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UK Life Assurance

How the life assurance market is split up into several often confusing products.

In the UK life assurance splits out into term assurance which is a genuine insurance product (it protects you in the event of your death) and whole of life policies, which are actually investments (effectively saving for the day when you die). Under these two umbrellas are a raft of other options and tweaks.

In the UK life assurance comes in several flavours. The first is term assurance, which is usually the cheapest as it covers you only for a set term (usually ten years). A lump sum is paid out should you die in that time- so it’s a simple insurance policy. A variant is the family income plan, which instead of paying a lump sum, pays out a regular income- but only until the date the policy expires. After that you’re on your own!

If you want more sophisticated cover, you need a whole of life or endowment policy. The UK life assurance market is changing rapidly, and the nature of these products, which have a heavy investment component, is constantly under review.

Endowments are a halfway house. They too are for a set period (usually ten or twenty years); but in the happy event of your survival, they pay out a lump sum upon maturity (a term policy would simply expire). The mechanism of bonuses by which endowments increase in final value is complex, and you should seek advice before committing. The advent of unitised policies has also made endowment policies a rarity.

Whole of life cover is an entirely investment-oriented product. It will cover you for the duration of your life, and pay out accordingly upon death (or critical illness if covered). Older whole life policies were again topped up with bonuses, but these days you’re more likely to buy a unitised or other investment vehicle, such that your benefits are tightly tied into the overall performance of the stockmarket. UK life assurance companies have come in for plenty of bad press over their recent performance, and most have engaged in serious cost-cutting in order to give their customers an acceptable payout.