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

4 Companies That Rocked It by Treating Injured Workers as Equals; Not Adversaries

The 2018 Teddy Award winners built their programs around people, not claims, and offer proof that a worker-centric approach is a smarter way to operate.
By: | October 30, 2018 • 3 min read

Across the workers’ compensation industry, the concept of a worker advocacy model has been around for a while, but has only seen notable adoption in recent years.

Even among those not adopting a formal advocacy approach, mindsets are shifting. Formerly claims-centric programs are becoming worker-centric and it’s a win all around: better outcomes; greater productivity; safer, healthier employees and a stronger bottom line.

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That’s what you’ll see in this month’s issue of Risk & Insurance® when you read the profiles of the four recipients of the 2018 Theodore Roosevelt Workers’ Compensation and Disability Management Award, sponsored by PMA Companies. These four programs put workers front and center in everything they do.

“We were focused on building up a program with an eye on our partner experience. Cost was at the bottom of the list. Doing a better job by our partners was at the top,” said Steve Legg, director of risk management for Starbucks.

Starbucks put claims reporting in the hands of its partners, an exemplary act of trust. The coffee company also put itself in workers’ shoes to identify and remove points of friction.

That led to a call center run by Starbucks’ TPA and a dedicated telephonic case management team so that partners can speak to a live person without the frustration of ‘phone tag’ and unanswered questions.

“We were focused on building up a program with an eye on our partner experience. Cost was at the bottom of the list. Doing a better job by our partners was at the top.” — Steve Legg, director of risk management, Starbucks

Starbucks also implemented direct deposit for lost-time pay, eliminating stressful wait times for injured partners, and allowing them to focus on healing.

For Starbucks, as for all of the 2018 Teddy Award winners, the approach is netting measurable results. With higher partner satisfaction, it has seen a 50 percent decrease in litigation.

Teddy winner Main Line Health (MLH) adopted worker advocacy in a way that goes far beyond claims.

Employees who identify and report safety hazards can take credit for their actions by sending out a formal “Employee Safety Message” to nearly 11,000 mailboxes across the organization.

“The recognition is pretty cool,” said Steve Besack, system director, claims management and workers’ compensation for the health system.

MLH also takes a non-adversarial approach to workers with repeat injuries, seeing them as a resource for identifying areas of improvement.

“When you look at ‘repeat offenders’ in an unconventional way, they’re a great asset to the program, not a liability,” said Mike Miller, manager, workers’ compensation and employee safety for MLH.

Teddy winner Monmouth County, N.J. utilizes high-tech motion capture technology to reduce the chance of placing new hires in jobs that are likely to hurt them.

Monmouth County also adopted numerous wellness initiatives that help workers manage their weight and improve their wellbeing overall.

“You should see the looks on their faces when their cholesterol is down, they’ve lost weight and their blood sugar is better. We’ve had people lose 30 and 40 pounds,” said William McGuane, the county’s manager of benefits and workers’ compensation.

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Do these sound like minor program elements? The math says otherwise: Claims severity has plunged from $5.5 million in 2009 to $1.3 million in 2017.

At the University of Pennsylvania, putting workers first means getting out from behind the desk and finding out what each one of them is tasked with, day in, day out — and looking for ways to make each of those tasks safer.

Regular observations across the sprawling campus have resulted in a phenomenal number of process and equipment changes that seem simple on their own, but in combination have created a substantially safer, healthier campus and improved employee morale.

UPenn’s workers’ comp costs, in the seven-digit figures in 2009, have been virtually cut in half.

Risk & Insurance® is proud to honor the work of these four organizations. We hope their stories inspire other organizations to be true partners with the employees they depend on. &

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