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Why underwriting just got (a bit) exciting

05 September 2018

From the tortoise to the hare – underwriting just became the quickest, slickest area of protection, writes Scott Sinclair…

Underwriting just got exciting

For less than the price of some toasters, you can now learn more about your ethnic heritage, appearance, and ability to run marathons. You can also discover your risks for some diseases, like diabetes, cancer and Alzheimer’s.

This is down to the rise of genetic testing, and its implications for protection underwriters are immense.

Might protection applicants soon know more about their health than their GPs? How can – indeed should – underwriters use applicants’ genetic test results to set a level of cover?

Nicky Bray, chief underwriter at Zurich UK, says insurers are mindful of how over-the-counter genetic tests could ultimately change underwriting.

“There are companies offering cheaper and cheaper genetic tests, and people are curious to know what might happen to them [in later life],” Nicky said. “How might we as an industry react if customers know things that may not appear in GP reports? It’s something we are thinking about.”


Nicky said the rising popularity of DNA testing and the potential to use ‘big data’ as proxies for health – your Tesco shopping bill for instance – may represent the future of a function which has already undergone rapid change.

For years, advisers’ and their clients’ options were limited when it came to underwriting.

Multiple plans had to be underwritten and issued separately, while changes to a policy often meant closing it and opening a new one altogether. Meanwhile, obtaining an applicant’s consent for access to their medical records required a wet signature, stamp, envelope and postal system.

If advisers’ wish is to get their clients ‘on risk’ as soon as possible, it is important insurers quicken how they do things.

For Zurich, the introduction in 2016 of multiple applications – the ability to arrange up to five protection plans online and with one underwriting journey – drastically sped up the process.

Likewise, the roll-out of electronic consent for access to medical records – via DocuSign – means a step which once took as long as three weeks is now often completed within 24 hours.

Nicky said: “We used to ask clients to sign a form and post it back to us. Now we can send them a URL and they can sign electronically. They can even choose a font they like for their signature!”


This year has seen a further sweep of improvements and time-savers to the underwriting process at Zurich.

Among them is the ability for advisers to ‘delegate’ the underwriting questions to their client. If, as is often the case, a protection application swiftly follows the arrangement of a mortgage, clients may not wish to answer more questions and fill in extra forms. Instead, an adviser can delegate this to the customer to complete in their own time.

“For some advisers and customers, ‘that’s enough for today’ may be a common theme when it comes to the protection bit,” Nicky said. “Now, the adviser can consider which products may be suitable, do the quote, and then when it comes to health and activity the customer can do this in peace and quiet, in their own time.”

A further tweak has been to what Zurich calls the ‘rehydration’ of customers’ online answers.

Should an adviser or client wish to make changes to a policy within the first 12 months, Zurich’s new protection system will continue to display the original answers, again saving time and simplifying the process.

What’s more, the flexibility of the system enables advisers and clients to easily tweak their benefits between the desired sum assured and preferred premium. This can be done instantly. Previously, an adviser would have had to telephone the provider to obtain a variety of quotes.

“We are looking to make more point-of-sale decisions,” Nicky said.

For the underwriting team at Zurich, an ever-present challenge is to strike a balance between advisers’ desire for fewer underwriting questions and asking enough to offer their clients the right cover and price.

“That’s the thing that interests my team,” Nicky said. “To find that happy place.”

To find out more about Zurich’s new protection system, visit