Alongside the gender pay and gender pensions gaps emerges the gender protection gap. Women are underinsured compared to men. It might be the biggest chasm yet.
The figures are stark. According to a Zurich study, women are less likely than men to have protection insurance and, for those who do, more likely to insure themselves for less. Almost a third less.
But this isn’t about numbers only. The Chartered Insurance Institute, in its Insuring Women’s Futures report, found women face different risks from men.
These include risks from divorce or separation, where women may have lower earnings and fewer financial assets than men, and a ‘motherhood and caring penalty’, with women putting careers on hold to be primary carers to their children and parents.
Does the financial services industry recognise these “significant and distinct” risks to women? How are policymakers, providers and financial advisers adapting to mitigate them?
According to Rose St Louis, co-founder of campaigning group Women in Protection and head of strategic partnerships at Zurich, providers can help equip advisers with the tools to ensure families – and not just a main breadwinner – are properly insured.
“Our industry is aware of some of these risks, no question, but in terms of being specifically set up to tackle them, we’re not there yet,” she said.
“Providers can lock themselves in a room, lay all their products out on a table, and see where they are. Do their products recognise or cater for the risks the CII found? By asking these questions, advisers can ultimately have better, more comprehensive products to recommend to families.”
Rose said Zurich had made big strides towards building protection products suitable for men and women, and the individual risks they face.
For example, as part of a new suite of protection products, Zurich offers ‘core’ and ‘select’ options across its upgraded critical illness and new income protection propositions. This flexibility, said Rose, means more single parents can participate in protecting their dependents rather than possibly being priced out.
Likewise, advisers’ clients can easily dial their cover – and therefore their premium – up or down depending on their circumstances, useful said Rose for mums on maternity leave, or dads on paternity leave.
Meanwhile, the insurer has also extended its separation cover on joint life insurance policies so, if there is a divorce or separation, either party can get the same level of cover on a single life basis without underwriting.
Zurich has also added ‘complications in pregnancy’ as a payment condition on its new ‘select’ critical illness product.
Rose said progress like this suggests the industry is beginning to recognise the unique risks faced by women, and may for the first time be acting on them.
In its report, the CII identified six ‘moments that matter’ for women – described as “pivotal points in life” – and a total of 12 ‘perils and pitfalls’ linked to them.
It made a number of recommendations – to policymakers, providers and advisers – to ease these risks, including, for example, employer solutions to allow continuing pensions through parental leave.
Also among them is encouraging financial planning at a family rather than an individual level, “so that financial plans recognise the contributions made by carers and build up their financial independence”.
As well as looking at their products, Rose said insurance companies are in a position to educate families on the benefits of protection.
“As manufacturers, I think we need to be a bit cuter with our language, and particularly how we position protection. It is absolutely something that women should have and should buy.
“Women are not a niche market; they represent 52% of the population. We can help raise awareness.”
This information was first published and correct as of September 2018
2018z FP203 300919