'It's validation for our entire company'

Co-president of Canada Protection Plan reflects on industry award win and the importance of choice in financial services

'It's validation for our entire company'

When the turn of the decade took a turn for the worse in February, many companies across different segments of the financial services space were caught wrong-footed. Lockdown and social-distancing measures to curb the COVID-19 pandemic made in-person meetings with clients all but impossible, and insurers who had been reluctant to invest in digital technology suddenly found themselves scrambling.

Canada Protection Plan also had to work double-time, but they had the luxury of a head start. Having already made its name in the no-medical and simplified-issue life insurance space, the company was well-placed to move quickly into a fully remote service model.

“Our I.T. departments and technology team have worked really hard to make sure that we had all the technological support for our advisor base,” said Michael Aziz, co-president at Canada Protection Plan. “They got us up and running through COVID without any hiccups with respect to applications, e-policy issuance, and access to information.”

As Aziz described it, those efforts were instrumental in mobilizing the company’s entire staff to work from home; within a week, everyone was ready to operate with a remote-work setup without impacting service to advisors. The salespeople stepped up with soft skills, staying in contact with advisors and asking how they are rather than where their business is.

That all-hands-on-deck response is exactly the type one would expect from a client-oriented insurance company. And in a year when support through technology and ongoing coverage became more crucial than ever, it’s only fitting that Canada Protection Plan was recognized as the Life and Health Insurer of the Year at the recent Insurance Business Canada Awards 2020.

“I think it's validation for our entire company,” Aziz said. “If you look at who we were up against, you had Canada Life, you had TD, you had Empire, you had Blue Cross. … To be in that peer group is an honour, and to win that peer group is even better.”

Aside from its technological focus, Canada Protection Plan differentiates itself with considerable sales and marketing firepower, a point of strength highlighted by its recent amalgamation with Foresters Financial. Part of that comes from a strong brand and digital presence built up with thousands upon thousands of advertisements. Those same commercials enjoin Canadians to “contact your financial advisor,” a call to action that kickstarts a lot of conversations to discuss their needs.

Of course, life insurance is just one piece of the financial-planning puzzle. Ideally, consumers should be able to get a holistic assessment of needs; that means taking into account the need for income and wealth protection, as well as savings and investment. It can be tough for one advisor to address both areas – but fortunately, they don’t have to.

 “If you look at the financial-services space and what different specialties advisors can have, you’ll see advisors focused on the group market, the individual life market, the individual investment market, and certain advisors that cover all those areas,” Aziz said. “To me, the successful advisors tend to have a specialty, but partner with advisors that have an offsetting specialty.”

Aziz acknowledges that from a product perspective, the line between insurance and investments isn’t always clear-cut. In the life insurance space, consumers may be offered participating life insurance or universal life insurance products that include both the opportunity for growth within the policy as well as a death benefit.

But in general, those problems are solved through separate solutions that likely require separate expertise. With that in mind, there’s a strong view that consumers’ needs would be best met by a one-stop-shop model, with all the specialists gathered under one business. But to Aziz, even small advisory businesses that have extensive and trusted referral networks can compete.

“It's great to have the holistic view. But that doesn't mean that you can’t have different practitioners serving different needs,” he said. “The nice thing about having choice is it allows the consumer to decide who they want to do business with and what they're looking for in their financial advisor.”