When it comes to describing the disparity between the protection needs and actual cover in place for the lesbian and gay community ‘gap’ doesn’t even begin to do it justice, ‘chasm’ is nearer the mark.
Anecdotal evidence has consistently pointed to poor take up in financial services products among gay men and women but when we conducted our own research into the subject the extent of that poor take up shocked us. And when we looked behind the figures to get to the heart of the matter we unearthed a distrust of financial institutions, whose origins pre-date the current financial crisis by nearly 30 years.
What we discovered among our sample group was a total lack of critical illness cover and woeful underinsurance across most other areas of protection.
The survey group comprised 30 lesbian women and 77 gay men aged between 25 and 55 years old. Sixty-nine per cent of our respondents were home owners, 2 per cent were in the process of buying and 29 per cent were living in rented accommodation.
Only 59 per cent of those 107 people had taken out home contents insurance, compared to the national figure of 75 per cent of households. Just 11 per cent had any form of income protection insurance, and of the people surveyed not one had critical illness cover in place – the comparative figure for the whole of the UK was grouped for critical illness and income protection and stood at 10 per cent of the adult population.
Despite pet ownership being significantly higher than the national average (63 per cent compared with 40 per cent – Mintel 2007) only 17 per cent had taken out pet insurance.
Interestingly, the number of respondents with life assurance was relatively high at 28 per cent.
In terms of household incomes, the relative absence of children in gay relationships increases the average levels of disposable income. In addition, gay men and women typically earn more than their heterosexual counterparts – in 2007 earning capacity was on average 27 per cent greater for gay men than heterosexual men and 25 per cent more for gay women than their heterosexual peers.
Having established that the level of cover in this demographic, with the exception of life assurance, was low to non-existent we wanted to explore the thinking behind choosing one product provider over another – or not choosing one at all, as seemed to be case.
Our research pointed to a definite need for insurance in this market and, on the whole, a keen understanding of that need. However, the feedback from the respondents points to a deep seated distrust of the financial services market as a whole and of the life sector in particular, stemming from the prejudiced treatment of gay men in the 1980s at the height of the misconceptions around the origins of HIV/Aids and how it was contracted.
The industry, it seems, is doing little to regain that trust. What was also cited by our respondents as reasons not to trust life assurers was the fact that to this day life companies require men in a civil partnership to have an HIV test at £250,000 of cover, yet waiting until £500,000 before asking heterosexual married men to take the test. To our knowledge only a few companies have equalised this issue already, at a figure between £500,000 and £1,000,000. But the numbers are too low to impact positively on perceptions.
Shifting perceptions is the key challenge for product providers and our findings gave some useful insight into what is expected of them before they will be trusted again.
When asked ‘what would make you choose one company over another?’ 65 per cent of respondents said if the company had been vocal on gay rights issues it would be a key positive influencer and 70 per cent said a word of mouth recommendation from a friend was also a key positive influencer.
Yet when asked ‘are you aware of any financial services companies actively targeting the gay market in the UK’ 92 per cent said no. Of the 8 per cent who said yes, only half could remember the company name – in this instance Pru Health.
When asked ‘how would you view a financial services provider getting behind a gay rights issue’ – using the lobby to let healthy gay and bi-sexual men give blood as an example – 75 per cent of respondents said that to their mind it showed that the company was prepared to stand up and be counted, while 57 per cent believed that it showed the company understood that there were still prejudices to be fought and that it knew the market.
There were naturally also those (27 per cent) who felt that it was ‘just a cynical ploy to win over gay customers’.
Drilling further down the respondents were asked how knowing that a company was active on gay rights issues would influence their buying behaviour. Forty-seven per cent said ‘it would make me want to find out more about what they do’ and 41 per cent said ‘it would make me more receptive to hearing about their products’. A massive 71 per cent said ‘it would make me choose that company over another non-vocal brand’.
The message that came through loud and clear was that if a financial services company is to make a success of tapping into this lucrative market it needs to demonstrate a clear understanding of the issues and prejudices faced daily by the gay and lesbian community and, crucially, be seen to be vocal in support of effecting change – bog standard marketing simply isn’t going to cut it here.