Insurers' obsession with products has alienated customers and given the industry an unattractive image with the public, the Westminster and Industry Conference heard last week.

Zurich Financial Services' UK Life chief executive Ray Greenshields was addressing the conference on May 11. Greenshields said that instead of concentrating on products that were in the end no more than a set of standardised services, insurers should respond to customers' needs with solutions.

“We persist in developing products that are too complex, or whose construction and structure are obscure, leading to the suspicion that we've deliberately designed them that way, to disguise the true nature of charges,” he said.

He said the industry's move away from a product-led approach in the design of investment products was the right one. In place of an emphasis on products, insurers should give advice a more central role.

“Alongside that, more demanding consumers will want to know where their money's going, what they're getting in return for the money they spend on advice,” Greenshields said.

“So the industry will have to do three things: educate and inform the consumer, offer choice and a sense of control (and) put beyond doubt its commitment to professionalism and the great social need it meets.

“As for products, they'll merely be part of much wider solutions, a means to an end.”