Which insurer will be first to fully accomodate those who do not identify as either male or female? Chubb’s Ruth Polyblank charts the right path to take

Ruth Polyblank gender neutrality

English honorifics like Mr, Mrs and the now rather twee suffix ‘Esquire’ are an etiquette hangover from another time when gender, class and marital status mattered in a way totally unfamiliar to us today.

Just as ‘Dear’ and ‘Yours sincerely’ are increasingly disappearing in our age of digital communication, so too is the need to identify sex or status in your title.

The idea that I might be referred to as ‘Mrs Steven Polyblank’ is today so curious and unfamiliar it makes me want to laugh out loud, and yet that practice has only recently fallen out of common use.

Tentative adoption of a new ‘Mx’ tag by some companies has catapulted the issue of gender identification up the corporate agenda

Tentative adoption of a new ‘Mx’ tag by some companies (pronounced ‘mix’ and allowing customers to avoid gender-specific terms) has catapulted the issue of gender identification and how companies deal with it up the corporate agenda. Metro Bank has recently adopted the ‘Mx’ title option and the question of how the insurance industry might deal with the issue was bound to follow (behind the banks as usual!).

But, rather than get caught up in a debate about the introduction of ‘Mx’, should we not be challenging the use and relevance of these labels at all?

Surely, the bigger issue for our industry is how and why we collect unnecessary information

Surely, the bigger issue for our industry is not how we deal with gender identification but how and why we collect unnecessary information. Let’s assume for a moment that we all accept the premise that to be successful you must be good for your customers and offer some value.

Unnecessary data?

The natural assumption should then be that if a piece of personal information does not form part of the rating – or indeed if it is not dependant on some other aspect of protection being provided - why ask it at all? 

With legislation preventing gender-specific pricing for some lines and new, more onerous data handling requirements imminent, it makes no sense for insurers and brokers to leave their traditional question sets unchallenged.

So when we are challenging these question sets we should be aiming to remove or make optional any that aren’t relevant to underwriting, rating or experience.

Equally, where questions and their answers are found to be relevant, we should wherever possible be integrating with data sources to pre-populate responses. After all, wouldn’t we want to provide the best customer experience that we can.

Any lag in offering ‘Mx’ as an option in insurer and broker’s dropdown lists on their systems and platforms may well be the result of the inflexibility of legacy systems, rather than an unwillingness to accommodate.

Change requests cost money and this would need prioritisation over the other demands of the business after all.

There will still be a small minority that see offering ‘Mx’ as whimsy or unnecessary

Even beyond the practicality of implementing a change like this sadly, there will still be a small minority that see offering ‘Mx’ as whimsy or unnecessary because it’s not the way things have traditionally been done and they aren’t listening to their customers.

Bottom line

Ultimately, if my customers don’t want to identify their gender or marital status through their title to me – and if not knowing it doesn’t impact my ability to assess and mitigate their insurable risks – why then would I cling to a protocol of the past?

I would suggest that those who wish to stay married (excuse the pun) to these practices, probably have much broader cultural, systems and customer experience issues to address than the content of the drop down boxes they use.

Ruth Polyblank is Chubb’s head of SME and a member of the Insurance Times Innovation & Disruption advisory board