The UK insurance sector emerged from last year's financial crisis relatively unscathed, but PR experts believe it must now focus on 'demystifying' its business as it seeks to stay at the centre of the UK economy.
A report this week from the Insurance Industry Working Group, chaired by Chancellor Alistair Darling and Aviva chief executive Andrew Moss, suggested that the industry could take a more central role in the welfare state.
The report, on the shape of the industry in 2020, envisaged the sector growing to meet welfare state payments of £17bn a year. The suggestion was met with scepticism in the media, concerned about the 'privatisation' of the welfare state.
Public buy-in to the social benefits of insurance is vital if the plans are to come to fruition, but although the UK has the world's second largest insurance market, its profile remains comparatively low.
In the wake of the financial crisis, the comms focus needed to be on convincing investors and the public that insurance firms were not heading the same way as the banks. Those priorities have now shifted.
'The key challenge now is to demystify the industry,' said Mal Pattel, consultant at Tulchan Communications, which retains Legal & General's financial comms account. 'If insurance firms want to change the dynamic of the industry, they must simplify products and language to make the benefits of having insurance more obvious.'
Zurich Financial Services and L&G's insurance business are thought to be bringing in new corporate agencies - Tulchan's group-level L&G account is not affected.
Insurers will also be keen to explain, as another results season starts, that performance across the industry has not been uniform. Some emerged from the financial crisis in better shape than others.
Jason Nisse, director at Fishburn Hedges, said: 'Differentiation is a priority and it is hard to differentiate insurers because most people still see insurance as a commodity.'
Another unknown factor, particularly for life insurance firms, is the extent to which Clive Cowdery's Resolution acquisition vehicle will kick off a wave of consolidation. Its Friends Provident approach has been knocked back, but it is thought to be looking to build a UK insurance giant worth £11bn, which could thrust the sector to the centre of business media attention.
HOW I SEE IT - JOHN GODFREY, GROUP COMMS DIRECTOR, LEGAL & GENERAL
We need to help people understand that insurance companies fulfil an important social and policy function, which is why the working group report highlights the overlap with Government. There is also a growing awareness of the major role insurance companies can play in rebuilding the economy after recession.
The broad principles of insurance are fairly straightforward, but there is a huge amount of technical information. Companies in the industry have been far too fond of communicating in 'insurance speak' rather than in ordinary language.