Column: Roger's Soapbox

The Men From the Pru

By: | May 2, 2017 • 2 min read
Roger Crombie is a United Kingdom-based columnist for Risk & Insurance®. He can be reached at [email protected]

I met the man from the Pru. That may not mean much to anyone, which is a pity.

The term “man from the Pru” was shorthand for a breed of British neighborhood insurance agents. They collected premiums, paid claims and delivered objective advice, financial and otherwise. They wove a web of service around their communities.

The British Prudential Assurance Co. (founded in 1848, 27 years earlier than its American namesake) employed at one point 100,000 direct salesmen. Other major British insurers also ran enormous direct sales forces. These men — they were all men, as I understand it — were the insurance industry’s sales backbone, and something more: its beating heart.

The man from the Pru began selling insurance and collecting relatively small premiums in cash on a weekly basis, door-to-door, from lower-income working families in the late 19th century. For many Britons, a weekly visit from the insurance man, often mid-week, in the evening, was a recurring part of life’s unfolding pageant. An early option allowed customers to save for funeral expenses.

For many Britons, a weekly visit from the insurance man, often mid-week, in the evening, was a recurring part of life’s unfolding pageant.

The rep entered the endowment premiums he collected in his account book — God, this all sounds prehistoric — and at term, the beneficiaries would receive a lump sum, often saved in anticipation of a major life event.

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The men from the Pru were more than a direct sales force. In an age of small data, they knew everything about, and were part of, their clients’ lives.

The most infamous man from the Pru was William Herbert Wallace, convicted in 1931 of the murder of his wife Julia in their home in Liverpool. The Court of Criminal Appeal considered the jury had erred and overturned its guilty verdict, the first occasion in British legal history where an appeal was allowed after re-examination of the evidence. A dark 1990 BBC movie — called (what else?) “The Man From The Pru” — featured Jonathan Pryce as Wallace.

My man from the Pru was driving a taxi. He keenly missed the old days. He’d lost his job some years ago, when the men from the Pru became the men on the unemployment line. Call centers took their place.

Without wanting to sprinkle magic dust on what was, ultimately, a job, imagine a world where your friends and neighbors could pop in and out at will, in an atmosphere of mutual trust. A world where the man from the Pru wasn’t seen in the same light as today’s insurance salesmen are. Woody Allen: “There are worse things in life than death. Have you ever spent an evening with an insurance salesman?”

Early in the 2000s, the Prudential launched a new face-to-face financial advice service aimed at former customers in their homes, a move billed as the return of the man from the Pru. (The company’s female employees weren’t thrilled, apparently.)

Many of the 200,000 potential customers the Pru identified were felt to need financial advice now that they were approaching retirement.

The return of a direct sales force did not, however, set the industry alight.

For many working-class people, the man from the Pru was a financial adviser, a friend and, sometimes, a helpmate. Boy, are those days gone.  &

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

2017 Teddy Awards

The Era of Engagement

The very best workers’ compensation programs are the ones where workers aren’t just the subject of the program, they’re a part of it.
By: | November 1, 2017 • 5 min read

Employee engagement, employee advocacy, employee participation — these are common threads running through the programs we honor this year in the 2017 Theodore Roosevelt Workers’ Compensation and Disability Management Awards, sponsored by PMA Companies.

A panel of judges — including workers’ comp executives who actively engage their own employees — selected this year’s winners on the basis of performance, sustainability, innovation and teamwork. The winners hail from different industries and regions, but all make people part of the solution to unique challenges.

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Valley Health System is all-too keenly aware of the risk of violence in health care settings, running the gamut from disruptive patients to grieving, overwrought family members to mentally unstable active shooters.

Valley Health employs a proactive and comprehensive plan to respond to violent scenarios, involving its Code Atlas Team — 50 members of the clinical staff and security departments who undergo specialized training. Valley Health drills regularly, including intense annual active shooter drills that involve participation from local law enforcement.

The drills are unnerving for many, but the program is making a difference — the health system cut its workplace violence injuries in half in the course of just one year.

“We’re looking at patient safety and employee safety like never before,” said Barbara Schultz, director of employee health and wellness.

At Rochester Regional Health’s five hospitals and six long-term care facilities, a key loss driver was slips and falls. The system’s mandatory safety shoe program saw only moderate take-up, but the reason wasn’t clear.

Rather than force managers to write up non-compliant employees, senior manager of workers’ compensation and employee safety Monica Manske got proactive, using a survey as well as one-on-one communication to suss out the obstacles. After making changes based on the feedback, shoe compliance shot up from 35 percent to 85 percent, contributing to a 42 percent reduction in lost-time claims and a 46 percent reduction in injuries.

For the shoe program, as well as every RRH safety initiative, Manske’s team takes the same approach: engaging employees to teach and encourage safe behaviors rather than punishing them for lapses.

For some of this year’s Teddy winners, success was born of the company’s willingness to make dramatic program changes.

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Delta Air Lines made two ambitious program changes since 2013. First it adopted an employee advocacy model for its disability and leave of absence programs. After tasting success, the company transitioned all lines including workers’ compensation to an integrated absence management program bundled under a single TPA.

While skeptics assume “employee advocacy” means more claims and higher costs, Delta answers with a reality that’s quite the opposite. A year after the transition, Delta reduced open claims from 3,479 to 1,367, with its total incurred amount decreased by $50.1 million — head and shoulders above its projected goals.

For the Massachusetts Port Authority, change meant ending the era of having a self-administered program and partnering with a TPA. It also meant switching from a guaranteed cost program to a self-insured program for a significant segment of its workforce.

Massport’s results make a great argument for embracing change: The organization saved $21 million over the past six years. Freeing up resources allowed Massport to increase focus on safety as well as medical management and chopped its medical costs per claim in half — even while allowing employees to choose their own health care providers.

Risk & Insurance® congratulates the 2017 Teddy Award winners and holds them in high esteem for their tireless commitment to a safe workforce that’s fully engaged in its own care. &

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More coverage of the 2017 Teddy Award Winners and Honorable Mentions:

Advocacy Takes Off: At Delta Air Lines, putting employees first is the right thing to do, for employees and employer alike.

 

Proactive Approach to Employee SafetyThe Valley Health System shifted its philosophy on workers’ compensation, putting employee and patient safety at the forefront.

 

Getting It Right: Better coordination of workers’ compensation risk management spelled success for the Massachusetts Port Authority.

 

Carrots: Not SticksAt Rochester Regional Health, the workers’ comp and safety team champion employee engagement and positive reinforcement.

 

Fit for Duty: Recognizing parallels between athletes and public safety officials, the city of Denver made tailored fitness training part of its safety plan.

 

Triage, Transparency and TeamworkWhen the City of Surprise, Ariz. got proactive about reining in its claims, it also took steps to get employees engaged in making things better for everyone.

A Lesson in Leadership: Shared responsibility, data analysis and a commitment to employees are the hallmarks of Benco Dental’s workers’ comp program.

 

Michelle Kerr is associate editor of Risk & Insurance. She can be reached at [email protected]