Managing Director Angelika Kolmer (AK) and CEO Reinhard Bellinghausen (RB) discuss the challenge of responding to Covid claims, changes in travel movement and insurance requirements that have occurred due to Brexit. Plus, we consider how the company is making use of digital tools to simplify the insurance process for customers, from making the purchase to finding the right medical assistance solution.
You’ve worked for DR-WALTER in various roles since 1994; what are the most significant changes you have made during that time, and how have they enhanced the business?
AK: I have been working in operations since 1994. As team leader, I helped develop and build up the claims department. Today, a team of qualified employees with a wide range of skills works in this area. Particularly noteworthy are the various foreign languages that we now offer. In addition to German and English, we can also talk with our clients in French, Spanish, Italian and Chinese. We are happy to answer any questions our clients may have about insurance coverage. In the event of a claim, we provide our policyholders with support and look for suitable and fair solutions in difficult cases.
As COO, I have been responsible for the Operations Division since April 2020. My first major project was to customise our contract department’s phone services to meet the needs of our clients. This has made it possible to ensure that they are not unnecessarily connected with different departments, but rather quickly and directly with the right contact person. A positive customer journey is my top priority. There is still a lot to be done in optimising processes and structures. We want to support our clients as a companion on their travels, in their everyday mobile life and in an ever more mobile world.
We are dedicated to the hard currency of ‘customer confidence’ with smart products and the highest possible level of customer centricity. Creating uncomplicated, fast and excellent solutions is what we do behind the scenes.
How have changes in digital technology been embraced by DR-WALTER to enhance the services you offer your clients?
RB: With the help of new technologies, we are radically simplifying our processes. We want to make our clients’ stay abroad as carefree as possible. The work of protecting our clients takes place in the background with minimal effort needed on their part. We are continuously optimising our customer journey, offering simple self services via our website or app, and adding digital services to our products. For example, our clients can conveniently book appointments for a telemedicine consultation directly from our claims app.
To achieve our goals, we have continuously expanded our team of IT and software developers in recent years. In fact, today we are both intermediary as well as IT and software developer.
How did the company cope with the global shutdown and ensuing lack of travel insurance income?
AK: As a travel insurance company, DR-WALTER was hit hard by the global pandemic. We suffered a terrible blow to our overall insurance portfolio. At the same time, we faced some major challenges. We had to provide our customers with information quickly. The phones never stopped ringing and all employees pulled together and did their best to provide our policyholders with information and solutions in a professional and uncomplicated manner. We have made thousands of cancellations and refunded premiums.
The most difficult issue for us was the federal government’s campaign to repatriate German citizens stranded abroad. All youth activities, au pairs, work and travel participants, volunteer services, etc. were affected. Taking care of all those young people from an insurance perspective was a big challenge. While some insurers simply declined coverage due to their pandemic clauses, we at DR-WALTER have never let our clients down. It was important to us that they had the best protection and that our hotlines worked so that they could return home safely.
What changes did the company make to its travel insurance policies in light of Covid? Was it difficult to find an underwriter to accommodate these changes?
AK: Regarding our DR-WALTER products, we were able to quickly coordinate with our insurance partners. No pandemic clause was invoked and our policyholders were not abandoned. The treatment costs of Covid-19 were and are fully covered by health insurance. Thankfully, our policyholders were mostly spared from the pandemic and only a few severe cases of Covid-19 were reported. We were well prepared for the worst case thanks to our assistance partners, and medical return transports were ensured in the event of an emergency.
International student insurance is a product in which DR-WALTER has specialised for some time; have you seen this start to open up again in the wake of Covid?
RB: The market for international student insurance has many facets. We see very different developments in business areas such as inbound travel to Germany, but also in European and global programmes like Erasmus Plus. Most importantly, we have seen positive development within the German market. German universities will start to offer more in-person classes again. German consulates and embassies are open again and have started to give appointments for visa applications again. The market is recovering, even if there are still major regional differences – for example, very few people from China are able to come to Germany to study. Erasmus mobility is also recovering well, though global mobility remains slow.
Our products do not include exclusions for Covid-19 or pandemics in general and therefore did not need to be adjusted. As a result, we were able to offer our clients full protection throughout the crisis. We have received a lot of positive feedback for this from our clients, but also from universities and other partners.
How has the international medical insurance scene been affected by Brexit? Are you seeing a drop in the number of workers such as au pairs entering and leaving Germany to work abroad?
AK: Au pairs are currently not able to work in the UK following strict immigration rules after Brexit. It’s unfortunate, as this was a vital element of cultural exchange and now people are missing out on the opportunity to learn English. This is extremely sad for au pair placements in general, especially since young Germans were very happy to go there as au pairs. As a result, the new rules affect the business of insurance providers offering specific international insurance solutions for au pairs and other work programmes in the UK.
For other destinations, we have seen an increasing demand for adequate international travel insurance in 2021. The awareness of having comprehensive insurance during the stay abroad has grown since Covid-19.
Your Protrip product offers cover for all types of stays abroad from one month to five years. It’s a very long coverage period for travel insurance; do you do medical underwriting updates with your clients for this kind of long-term policy? How do you manage changing medical risks?
RB: Protrip is an international health insurance policy based on the German model. It differs from an IPMI solution in that it offers limited services, such as the exclusion of check-ups and routine examinations. Preexisting conditions are partially excluded, which is why we do not require a health check. Protrip is kind of a light version of an IPMI that makes sense for the first time abroad. If the policyholder then wants to stay abroad, we recommend switching to ‘proper’ international health insurance.
Protrip is offered by health insurance company Generali. Generali sees itself as a quality provider that wants to offer its clients comprehensive coverage, even in crisis situations. The Covid-19 pandemic has therefore not led to restrictions on insurance coverage. Fortunately, German insurers think quite differently from insurers in the rest of the world.
What are your primary distribution channels, and have these changed over the years?
RB: Direct marketing has always been our main sales channel. In addition, we have a network with over 1,000 distribution partners. The trend is moving away from group contract products to word-of-mouth marketing through web linking. Our affiliate programme is experiencing significant growth as we cooperate with more and more bloggers and other influencers.
What do you enjoy most about your current role, and what do you find most challenging?
AK: In April 2020, I was appointed as an additional Managing Director by the shareholders. It was and is my great honour and pleasure to become the third managing director in the over 60-year history of the family business. And the first female managing director.
I am looking forward to playing an even more active and creative role in the further development of DR-WALTER. I particularly enjoy the contact with our employees and clients in my daily work. I see my task in ensuring that our employees work effectively, in a healthy work environment and according to their talents. If our employees are satisfied, so are our clients.
Having been in the insurance industry for some time, what are the biggest lessons you have learned about the industry, and what would you tell someone that was just starting out in their insurance career?
RB: One of the biggest challenges has always been to find the right insurance companies and to get along with them. We know our clients and their needs very well. Insurers live in a world far away from the everyday needs of their clients. A tip for all young professionals: If you want to create and shape, get a job with an intermediary, find a modern insurtech company in Berlin, London or here in Cologne and don’t even try to understand the mindset of the traditional insurers.