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Emerald Life launches unique insurance products for UK’s gay and lesbian communities

Emerald Life launches unique insurance products for UK’s gay and lesbian communities

Emerald Life founder Steve Wardlaw

Have you ever dealt with an insurance call center worker that made presumptions about your sexuality or the gender of your partner?

Ever find yourself wishing that a travel insurer had some knowledge of the specific challenges that gay travellers may face in certain countries?

Have you ever tried to get insurance but were uncertain what details of your personal life to reveal?

These and other concerns are tackled today with the launch of the UK’s first full-service insurance provider for the UK’s gay and lesbian community.

The founders of Emerald Life say the business will address the ‘one size fits all’ template upon which much of the UK insurance sector operates.

‘I met this guy for a coffee 20 minutes ago – do I have to come out to him as gay?’

‘A lot of it is customer service,’ says Emerald Life chairman and co-founder, Steve Wardlaw. ‘For, example, your flat’s flooded or something like that; you’re not in the best frame of mind. Someone comes in and it becomes clear very early on that they’re not comfortable being in a flat with you because you’re gay.

‘Or, people would tell us about that awkward pause that they experienced on the phone to call center workers,’ he says.

‘Or the person they’re speaking to assumes they’re married to someone of the opposite sex. They’re sticking to the script they’ve been given. You end up having to correct an assumption from a one-size-fits-all general insurer.

‘To an extent, I can understand why it is that way,’ he says. ‘It’s the same across the financial sector.

‘When I was younger, in my mid-20s, I would speak to financial advisers and they’d always draw the same graph of what school fees would cost, and I’m like, “I met this guy for a coffee 20 minutes ago – do I have to come out to him as gay?” I shouldn’t have to do that, but there are presumptions within a lot of these sectors.’

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Steve’s background is as a lawyer. His career began at Slaughter and May in London, before a lengthy stint as the first English lawyer to be recruited for major US firm Baker Botts. This included a placement of eight years in Moscow with his partner, Ian.

The two met in London back in 1994 and now live in Kent. In their time together, they have actively campaigned for the introduction of civil partnerships in the UK, and worked behind the scenes in Russia to support LGBT youth groups in Moscow.

Steve says that he first had the idea for Emerald Life while in Russia in 2012. It partly stemmed from a desire to do something different and launch his own business, and partly to do something for LGBT communities.

At first, he looked at the idea of moving back to the UK and building gay and lesbian retirement homes. This extended to actually sourcing a possible, 200-unit location in Oxfordshire. However, the project required a great amount of investment and he had trouble finding potential investors.

‘They struggled with proof of concept; “Is the gay community really a community like that?” That’s where they thought we would have difficulties.’

One thing that did come out of the research was his business’ name.

‘We thought of Emerald Villages as a name for the retirement homes, like the Emerald City in the Wizard of Oz. For some reason, the name really stuck in people’s minds – so we decided to keep it.’

At this time, Steve became more aware of LGBT consumer concerns around other financial issues; savings, wills and mortgages, or ‘the mundane but necessary stuff’ as he calls it. Ultimately, he sees Emerald Life addressing many of these concerns – but beginning with insurance.

It launches today with insurance products for home, pet, life insurance and weddings, with travel soon to follow.

From Emerald Life’s own research, there’s a demand for its services.

Steve and Emerald Life CEO Heidi McCormack commissioned YouGov to do a survey, which backed up their own straw polls of friends and family. Sampling almost 2,000 people between September 2015 and February 2016, the survey found that almost eight in ten members of the LGBT community (79%) said they would change the way insurance companies treated them.

Other significant findings included:

  • 39% would change call center language surrounding the assumption of a partner’s gender.
  • 34% would recognize and celebrate LGBT as an important part of the community by depicting 
real LGBT people in adverts and promotional material.
  • 22% would like to see their insurer actively work to end discrimination and prejudice based on sexuality.

‘There’s definitely a want and a need for these types of insurance products,’ says Steve of the findings.

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‘They’re really keen to get it as right as possible – which has not always been my experience of call centers’

From Emerald’s research, the experience that LGBT people have on the phone with call centers was a major concern. To this end, Emerald will have dedicated call center staff.

‘It’s a call center in Ipswich. We have a dedicated, trained team of around 18 brilliant individuals,’ says Steve.

‘The call center asked staff if they wanted to work on this account, and the people that have put themselves forward have worked really hard and been asking us lots of questions – such as how transgender people might being accommodated by the medical screening for travel insurance – so they’re really been thinking through the issues that might be involved.

‘It’s very refreshing to meet a group of people who really care about not causing offence. They’re really keen to get it as right as possible – which has not always been my experience of call centers.’

Among several unique features within its packages, Emerald’s wedding insurance will cover legal expenses in case couples faces discriminatory treatment from service providers. Legal expenses are also provided by the home insurance should applicants experience service provider discrimination based on their sexuality.

A HIV+ status will not automatically exclude applicants from medical cover, while the soon-to-be-launched travel insurance will feature a 24-hour ‘consular assist’ phone helpline that insurance holders can call if they experience arrest or detainment in a country because they’re gay.

‘The travel insurance will be launched in a matter of weeks. We’ve just held off on that at the moment because we’re finalizing the details – we wanted to make sure everything is absolutely in place before we launch it.’

Emerald Life will also be supporting a number of LGBT charities as part of its work, including Stonewall, the Albert Kennedy Trust and parenting group P3 (‘who are helping to advise us on the family side of things. We’ve also got a group of transgender people – our T-squad – to advise on transgender issues – such as call center staff assuming callers are one gender or another’).

It’s also featuring real gay people in its promotional material, not relying on generic imagery from photo libraries.

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‘If they are uncomfortable talking about these things, that makes you uncomfortable’

Emerald Life is working with UK General and ANV on providing insurance policies, but has rigorously gone through the policies that it sells on to ensure wording and policies are truly inclusive towards LGBT customers.

‘We’re not just taking a product and putting our logo on it. It’s taken a lot of discussion and negotiation, and that’s part of the training for the underwriters as well – that they have a much better brief about issues we might face.’

People purchase insurance to ensure peace of mind. You want to know that if something goes wrong, you’re covered.

‘If they – the call center staff or underwriters – are uncomfortable talking about these things, that makes you – the customer – uncomfortable. Then you end up in a situation where people decide not to reveal things about themselves, which their insurance company might then pull them up about at a later date when it finds out they haven’t been 100% honest.

‘Emerald Life will get rid of that discomfort and will offer products tailor-made for the LGBT community.’

Emerald Life