Ecclesiastical’s art and private client business director tells Insurance Times how high net worth clients have reacted to the ups and downs of the coronavirus crisis

As of 11 November 2021, 11.4 million people in the UK have had their booster Covid-19 vaccine or third jab, according to statistics from the government’s Department for Health and Social Care. For many Brits, this signals that the UK is successfully emerging from the clutches of coronavirus.

The pandemic undoubtedly affected all demographics differently – including the UK’s population of high net worth (HNW) individuals. According to analysis by bank Credit Suisse, published by The Mirror in June 2021, the UK has the fifth highest proportion of HNW individuals in the world (4%).

One unique challenge to hit this group during the pandemic was an uptick in hearing aid claims, according to Ecclesiastical’s art and private client business director Sarah Willoughby.

This is because HNW customers were losing their “very expensive” hearing aids as a result of taking their face masks on and off when leaving their homes.

Many HNW clients also had to more carefully consider their property portfolios as a result of national lockdown restrictions – Willoughby explained that HNW customers might not have “got locked down” in their main residence, but may instead have been staying in a second home or holiday home.

This means “thinking if you weren’t able to go to that property, how you were protecting your property and your possessions within it as well”, Willoughby added.

Extending home entertainment

Improving work-life balance and counterbalancing the lack of international travel has also seen a number of Ecclesiastical’s HNW clientele look to renovate their homes – in lieu of holiday plans, Willoughby noted that for HNW customers, their “home has become a greater extension of [their] leisure activities”, with outbuildings being constructed for all new cinema rooms, gyms, bars or barbecue areas.

For these outbuildings, however, “you’ve got to make sure you’ve got the cover for insurance there, but also you’ve got to have the physical security,” she added.

Cyber security is also pertinent for HNW clients who have created “shed offices” in order to keep “their work separate to their home or having that individual space so that it can be private”. Willoughby recommended password protecting Wi-Fi connections to mitigate cyber attacks.

Willoughby said: “People will want to build room because they want that better work-life balance [and] to remain at home more [rather] than coming to the office.

“Until we know travel is really safe to go abroad, we’ll still explore how we have entertainment elements at home, whether it be the gym or cinema rooms.

“That’s massive I think – it has been in the last 18 months and will continue to be so now.”

Linked to this, Willoughby said she has also seen customers “renovate and refurb their homes as well”, in particular with “a lot more extensions or conversions or updating of kitchens”. In part, this is due to HNW individuals being unable to spend their money on holidays or excursions.

Willoughby said the trend of “everybody wanting to make their homes even smarter and better and more expensive elements going in as well” will “continue for a while yet”.

Different ways of purchasing

One area of HNW that has been particularly impacted by the pandemic is fine art.

For example, in insurer Hiscox’s third quarter trading update, published on 2 November 2021, it said “the fine art and specialty lines continued to be impacted by the effects of Covid-19 in the earlier part of the year and have not yet returned to pre-pandemic levels”.

Group chief financial officer and incoming boss Aki Hussain attributed this to the fact that in-person events like art exhibitions “are not happening yet, certainly not in the way they used to happen pre-March 2020”.

Willoughby said: “What’s quite interesting in the fine art market is at the beginning of Covid, people weren’t sure about buying their fine art collections or works of art at all.

“But while Covid’s been going on, they’ve got used to online auctions and if you’re a true collector, you’ll find a way to work with your auction house or your valuer to purchase those items.

“That’s continued and built up and they’ve just found different ways of purchasing what they would like to buy - especially around jewellery and watches.

“When we are all able to move around and see people more, I think it will go back [to] purchasing things in normal ways again. But [in the meantime, HNW clients] have found ways and means to keep their collections and they seem to be purchasing items throughout Covid.”


In terms of communications with HNW clients over the pandemic period, Willoughby revealed that customers have been “more accessible because they’re not actually going to work” due to the government’s previous homeworking instructions and the increase in subsequent hybrid working models.

“They haven’t got that travel commute and it’s not such a busy lifestyle,” she added.

From her perspective, this “has been really good” because it has enabled “better and faster contact with clients and testing new technology”.

This technology includes surveying risks in clients’ homes using video conferencing, which Willoughby said has been “embraced” by HNW clients.

“Everybody’s embraced this [post-pandemic] world,” she concluded.