National Friendly: Underwriter explains the importance of fairness & flexibility

by | Jun 6, 2023

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National Friendly’s Head of Marketing Caitlin Dewar and Senior Underwriter John Fotheringham have discussed the latter’s fresh approach to underwriting.

CD: John, you’ve mentioned that you have a pragmatic approach to underwriting. What does this look like for an adviser who is thinking of working with us?

JF: It’s a tough question as, by nature, underwriting risk factors is very particular to individual circumstances, so we strive to assess each application on its own merits. We’re the new kids on the block in terms of Income Protection, offering an agile and evolving underwriting philosophy. Being new to the market has enabled us to adopt a fresh approach, allowing greater flexibility. Unlike some established providers, we are not bound by embedded, rigid and often outdated underwriting philosophies.


Our underwriters have gathered a wealth of experience having worked with various providers throughout the market. We have utilised this knowledge by taking what we feel are the best and most sensible elements and applied them to our philosophy; whilst at the same time creating an underwriting package that we feel is more competitive in many areas. Our bespoke approach has become one of our main strengths and has been well-received by the market.

CD: What’s been the driving influence to taking on a more bespoke underwriting approach?

JF: We recognise that there is a protection gap for individuals who have traditionally struggled to obtain IP cover. Unfortunately, IP isn’t going to be a suitable product for every individual but we’ve seen many examples where it’s unnecessarily declined due to strict underwriting parameters, a lack of claims data and underwriters having restricted autonomy to apply a degree of common sense.


As a friendly society, we believe in applying a personal touch and a degree of empathy. This means we focus on each client’s individual circumstances rather than adopting a broad-brush underwriting approach; weighing up the feasibility of offering cover based on multiple factors such as deferred period, occupation, sum assured etc. not just the presenting medical background. This pragmatic stance doesn’t just include our approach to the medical side of things, we apply the same logic when considering occupational, hazardous pursuits and residency risks.  

CD: We’ve had clients come to us with straight declines because of two or more exclusions. But on digging deeper, we were able to be objective and provide cover. This was still by far the best outcome for the client because, even with exclusions, the cover provided a degree of protection that suited the client.

JF: Yes, exactly.  Exclusions are a good example of where we are competitive. It’s not uncommon for policies which have two or more exclusions to be declined by many providers, but we’re willing to go further whenever we can. We’ve designed our rules engine to manually refer multiple exclusions into underwriting for a human opinion, rather than a straight decline.  


There are clients seeking cover for many reasons, so automatic declines or a lack of flexibility when reviewing exclusions doesn’t help our industry’s purpose.

For me, it comes down to whether the product provided offers suitable cover for the client. Multiple exclusions can obviously represent an increased risk in terms of morbidity but, if the overall risk profile looks reasonable from an underwriting point of view, and the client is happy to proceed with multiple exclusions, I see no reason not to offer cover.

Ultimately, we encourage open conversations about the client’s situation and their requirements, we strive to offer the right cover at the right price, providing a client-centric approach.


CD: Thanks for chatting with me today, John. It’s been great to hear more about how together we can create fairer outcomes for our customers when it comes to underwriting, which ultimately leads to more people getting the protection they deserve and need.

Find out more about Underwriting at National Friendly.

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