JEFF PRESTRIDGE: All brokers should be a clone of caring Emma Astley

Kindness: Emma Astley, founder of Cover My Bubble

The financial services industry rarely covers itself in glory these days. A combination of wretched customer service and poor value products have sunk its reputation into the mire. Yet, occasionally, I am pleasantly surprised when I come across a financial business that is built squarely on serving the best interests of customers.

It happened (pleasant surprise, that is) last week after speaking to a delightful mother of seven children (Christina Williams) who has recently had to go through the awful experience of watching her youngest (Amelia) battle with a brain tumour. Thankfully, Amelia, a tough little cookie (she’s only one and a half), is winning the fight after having the tumour removed.

The business in question is Cover My Bubble, a small protection insurance broker based in Accrington, Lancashire. Its history explains why the focus is on clients (Christina among them), not profits. The seeds for Cover My Bubble were sown 17 years ago when Chris and Emma Astley went through the trauma of watching their prematurely born child Lillie Beth struggle for life. For a month, Lillie Beth survived against all the odds – enduring two bowel operations – before succumbing to meningitis.

The couple were bereft and for a while Emma struggled with mental health issues. They got into debt and battled to keep on top of their finances as they brought up boys Cameron (now 20) and Oliver (15).

Thirteen years ago, Emma found herself working for a protection insurance broker where she says the emphasis was on sell, sell, sell. She knew that insurance didn’t have to be sold in such an aggressive way. There had to be a better approach. So, in 2018, she struck out on her own, setting up Cover My Bubble with her husband.

Three friends have since joined them and they are going from strength to strength. Empathy underpins everything they do.

The business’s focus is three-fold.

First, it wants to get rid of the myth that protection insurance – everything from life cover, critical illness through to income protection – doesn’t pay out when a claim is made. It does in more than 95 per cent of cases (99 per cent for life cover).

Second, it wants to spread the protection insurance message far and wide, especially to young families who might otherwise consider it unaffordable (it isn’t).

But most importantly, it wants to be there for clients when, God forbid, they need to make a claim – either because of illness or a family death.

Both critical illness and income protection policies pay out on diagnosis of a serious illness such as cancer or a stroke (the former paying a tax-free lump sum, the latter a stream of regular tax-free income). Life cover pays out on death.

Emma, refreshingly down to earth, oozes kindness. Last week, she told me that the company has yet to have a claim made on behalf of a customer declined. It bats for its clients. Even more impressively, last year, it managed to get a total of £300,000 paid to clients who didn’t know they were entitled to make a claim.

These customers included a mother who had a heart attack while giving birth and a child requiring dialysis treatment. Cover My Bubble goes the extra mile. Back to Christina’s story. Last April, the 38-year-old and her husband Eddie, who live in South-West London, bought combined life insurance and critical illness cover through Emma’s firm. This was after seeing details on social media platform Instagram.

Christina liked the strong family message behind Cover My Bubble and she and Eddie, a self-employed security guard, took out separate Royal London policies, both providing £20,000 of cover. Respective monthly premiums were £8 and £22 (Eddie is a smoker).

Cash lifeline: Christina Williams and husband Eddie and right, their daughter Amelia

Cash lifeline: Christina Williams and husband Eddie and right, their daughter Amelia

In July, daughter Amelia had a seizure following a routine immunisation. Further seizures followed, with a CAT scan revealing a sizeable brain tumour. In September, it was removed at the awe-inspiring Great Ormond Hospital in London.

Although Amelia is fine, she’s not out of the woods yet. She will have another scan next month and Christina has been told that further tumours cannot be ruled out.

All traumatic and unsettling for the family – as well as financially disruptive because of Eddie having to take unpaid time off work to look after their six other children while Christina went to and from the hospital – and stayed with Amelia.

Thankfully, the Royal London policies have alleviated the financial (not the emotional) pain. Both provided children’s cover, which meant two payouts of £5,000. ‘A financial lifeline,’ says Christina.

There’s more. As well as processing the claims swiftly, Emma kept up Christina’s spirits when they needed a lift, sending her ‘silly videos’. ‘A godsend,’ says Christina. Then in December, Christina used her Royal London policy via its ‘Helping Hand’ service to get an urgent prescription for four-year-old son Demitri as a result of a penicillin allergy (NHS 111 Online failed her).

Most protection insurance policies offer such support services although fewer than one in five customers know of their existence.

Emma Astley, you are a star in an industry not known for its shining lights. Amelia, I wish you a full recovery. Faceless financial services companies, it is time to up your game and start delivering customer service par excellence.

Children are your future, Nationwide

Nationwide Building Society does most things pretty well.

It doesn’t close branches en masse like most banks. It also looks after longstanding customers with a range of exclusive products, while supporting initiatives aimed at ensuring people do not lose their homes because of financial or health issues.

Yet its lack of a children’s savings account (Junior Isa included) that customers can walk in and open is bewildering – especially given the society’s commitment to inclusiveness.

Money in the bank: The children of today are future family makers with mortgages to take out and insurance policies to buy

Money in the bank: The children of today are future family makers with mortgages to take out and insurance policies to buy

A business is not inclusive if it prevents parents going into one of its branches and opening an account on behalf of a child.

On Friday, the society said it is ‘developing’ a new children’s savings product that ‘better meets the needs of parents and children’. I trust its development is well advanced and ready to fly soon.

Nationwide should remember: the children of today are future family makers with mortgages to take out and insurance policies to buy.    

They are the society’s future.

Dead happy with ASA ban on Harold Shipman ad

I’m dead happy with the decision of the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) to ban an insurer from using adverts featuring serial murderer Harold Shipman to sell its wares.

I wrote last month about the offending adverts from DeadHappy, which read: ‘Life insurance… because you never know who your doctor might be.’ They were offensive, provoking 115 complaints to the ASA – and triggering the authority’s ruling last week that said the adverts ‘trivialised’ Shipman’s heinous crimes.

Axed: The advert featuring killer doctor Harold Shipman

Axed: The advert featuring killer doctor Harold Shipman

Shepherds Friendly, the underwriter of DeadHappy’s products, had been unimpressed by the insurer’s actions. Last month, it told me the adverts were ‘distasteful and inappropriate’.

After the ASA ruling, I asked Shepherds if it was happy to continue its relationship with DeadHappy. It said: ‘We have given our feedback regarding our expectations of its conduct in the future.’