ITIJ spoke to Ryan Howsam, Chairman of Staysure, about providing travel insurance for older customers, how best to accommodate pre-existing conditions, and what the industry has to look forward to in 2019
How did you first get started in the insurance industry? What was the impetus behind founding Staysure?
I’d been an entrepreneur with experience in several different fields before I identified the opportunity Staysure could bring. We’re all living longer and travelling more, and it felt like the travel insurance products on offer weren’t tailored to the growing demographic of over-50s with pre-existing medical conditions. Staysure was my first foray into the world of insurance and it’s become something I’m passionate about. My commitment to excellence has been the hallmark of my career and has definitely helped to cement Staysure’s place in the market.
As we begin 2019, what do you see as the major challenges – and opportunities – that the industry can look forward to in the year ahead?
This year has brought with it more uncertainty about travel. At this time, we’re all still waiting to find out the exact implications of Brexit on European travel, including the EHIC system. While it’s unlikely these will be as dramatic as some fear, it’s understandable that there is a certain degree of trepidation around booking trips at this time. In terms of opportunities, I still believe there is huge growth potential in the medical travel insurance sector. In 2017, we bought Avanti Travel Insurance and this brand is going from strength to strength. Last year it doubled in size and we have already seen a number of new record days in 2019.
Your company offers travel insurance for older customers, including those aged 85 and older, something that many travel insurers might shy away from. How do you approach the provision of travel insurance for older demographics?
At Staysure, we’re proud not to have upper age limits on any of our policies. We don’t believe age should be a barrier to travel. Around 10 per cent of our policies are sold to customers aged 80 years or older, which reflects their desire to explore the world. Some insurers are far less likely to cover older customers even if they are fit and healthy. At Staysure we know an 80-year-old could be travelling for another 20 years plus! We tailor our policies to individuals’ specific needs, ensuring they have the right level of cover and allowing them to feel reassured their health is in good hands while they’re away.
Do you think that the global travel insurance landscape is sufficiently friendly to those with pre-existing conditions, or is there more work to be done in this area?
Absolutely not. Travel can be very complicated for people with pre-existing medical conditions, which was a key reason I started Staysure.
In 2018, the FCA recognised this issue, and has called for reform across the industry to help people access specialist insurance services. They calculate that in the UK at least 15 million people are currently living with at least one long-term health condition, so it’s something that affects a huge percentage of the population. We are about to launch the findings of our recent study on ‘under-insurance’. The report estimates that each year over three million British holidaymakers over the age of 50 are unwittingly travelling without adequate travel insurance, largely as a result of their pre-existing medical conditions. The issue is real, it’s prevalent, and it’s one that we should be working together to address.
Staysure has been voted the UK’s Most Trusted Travel Insurance Provider for two consecutive years by Moneywise. Congratulations! What does this achievement mean to you?
Thank you! We were so pleased to win this award for the second year running. Trust is so important when it comes to insurance products, and this accolade underscores how seriously we take our brand positioning, ‘Worth Doing Right’. Travel insurance isn’t something you should skimp on – the consequences of doing so could be catastrophic.
We were also recently voted the Best Travel Insurance Provider at the 2018 British Travel Awards for the third year in a row. These recognitions let customers know that we are as committed to ensuring their peace of mind as we claim to be.
Can you describe a typical day as Chairman of Staysure?
As with every walk of life, no two days are the same, but that’s what keeps it interesting. I’ve always felt the need to stay close to my customers and enjoy hearing what they have to say. At the start of the day I often catch up with colleagues and listen to any concerns or emerging themes. Later in the day, I could be sitting down with our marketing team developing a new brand, and by the evening meeting with the European Tour discussing our sponsorship deal with them. It’s unpredictable but certainly never boring!
I’m very excited about our position but I’ve never lost that entrepreneurial spirit so I’m constantly on the lookout for new opportunities. The next exciting venture could be just around the corner.
Does Staysure have any exciting new ventures in the pipeline for 2019?
Last year was a great year for us: we won several accolades, being named Best and Most Trusted Travel Insurance Provider, as well as receiving ‘Which? Recommended’ accreditation. This year, our focus will be on cementing our position as industry leaders, with quality and transparency at the centre of everything we do, as well as taking a number of steps to grow our footprint. On the ground, we have moved to bigger offices, reflecting our expansion, and continue to grow our customer service and innovation teams. We are proud to be one of the top employers in both Northampton and Coventry.
Which aspects of your role do you enjoy the most, and which are the most challenging?
Working in financial services is full of challenges and travel insurance is no exception, but if you get it right it can be truly rewarding. Having started Staysure working out of a small office with fewer than 10 employees, it’s immensely satisfying to see how we have grown and how far we have come. In terms of challenges and what keeps me awake at night, I enjoy the constant strive for improvement and asking myself ‘what’s next’. I am always on the lookout for exciting opportunities, businesses to acquire or markets to enter.
What are your proudest achievements, both personally and professionally?
There are many things I’m extremely proud of both personally and professionally. Golf has always been a huge passion of mine so when we decided to become headline sponsor of the European Senior Tour, now the Staysure Tour, at the end of 2017, it felt like a watershed moment. Last year, we held the first official Staysure PGA Seniors Championship at the London Club, where I was able to play alongside golf legends Paul McGinley and Colin Montgomerie. I have never lost my drive to succeed, even after a health scare a few years back. At times it was hard to believe I would be the chairman of such a successful business with a fantastic leadership team. Staysure is going from strength to strength and I’m truly optimistic about the future and what we can achieve. ■
This article features in the February 2019 issue of ITJ.