ADVO Group interviews Marco Forato, Chief Marketing Officer, Unum UK


Unum is one of the leading providers of financial protection in the UK. At the end of last year, they protected more than 1.8 million people in the UK, and paid claims of £288 million! We caught up with UNUM UK’s Chief Marketing Officer, Marco Forato for the latest in our series of exclusive interviews. Read on to discover how the idea of the infamous tablecloth trick TV ad came about, Marco’s predicted future market trends and much more!

About Unum

Unum is one of the UK’s leading providers of financial protection, with more than 40 years’ experience. We help companies get their staff the financial protection they need, safeguarding employees and their families from the consequences of serious illness, injury or death. We are one of the market leaders in Group Income Protection, trusted by 47 of the FTSE 100 and SMEs alike with the protection of their workers.

The insurance services that Unum provide support people when they need it most. What we do matters to people’s lives. That’s what gets us out of bed in the morning, and because of that we go the extra mile to make sure our clients and our claimants get the best possible service.

That’s why we have one of the leading, comprehensive claims management services, that includes ongoing regular contact with claimants to understand their situation better. We’re able to go beyond just the pure medical diagnosis of a disability, and take into account the individual’s social, work and psychological states – all of which affect recovery. Aligned to this, we have an award winning, wholly in-house, locally-based team of Vocational Rehabilitation Consultants whose expertise can reduce a person’s time out of work by up to 74%. Further, we’re driving product innovation in the market, being the first to offer direct payment to claimants, and ‘voluntary’ products that allow both employer and employee to contribute to cost.

At the end of 2011, Unum protected more than 1.8 million people in the UK, and paid claims of £288 million – representing in excess of £5 million a week in benefits to our customers – providing security and peace of mind to employees and their families.

OurUSparent company, Unum Group, traces its history back to 1848 and is one of the leading providers of employee benefits products and services, and the largest provider of group and individual disability insurance in theUnited States.

What is it that makes Unum unique:

As one of the few UK companies to specialise in Group Risk we deliver more than just financial protection products.  Our clients can call on our award-winning in-house team of rehab professionals for help from day one of an employee’s absence, and our common sense approach to medical underwriting means that once we’ve underwritten someone, we’ll never need to underwrite them again for Income Protection.  We’re also one of the few insurers to consider offering Income Protection (IP) cover to people with a history of diabetes, cancer, paraplegia, heart attack and back pain.

How has the company evolved over the years? Has the focus of the business shifted to any different or new areas or markets over that time?

Unum has largely evolved through various mergers and acquisitions, all underpinned by our commitment to bringing financial protection to workers in theUK. We have always specialised in providing protection insurance benefits through the workplace. We’ve grown to have around half the Group Income Protection market, and this is increasingly a focus for us. We see Income Protection at work as being the largest growth opportunity in financial protection.

To support that, we began major marketing investment to drive Group Income Protection demand, and have doubled the number of employees willing to ask about it at work. 10% of HR managers report having had conversations with staff in the last 6 months, and we have had several significant sales opportunities coming directly from employees asking their employers for a back-up plan.

What direction or increased specialisation do you see Unum taking in the future? What are the future plans for the company?

We are committed to focusing on the employer-paid benefits market to achieve our key objective of bringing financial protection to more of theUK’s workforce.  Currently only 1 in 10 employees in the private sector has a back-up plan in case of long term illness or injury and we want to greatly improve this.  It is going to be challenging as we are trying to change behaviour in a market that hasn’t changed in 30 years, but we are gradually getting our messages across. Our awareness campaign begun in 2011 brings together advertising, PR, public affairs and social media into a holistic long-term marketing plan aimed at achieving this.

With our focus very firmly on three key audiences:UKworkers, their employers and financial advisers, we are going forward with an expanded portfolio of products offering an element of financial protection that can match every need and budget:

Classic – Provides extensive benefits cover with a wide variety of tailored options available.  These include varying levels of cover and the length of time for which the payments will continue, and can be tailored for specific categories of employees to address both business needs and budget.

Foundation – Ideal for those looking to put in place a core level of financial protection for their employees, that simultaneously fits in with their benefits budget in the current economic climate. This can be built-on when budgets permit or needs increase.

Unum Select – An innovative approach offering flexible funding options that enable employers to bring the benefits of IP to more of their workforce.  Employers can fully fund, part fund and ask employees to pay the difference.

What future trends do you see emerging for the UK financial protection insurance market as a whole?

First, across all product types, the industry is buzzing with talk of the Government’s “Simplified Products” initiative. However, a key trend we think will emerge is not so much simplification of products, but simplification of the way we talk about them. Using plain English, with small print kept to a minimum, that clearly explains what the product is and isn’t, and when it’s useful, will go a long way to establishing trust in our industry, and supporting growth. This is a problem we started to tackle in 2011 and will continue to lead on.

And talking of growth, one of the greatest opportunities within financial protection is in Group Income Protection. As our awareness-building campaign drives demand, and as other insurers join our efforts to educate the market, we believe there will be significant, sustained growth. In our view the workplace is the best place to get IP, and we believe the majority of growth will therefore come from Group IP. Product innovation will continue, to ensure product fit to both need and budget. Through this, plus an increasingly holistic approach to how & why benefits packages are designed, we expect IP to become a normal, ‘everyday’ part of a typical benefits set. Let’s remember that only 1 in 10 people have Income Protection, compared with 6 in 10 having life insurance, yet the risk of needing IP is 3 times greater than death during your working life. This is by far the largest protection ‘gap’, and therefore the largest growth opportunity.

Life insurance is comparatively well-penetrated in both individual and group, and is an increasingly price-driven commodity. Here, cost management and automation are likely to be major factors.

What does your typical day at Unum involve?

My time is spent focusing on two key imperatives:

–         Supporting growth: this includes providing support to our sales team, overseeing the consumer awareness campaign we have embarked on, ensuring we have the right suite of products to meet needs and budgets, and helping the organisation build a distribution network for future growth

–         Development of, and support for, my Marketing and Business Development team, so that I have the right group of people and skills, forged into a high-performing team, to deliver that growth agenda

A typical day might include a catch-up with my immediate team, followed by a telephone interview with a journalist, a meeting with one of our key brokers and preparation for a presentation to one of our sales offices – all I know for sure is that each day is very different from the last!

What part of your role at Unum gives you the most satisfaction?

I love sharing the stories of people we’ve helped at a very difficult time in their lives – either with financial support, in helping them return to work, or both. It is also extremely satisfying to see our awareness campaign gaining momentum and the ‘buzz’ created by our innovative ads. Ultimately, seeing our work resulting in sales is the greatest reward.

Unum has a strong social media presence across Facebook and Twitter. What type of company or industry information can we expect to find on each of these?

Facebook  is directed primarily at consumers who have little or no knowledge of IP, and is designed to reinforce the Back-up Plan message.  The site aims to explain what IP is, why you may need it, why it’s a great back-up plan and ultimately how you can get it. It’s done in a way that’s easy to understand and engaging. The tone is light-hearted, to fit in with the context of Facebook and we produce content that is fun and shareable. The apps we have like the Penny Jar, which shows you how long you could last without your income, or the Perkulator that helps you understand what your benefits are worth on top of your salary, are fun to use but have serious messages at their heart.

Our Twitter feed gives us a daily voice and links most closely to the AskUnum audience (see below).  On here we highlight content which might be relevant to our followers, whether that’s on our own sites or on those of third parties.  It is another route for people to ask us questions, and gives an opportunity to react very quickly to anything we see that is of interest. It’s particularly valuable for us to keep in direct touch with influential people, like key corporate advisers, trade and national journalists, and specialist bloggers. It is very much a support to both Facebook and AskUnum

We also have AskUnum, our own social hub and blog platform, where consumers, employers and advisers can have their questions answered personally by both Unum staff and independent experts.  We post the most relevant and interesting answers on the site so it becomes a resource tool for others to use.  We also post relevant and interesting blogs and have helpful downloads that give practical advice, for example, how to ask about IP at work.  It allows us to link to other interesting sites and broadens the appeal of what we do beyond the narrow niche of IP.

Finally we have a dedicated YouTube channel to host all our videos, including our TV ads and other video content that is then showcased on AskUnum or Facebook. It is also a place we can direct people to who want to get a feel of what we are about as a company, underlining the tone of openness of our consumer campaign.

How do you see the role of the intermediary in business development?

Intermediaries are key partners for us, both in securing increased penetration at the smaller end of the market and in increasing cover for all employees at the larger end. Overall, as greater pressure is placed on every penny spent, payroll budgets need to work harder. This provides the ideal chance for advisers to provide insightful and imaginative consultancy to their clients, and add value by helping them create benefit packages that work better for their businesses.  This may be by means of rebalancing their current benefits package or considering a different product option.

We want intermediaries to take advantage of the awareness we are creating and the consumer education we are providing, in order to start conversations with their clients.

We are also looking to partner with IFAs who provide advice to owners or directors of SMEs with a view to growing workforce penetration. There are over 150,000 companies in theUKwith less than 50 employees and more often than not they don’t get the expert support they need. Through their existing relationships with small business owners and directors, who already understand the value of workplace IP through their own Executive policy, IFAs could easily step in and fill this gap.

The recent advert with the now infamous table cloth trick seems to have really taken off. How did the company come up with the idea?

We started by looking for ordinary people with a unique skill which could be used to demonstrate some aspect of the IP message we wanted to get across. In fact, when we came across Mat Ricardo and his extraordinary skill in removing (and replacing) a tablecloth from a laid table, we realised that we had the perfect metaphor for what IP does for you ‘when the rug is pulled-out from underneath you’: IP puts it back. Obviously this is only the beginning of a continuing campaign utilising PR, advertising, media partnerships and public affairs – we’ll be back on TV in October!

Why is Income Protection such a natural sell alongside Private Medical Insurance (PMI)?

There is a natural synergy between PMI and GIP. A PMI scheme is there to ensure speedy medical treatment where required. IP complements this by providing a financial safety-net if the employee’s recovery process means they’re unable to work for a long period of time. Whilst great medical treatment means we survive serious illnesses or injuries far more than ever before, in many cases incapacity to work is permanent. IP ensures the medical crisis doesn’t become a financial one as well.

Also, the IP provider will, where appropriate, work with the employer and employee on helping that employee return to work as soon as possible. Sometimes an experienced claims or rehab specialist might suggest a suitable treatment or route that could be funded by the PMI policy.

It seems strange that, whilst a lot of employers offer private healthcare to their staff when the NHS is also available to them, fewer employers offer IP when only limited help is available from the State for a member of staff who is off work for a considerable amount of time.

For more information on Unum visit