Superannuation fund members can often find themselves most vulnerable when they are experiencing illness or injury, and unable to work. A continued focus on the engagement approach for vulnerable members can help bridge the gap and connect all Australians to a better future. As an industry, we have an opportunity to make our products and services more inclusive, in addition to partnering with others in the community to proactively support people who may be experiencing vulnerability.

Defining vulnerability

Most people will experience vulnerability in some form over their lifetime. According to the Centre for Social Impact, 66 per cent of Australia’s adult population experienced a level of financial stress and vulnerability in 2018.

Vulnerability can be temporary or permanent and different people experience it in different ways. Some groups within our society may be considered more vulnerable than others, and situational factors are triggers for vulnerability, which can vary over time.

The extraordinary events of the last year have brought the topic of vulnerability into sharper focus, with the devastating bushfires and the global pandemic demonstrating that anyone in our communities can be disrupted or displaced.

At TAL, our focus on vulnerable customers intensified through the mental wellbeing and career support services we provided to members experiencing hardship due to COVID-19. We are continually strengthening our ongoing approach to supporting vulnerable members, which includes continuing to engage with the industry and community leaders to collaborate and leverage best practice.

Supporting vulnerable members at claim time

Some members and their families may already be in a particularly vulnerable position at claim time. Apart from their personal circumstances and background, they could be under increased strain due to the nature of their condition, impacts on their health, their emotional response, financial distress, or the potential perceived complexity of the claims process.

Focusing on tailoring the claims support strategy to best help them includes ensuring the member has a single point of contact throughout the claims journey. Also, equipping claims teams with tools to support each member in a personal, genuine manner that is unique to their circumstances and condition is imperative.

Using data to improve understanding and support

To better identify and support vulnerable members, it is critical to improve our understanding of different member profiles and where their vulnerabilities lie. Data can be a key enabler in this process, helping us recognise trends in member behaviour across the entire journey, to identify and appropriately connect with vulnerable members, both proactively and reactively.

At TAL, our Member Engagement and Innovation team consists of data scientists, actuaries and business intelligence consultants, who work with our superannuation fund partners to analyse underlying trends in their membership profile to develop relevant product, service or support initiatives that respond to these trends. TAL’s Customer Advocacy team complements this work by facilitating ongoing engagement between TAL’s senior leaders and our customers, in addition to using customer insights across the key touchpoints to develop actionable improvements throughout the business.

Harnessing data to identify potentially vulnerable customers through the life insurance application process, using Artificial Intelligence and voice recognition technology to identify potential indicators of risk in consumer interactions and to prioritise these people with additional support and education is also key.

Building and harnessing internal capability

Improving our understanding of the needs of vulnerable customers as well as the diverse communities goes hand-in-hand with building internal capability that empowers employees to support these individuals. Fostering a diverse and inclusive workforce to be more empathetic and responsive for vulnerable customers is essential.

Claims teams must be equipped with the appropriate training, information, tools and resources to identify different vulnerabilities and know how to support them. As an example, our frontline people are trained on how to support indigenous customers in line with our Life Insurance Code of Practice commitments and many of our frontline teams are trained in suicide prevention and mental health support.

A focus on mental health

People experiencing mental health conditions can be particularly vulnerable. Mental health is one of the most significant causes for a life insurance claim and supporting our customers through mental health challenges is one of the most important things we can do. Identifying, preventing and supporting Australians with mental health conditions as well as ensuring that we can continue to provide sustainable life insurance products into the future must be a priority.

TAL was the first Australian insurer to appoint a Head of Mental Health. As a qualified psychotherapist, the Head of Mental Health works closely with TAL’s people, superannuation fund partners, and customer advocacy groups to ensure our mental health support tools are evidence-based and designed with a deep understanding of the complex nature of mental health conditions.”

To help members proactively look after their mental wellbeing, TAL created Headlight. Developed in partnership with The University of Sydney Brain and Mind Centre, the online tool helps members understand and manage their mental wellbeing by identifying risk factors and providing targeted recommendations to support their overall health. We extended Headlight to members impacted by COVID-19 with targeted wellbeing counselling and so far, have reached around 900,000 members.

We have established a Mental Health Action Group that brings together leading external mental health experts, including those with lived mental health conditions, to help TAL drive positive change across our product, underwriting and claims processes. TAL also recently published a whitepaper on mental health, drawing on the experience of the life insurance industry both locally and globally, to contribute to the policy solutions in this space and inform the approach to mental health support across Australia.

Partnering to foster the best expertise

While our industry has an important role to play we still do not have all the answers, so we need to partner with trusted community providers who do. More partnerships with translation services, for example, can facilitate better access to people from non-English speaking backgrounds, who can be considered vulnerable groups in certain membership bases.

At TAL, we partner with specialist external providers for our grief support and tailored career support services, particularly for those impacted by COVID-19. We also partner with trusted voices like the University of Sydney Brain and Mind Centre to stimulate and challenge our thinking around supporting customers with certain health conditions. We are looking at how we can fast-track access to mental health professionals for those who need the support, as well as how we can engage First Nations Australians with community resources and support that can improve their mental health.

Working together to make a positive difference

The superannuation and life insurance industries have always played a critical role in supporting Australians when they need it most. We encourage the industry and community groups to come together to share insights and perspectives on how we can better engage with those experiencing vulnerability. Now more than ever, our industry needs to focus on supporting the people that form the diverse fabric of our communities. Because we can’t do better, until we know better.

At the recent 2021 ASFA Conference, TAL reflected on the stories of the vulnerable in our community with industry leaders representing First Nations Australians, people from refugee and migrant communities, and those living with mental health conditions to consider how our industry can better support them. Through the 2021 ASFA Conference, TAL also supported The Bread & Butter Project with a $10,000 donation.