based on previous answers, facilitating disclosure whether a tele-interviewer or advisor uses the app, Sankoff said.

Additionally, write a cover letter to the insurance company for each application outlining the client’s situation, Bhanji said. The letter could include the purpose of the coverage, financial goals and contextual information about the client’s lifestyle. For example, adherence to medication and a diet regimen recommended by a doctor could help mitigate risks of high cholesterol.

If an underwriter requires tele-interviews or medical tests for a client, you can set the client’s expectations for those processes. A tele-interview can be daunting, Sankoff said, as it’s a departure from relationship-based conversations. Drawing blood could also scare clients who are afraid of needles, and you can request an experienced health professional for that task, he said.

Setting a client’s expectations for coverage is especially important if they have existing medical conditions. Experienced advisors are adept at anticipating whether a client will run into issues during the underwriting process, said Karen Cutler, chief underwriter with Manulife Financial Corp. in Waterloo, Ont. For example, while Type 2 diabetes is insurable, you should inform the client that their policy could be rated if it’s approved.

For more challenging cases, you can call a specialized underwriter for more information. Manulife launched an impaired-risk team for cases that include existing illnesses such as cancer, diabetes and stroke, Cutler said.

Healthy clients, meanwhile, may be eligible for underwriting without medical tests. Manulife’s coverage for accelerated underwriting expanded to $5 million in 2022 for clients aged 18 to 50.

“Customers are routinely telling us their medical history, either through tele-interview or to the advisor,” Cutler said. “Because we get really good disclosure from people, we found that the need for that additional testing has diminished.”

Accelerated underwriting improves access to insurance, as some medical tests may not be widely available everywhere, Sankoff said. And removing invasive tests improves the client experience. Like Manulife, Sun Life raised its non-medical coverage to $5 million by the tail end of the pandemic.

“The jump in those limits over such a short period of time was quite significant,” Sankoff said, adding that he expects accelerated underwriting will continue becoming easier and more efficient.

This article appears in the May issue of Investment Executive. Subscribe to the print edition, read the digital edition or read the articles online.