New insurance Emerald aims to bridge a sexuality gap

Lesbian and gay people still discriminated against by financial services companies. Is it true? A new insurer argues that.

Steven Wardlaw and Heidi McCormack, both are respectively founder and chief executive of new insurer Emerald Life. They argue that in Britain, there are 2.2 million lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender/transexuals but they rarely suffer serious direct discrimination by banks and insurers, they always deal with LGBT customers in a way that makes them feel comfortable and pleasant when buying.

Wardlaw says “People want to know that when they call, for whatever reason, they are not going to have to correct the call centre person about their partner’s gender, or that there aren’t going to be issues over who the beneficiary of their policy will be, or that they may have children. Eight out of 10 LGBT individuals say they are not happy with the way they have been treated in the past.”

Emerald insurer believes the LGBT community is still having a basic equality of experience in financial services, and last week it started a range of LGBT-friendly home insurance, term insurance, and wedding and pet cover, with travel insurance coming in May.

Other financial services companies vary their approach over the past decade. For example, Lloyds is carrying out an advertising campaign with a same-sex couple in the midst of a proposal, while Nationwide and many other banks and insurers have thriving LGBT groups.

In the US, PayPal stopped the expansion plans in North Carolina in protest at controversial new rules that discriminate against LGBT citizens. Banks and insurers are often on the top of Stonewall’s annual listings of the best places for LGBT employees, with Lloyds and Barclays star performers in 2016.

Wardlaw says that during the period of the past two years, while researching and creating Emerald, he has been made commercial discussions with some other insurers.

He before that, signed confidentiality agreements so he cannot disclose specific details, but he found that in one instance with the pull-down menu for occupation, if the person chooses airline pilot then cover is granted, but if the occupation is changed to cabin crew, and all other details left identical, the person is declined for cover.

When Wardlaw asked the insurer the reason, the suggestion was that cabin crew may have lifestyles that would result in more claims. But this wasn’t for a life insurance product, it was for home insurance, which makes it all the more confusing. If gay cabin crew so likely to make claims on their buildings and contents policies they are just too risky compared to pilots? Wardlaw admits he is confused, so to speak, he never got a straight answer.

And more understandably, travel insurance policies consist of clauses that exclude claims arising from HIV/Aids, or heavily load the premium if anyone discloses their status.

But Wardlaw says many of these clauses were created in the early days of HIV treatment, and these no longer reflect the reality of modern treatments that help to massively improved survival rates. But Emerald’s travel insurance won’t ignore HIV/Aids, as Wardlaw says, its price is rational and reasonab.

How much will Emerald’s products cost? For many in the LGBT community, the label “gay” or “gay-friendly” on their products is a by-word for charging extra. So is Emerald Life any better? When Guardian Money checked out the prices of products, the results were mixed. Its life insurance was expensive, its home insurance middling, but its wedding insurance very cheap. The life insurance costs £99 a month for £200,000 of cover, while on comparison sites for the same age and address, the cheapest was around £35.

But its wedding quote is the lowest in the market. For example, couples are planning of tying the knot, but they are worried that for whatever reason (such as sickness) they might have to cancel the event, Emerald charges £50 for £12,500 of cover, compared to £60 at John Lewis for £10,000 of cover.

Some critics argue that an LGBT is discriminatory itself. But Wardlaw says it will welcome all comers, and if you want to buy cover for your wedding, gay or not, then Emerald is an obvious choice. Wardlaw says: “That’s the point. We don’t discriminate.”

For example, Adam Robinson, a garden designer, has experienced the way insurance companies can sometimes discriminate against LGBT customers. He was outraged when he called his existing provider for a health insurance quote on behalf of his husband, Steve, and daughters. The insurer told him they were finding it very difficult to find him a policy as “they had to pull a number of strings, because on their system they could not put a quote together as the parents couldn’t be the same sex”.

He says “In our day-to-day lives, Steve and I tend to forget we are a same sex couple with children, but obviously this is still a surprise for some,” He had bought the insurance at this company for years and he thought it would be a simple task to make use of the family discount on health insurance.

He also adds that “It was a bit of a throwback to the 1970s – you would think insurance companies would have come across many situations like my family and adapted their criteria accordingly. Up until that point, I have generally had good experiences with insurance companies, so you can imagine it was a huge surprise. My partner and I are just a normal couple with children. We often forget that our way of life is, perhaps, a problem or a surprise for some people. It was an unpleasant wake-up call. Generally, I do think things have moved on. I would like to believe the insurance industry has woken up to the potential market and am hoping this will be the motivation they need to change some of the prejudices that still exist. I would like to see a number of things changed. Instead of pages and pages of tick boxes, I would like a more personal response rather than just a computer saying ‘X’ based on the data you have provided.”

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