Sophie Timms, of Zurich, considers how T&Cs can confuse the vulnerable.
Terms and conditions are a necessary evil with most of us clicking ‘accept’ as prompted when buying everything from train tickets to insurance cover.
But how many of us actually bother reading the small print to check we understand what we’re buying or that a policy or service meets our needs? Unsurprisingly, the truth is that very few of us do – just 7 percent according to a report Small Print, Big Impact, March 2017 published recently by Communisis.
Worryingly, just under half of respondents to the survey said that complicated terms and conditions actually put them off buying a product. And worse still, insurance firms were among those considered the worst offenders for issuing the most complex versions. The main gripes were around length and complicated language.
So if the majority of the British public find these documents confusing, how must those who are visually impaired, living with mental illness or have literacy issues cope? And more importantly, what can we do to help?
Supporting vulnerable customers is a real area of focus for us. As well as making business sense, it’s the right thing to do. We’ve launched a major project designed to embed new ways of working throughout the organisation and ensure we deliver on the joint Association of British Insurers (ABI) and British Insurance Brokers’ Association (Biba) vulnerable customer code as well as the Dementia-Friendly Financial Services Charter.
Insurers need to look at how to present important information to their customers and consider a wide range of circumstances which make customers vulnerable.
One thing Zurich has done is harmonise processes where vulnerable customers have plans over several systems and have also worked with the Alzheimer’s Society to produce a step by step ‘Lasting Powers of Attorney’ guide.
Insurers also need to think more holistically about product design making things easier for customers to understand and engage with. Consider working with organisations such as mental health charity Mind, this is something we have done. Mind has been able to share their own insights and expertise to benefit customers.
Content and design
Simplification for all customers should also be a major focus and, as part of a report into the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) Smarter Consumer Communication paper, we’ve identified a number of principles for content and design.
These include use of plain language, with key information displayed prominently and an increased use of graphics and images. Zurich is now looking to introduce the Plain English Crystal Mark to our policies which would involve the Plain English Campaign checking customer material for simplicity.
Transparency is ever more important too and that extends to communication tools. Everyone in the sector should be looking into their options to highlight to customers that additional communication formats and methods, including large print and Braille, are available.
Through working closely with all our customers we know that they want simplicity and convenience - while for those more vulnerable, this is a must.
We’re certainly working hard to deliver so that any interaction with us is straightforward and recognises individual circumstances. The whole industry should be striving to do the same.
Sophie Timms is Zurich's head of UK public affairs, media relations and corporate responsibility and writes as part of the Insurance Cares campaign.
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