Who is ‘key’ to your practice? - Veterinary Practice
Your browser is out-of-date!

Update your browser to view this website correctly. Update my browser now



Who is ‘key’ to your practice?

ANDREW NEALE looks at the benefits that ‘key person’ insurance can bring and what to watch out for

MANY businesses overlook the reality that some members of staff are key to profitability. They could be difficult to replace because their skills and client relationships are all but unique. Their death or injury could hit cash flow and damage profitability but there are solutions.

Losing a key member of staff due to unforeseen death or illness can be a tragedy for a business, but with a less emotional eye any personal loss can turn to financial loss as well.

Staff morale could be affected, causing delays to the normal running of the business, which can result in a loss of goodwill, or even a loss of clients in itself. In addition, recruiting and training a replacement member of staff can prove costly.

It is well known that the British royal family forbids senior members of the family from flying together in case an accident should destroy the “brand” and heritage for ever.

“Key person” insurance is one way that businesses can protect themselves from the financial implications of these unfortunate circumstances, but it is often overlooked. In most cases this is because many organisations do not understand what it is or how it can be used.

What is ‘key person’ insurance?

Key person policies are designed to offset any negative impact on profitability to a business following the loss of a member of staff who is essential to its running, through death, serious illness or an accident. This type of policy only covers unforeseen problems and cannot be used if the person simply decides to leave.

It is often thought that “key person” insurance only applies to company directors or partners. This is not the case, but who can be covered will vary depending on your business. The policy can apply to anyone whose loss would have an immediate impact on profits, such as a senior practice manager or a specialist surgeon.

Some organisations have key person policies that pay out on death but do not cover critical illness, which can be just as big a risk. Consider, for example, what would happen if the managing director (MD) of a small company had a stroke and was incapacitated. It could cause a loss of confidence among clients with whom the MD had a close relationship. If the company had included critical illness cover as part of their key person policy it would have been able to make a claim.

Identifying a key person

In order to identify individuals who are key to the business, start by considering who creates and drives your business. This will vary, depending on your practice and any specialist areas, but in addition to directors or partners and senior staff this might also include individuals in client relationship or practice management without whom the business could lose clients or profits.

There are all sorts of reasons why an individual can be essential to a business. Perhaps they are responsible for a certain area that brings a lot of revenue in to your practice, or they have built up significant client relationships over a number of years.

Even when key personnel have been identified, whether or not key person insurance is the best way to proceed will depend on how the case is viewed by HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC).

Tax issues

Depending on the terms of agreement, payouts under key person policies may qualify for tax relief. HMRC decides on a case-by-case basis which payouts are eligible but there are no official guidelines issued on this matter. However, past cases indicate that tax relief is most likely in the following circumstances:

■ the only relationship between the company and the “key person” whose life is being insured is that of employer and employee (except in the case of shareholding directors);

■ the policy covers loss of profits only;

■ the term covered under the policy is reasonable – periods of five years, and sometimes up to 10 years, are generally deemed acceptable;

■ the employee being insured does not hold a significant shareholding in the company.

Tax relief will not usually be available if the policy is intended as security for a loan or is on the life of a proprietor.

These are general guidelines, so in order to clarify the situation for an individual business it is important to talk to the local inspector of taxes.

If the staff member to be insured is unlikely to be defined as a “key person” under these rules, it may prove more tax efficient to look into other policies, such as shareholder protection policies, as key person policies which do not qualify for relief can incur corporation tax of up to 40%, leaving considerably less money in the pot to cover the losses incurred.

In all cases professional advice is vital in ensuring that the policy and cover are appropriate for the business.

Have you heard about our
IVP Membership?

A wide range of veterinary CPD and resources by leading veterinary professionals.

Stress-free CPD tracking and certification, you’ll wonder how you coped without it.

Discover more