You have been with Allianz Partners for 14 years. What are the major changes you’ve seen in the industry in that time?
The biggest change I’ve seen is in the perceived importance that travel insurance has among consumers, travel suppliers and the media. When I started here 14 years ago, it was challenging to get travel insurance into the general conversation about travel and we had to come up with a lot of innovative ideas, like our long-running Vacation Confidence Index, to be part of the conversation. Fast forward 14 years and with many travel crises behind us, travel insurance has become an integral part of the conversation around travel. Travel suppliers today recognise that their customers don’t want to lose their investment if they have to cancel their trip unexpectedly, and those travellers also seek support while travelling. Travel suppliers have moved to offer travel insurance to meet these needs and as a result are driving improved customer satisfaction.
What does a typical work day look like for you?
Most of my focus is on media relations and I spend a lot of my time answering journalists’ questions and working on press releases and other vehicles to deliver messages. Internally, I’m a one-man band when it comes to media relations, so I lean heavily on our media relations team at our public relations agency Finn Partners New York. I like to tell people that we’re victims of our own success, as we now handle hundreds of incoming media enquiries a year that take varying degrees of work to respond. Insurance is highly regulated in the US, so we need to be very precise in our communications, so we partner with our Compliance and Legal teams to stay within the guardrails. We also put out about 30 press releases a year, attend multiple conferences to obtain face time with key journalists and, of course, track and report out on everything we’re doing. It’s a fast-paced environment which works well with my somewhat manic personality.
We recently heard your presentation at ITIC Americas on attracting and retaining staff. What can companies do to respond to the challenges of retaining talent, and what is Allianz Partners doing differently?
As we’ve come out of the pandemic, attracting and retaining talent has become both increasingly challenging and critically important. Our business has exploded, with sales up 50 per cent since 2019, and we have been working hard to right size our staff to meet this increased demand. I enjoyed providing an overview of our efforts at ITIC because it gave me a chance to articulate all of the things that we do to attract the best associates. This focus has become critically important to our success so we work hard to identify candidates that are a good fit, we communicate constantly to make sure everyone is on the same page and we are always surveying associates to understand and respond to their priorities and concerns. Our HR team has developed a great Total Rewards program that goes way beyond just paychecks to provide the best insurance coverage, retirement plans, healthy living support, mental health support and everything else we feel that our family of associates needs to be successful.
You, along with Finn Partners New York, have recently won a coveted HSMAI Adrian Award for outstanding public relations programs. Why do you think Allianz Partners continues to inspire and connect?
Winning an Adrian Award from the Hospitality Sales and Marketing Association International has definitely been one of the highlights of 2023. When you’re sitting in the awards show and watching companies like Marriott win award after award with really cool, innovative programmes, it makes you feel very honoured to be part of that conversation. We’re very fortunate to have an amazing team of creative people helping us at Finn Partners New York so we can push our public relations efforts outside the envelope to compete with the Marriott’s of the world. We were recognised this year for our work around the Allianz Travel Insurance Vacation Confidence Index, which I came up with 14 years ago and continues to go strong with media relations, social media, travel influencers and most recently a webinar to provide our partners with an overview of the survey’s results. Everything we do starts with a conversation about what our target audience will find compelling and then a brainstorm on how we can provide content that is engaging. We’ve been very fortunate to be an industry leader in delivering effective media relations programs for the past decade.
As customer needs change, insurers have been forced to improve what they do. How is technology changing this?
Consumers now have many choices in how they protect their trip as there are now a plethora of offers from insurance companies, insuretechs, travel suppliers and others. It’s important to differentiate yourself from the pack by effectively communicating the benefits you offer to the consumer. For us, our award-winning TravelSmart mobile app, which our customers can use to carry their policies with them and even file claims, has been a key differentiator. We’re also constantly working to= improve our customer experience and have a great team looking at ways to improve our products and processes. We’re always looking for points of friction and reducing that friction. Recently we’ve revamped our online claims experience to make it easier and more intuitive for our customers and we’ve automated many of our processes to review and pay simple claims faster.
We coined the term ‘microcations,’ and that term has since entered the popular lexicon. Travelling more frequently with shorter stays opens up opportunities for products like annual travel insurance, which can cover every trip taken within a year
What trends are you seeing in the market?
A trend that we identified a few years ago and that continues to gain steam is the phenomenon of Americans taking shorter trips more frequently. We coined the term ‘microcations,’ and that term has since entered the popular lexicon. Travelling more frequently with shorter stays opens up opportunities for products like annual travel insurance, which can cover every trip taken within a year. That’s given us the opportunity to pitch annual plans as a very convenient way to protect your travel investment and take advantage of unexpected benefits like rental car coverage that many of our annual plans include. And annual plans make a great gift for the frequent traveller in your life.
What has been your biggest challenge and most rewarding moment since starting with Allianz Partners?
I’m interviewing applicants for an open position that we have now and I’m telling them all that the biggest challenge here is getting your arms around the breadth and depth of this company. We are multiple times bigger now than when I first started, and our partners include the biggest brands in the travel industry. We provide a wide range of products and services to meet the needs of partners across channels that include e commerce, travel advisors and even our own direct to consumer website. Add on top of all of that the regulation that comes with insurance, and you have a very complex environment. It is a big challenge to ride that steep learning curve so that you can eventually contribute to our continued success.
What does the future look like for travel insurance?
The pandemic has been both painful and a game changer for travel insurance. We’ve ridden the ups and downs successfully and have come out the other side more focused on the needs of our customers and partners. We spent the down months of the pandemic investing in the processes and technologies that would prove valuable when travel came roaring back and that investment has paid tremendous dividends. We are now much better prepared to meet the needs of our customers and provide the value they are looking for. We see a very bright future for our industry and we deeply appreciate the trust that our partners and customers have put in us.