Introduction

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What is agile protection?

Agile protection is flexible insurance and associated worker protections, provided by multiple stakeholders and tailored to individual career trajectories by addressing various transition points in working lives.

Report | Social protection: from fragile to agile. Towards a more flexible, secure and fair system.

Prof Gordon Clark, Dr Sarah McGill, Dr Stefania Innocenti and Angelika Kaiser, together with Zurich's Group Communications and Public Affairs team, will investigate current threats to the sustainability of worker protection systems, and propose frameworks for social protection in rapidly changing global and national labour markets.

The project, which commences in July 2018, will build upon the success of the Zurich-Oxford Income Protection Gap project (2015-2018) which examined the behavioural (bottom-up) and institutional (top-down) drivers of shortfalls in earned household income due to disability, illness, or the premature death of a breadwinner.

We aim to achieve similar results in the Agile Protection project: the generation of robust, extensive original data in support of fresh, actionable policy recommendations with both global and tailored national relevance. We will also carry forward the Smith School's work on the shifting balance of financial responsibility from institutions to individuals and households.


Project Overview

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The Agile Protection — Securing Workforce Protection for the Future project begins from the premise that responsibility for workers' lifelong financial well-being must be shared between individuals and the institutions that can provide them with social security: governments, employers, insurance companies, and other financial service providers. Ultimately, the public and private sectors must work together to design an integrated system of benefits that helps to enable people to develop their potential throughout their whole lifespans.

The course of a working life has changed dramatically in recent years — and not just because people are living, and working, longer. Spurred along by the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), the prevalence of different types of 'non-traditional' employment, the rise and fall of entire industries, and the growth in the sharing economy have all brought greater uncertainty to the global labour market. At the same time, there is a greater likelihood that workers may pause their careers in order to take on caregiving responsibilities, or undertake further education and training.

In the face of such uncertainty and the need to adapt continuously in a 21st-century labour market, workers are in need of more social protection than ever before. Yet this trend coincides with the ongoing decline of the welfare state: the public sector has for some time been unable to provide adequate, sustainable social security, given shifts in demography and fiscal constraints. At the same time, this is a burden that individuals cannot — and, it is increasingly argued, should not — shoulder alone. Nor can it be delegated to a single company, given that someone at the start of their career today can be expected to change employers several times over the course of their working life. For their part, insurers have historically concentrated on selling single products for specific phases in customers' lifecycles — a strategy that still works well for workers whose lifelong career trajectories still follow a conventional pattern. However, this fragmentation in product design and marketing is something must be rethought in the context of the new landscape of work and retirement.

Objectives

The objective of the Agile Protection research project is threefold: (1) to understand the economic and social drivers behind the need for a new social protection framework; (2) to gather new empirical data, both on employers' perspectives on the challenges of providing flexible protection and on individuals' behavioural tendencies that influence their insurance purchasing decisions, in order to inform solutions; (3) to recommend steps towards designing and implementing a new social protection framework by drawing on the findings of these first two areas of inquiry. We are concerned with protection products which safeguard people's income and assets from morbidity and mortality risks: specifically, term life, critical illness, accident, disability, and income protection products (including major medical expense insurance), as well as existing whole of life products which provide similar coverage but are linked to a savings or investment element.

This project further aims to build upon the success of the Zurich-Oxford Income Protection Gap project (2015-2018), which examined the macro- and micro-level drivers of shortfalls in earned household income due to disability, illness, or the premature death of a breadwinner. One key to this success was a survey of consumer finances which was rare in academic research in for its size, geographic scope, and substantive depth. The results of this survey, when placed within the context of our high-level socio-economic findings, provided an evidence base of both policy relevance and academic interest. Not least because it was attuned to country-level difference, the research succeeded in capturing the attention of a global audience beyond the insurance industry, sparking an ongoing discussion across multiple spheres within the private and public sectors alike. We aim to achieve similar results in the Agile Protection project: the generation of robust, extensive original data in support of fresh, actionable policy recommendations with both global and tailored national relevance.