How did you come to work in the travel insurance industry, and can you tell us about your current role at International Travel and Healthcare?
I have a fairly broad background in financial services, but it was a combination of two events that really brought me into the travel insurance industry. One, a personal experience that left me reeling from the horror of having to be totally dependent on an assistance company’s unacceptable services. The other, a few years later when I was asked to help develop the strategy and marketing for an assistance company that was being created following acquisition of three TPAs. What really appealed to me was that it would allow me to become involved in making a positive difference for travellers who found themselves in the dreadful position that I had been in previously.
I joined as a director of what eventually became Specialty Assist. Following further corporate acquisitions in the following year, I was asked to turn a failing medical screening business (Pre-Screening UK Limited) into a travel insurance intermediary, to provide a range of travel insurance schemes and continuing the medical screening services. The name International Travel and Healthcare (ITH) seemed to fit the role of the organisation better, so we changed the name and re-branded the business.
My role at ITH is very broad and therefore I tend to oversee most things, so each day is always different (and busy), but I have a great team and they are hugely loyal and supportive, which allows me to manage the ‘big stuff’ personally while they work alongside me, making sure that the operations centre runs smoothly day-to-day. Over the last year, much of my time and energy has been focused on bringing the concept of Safe-Journey, our new terrorism travel insurance product, to market. This came about in direct reaction to the exposure to terrorism that travellers now face, not just those, mercifully few, who are directly affected, but also the many thousands who are indirectly affected by disinclination to travel to destinations that have seen recent acts of terrorism. There have been some huge challenges and the project has required me to use all my skills to achieve my goal of bringing this much-needed financial protection to market, for the benefit of everyone.
International Travel and Healthcare offers bespoke travel insurance schemes and medical screening services throughout the UK and the EU. What would you say were the key factors that drove the company’s development of these core competencies, and why did you decide to focus on mature travellers with pre-existing conditions?
The key factor has always been in identifying a need – which is distinctly different to finding a gap and developing a good solution, as in the case of Safe-Journey. The general exclusion of terrorism in travel insurance policies created an obvious need, as well as the increasing pace of terrorism and the actual targeting of British nationals abroad. I would say that our core competency lies in thinking like the consumer, then acting like a responsible provider, knowing what worries them and saying to yourself, how well are we catering for this risk? Can we do better?
Mature travellers really were not well catered for. Their needs differ from the average consumer – for instance, they tend to want to travel far more, and many can afford to travel more often. There was a demand for annual policies, with a choice of travel durations, and they wanted cover for their pre-existing medical conditions, so in response we provide cover up to the age of 86 for a variety of durations of up to 90 days in any single trip. For us, it’s a case of meeting our customers’ needs and that’s the secret. You also need to know how they want to buy, and make sure your customer journey is built around this. Over 50 per cent of the UK population is over 50 so I’d hardly say it’s niche – it can be more difficult to assess risk, but because we have our own screening platform we have the confidence to cover greater risk than other providers. Having this within our control has given us the edge and helped us bring to market other products like our specialist cruise insurance too.
Medical screening has embedded itself more widely and comprehensively into the global travel insurance offering. Where do you think that many medical screening systems still fall down? How can the challenges of capturing relevant and substantial customer information be met, while keeping costs manageable for both insurers and customers?
Pricing has been the enemy. Medical screening is an expensive business to do well, and it needs frequent updates and changes, as well as proper analysis of claims data compared to screening data, with constant attention to keep it up to date. Aside from increasing obesity and advances in medicine, the market seems reluctant to price to allow for constant and expensive support tools to be developed to meet a scheme-by-scheme requirement. This is where the problem lies – it is undervalued by those that need it the most.
Medical screening is not, and cannot be, a ‘one-size-fits-all’ proposition. A thorough screening takes time to complete and everything is geared to speed, it comes at a price because it does not allow for sufficient questioning on occasion.
You were elected as chairman of the UK’s Association of Travel Insurance Intermediaries two years ago. How’s that been for you?
It has been fabulous. I have really loved every minute, and it’s extremely rewarding to be able to personally make a difference, not just in the industry and for our members, but with our broader stakeholders as well, like the FCO and more recently APPCOG. It has been a learning curve, too, and I thoroughly enjoy my role.
With technology rapidly changing the way in which travel insurance is purchased and serviced, how are intermediaries embracing current trends to ensure customer needs are being met?
I hope they are looking carefully at their management information (MI), to ensure that the speed of technological advancement is not to the detriment of the consumer. Embracing the trend will result in a much sharper focus on MI and needs regular research to speak with consumers in more detail. If all dialogue becomes digital we have to develop the MI side of our businesses even faster for it to be more inherently intuitive.
What are International Travel and Healthcare’s plans for future development?
Our ultimate aim is to be able to bring to market an ‘exclusion-free’ and ‘condition-free’ travel insurance – it’s a dream perhaps, but if you can’t dream it, then it will never become a reality. For us, everything is product and service focused and I’d like to get to a point where recommendation drives considerably more than the current 40 per cent of our business, so cost of acquisition is reduced even further. Maybe soon we will feel acquisitive and finding a good match for more growth will become critical.
What’s your favourite aspect of your current role?
I like nearly all of what I do – but the buzz of knowing I’m working on a new scheme, which is really needed and will make a difference for millions of people, has to be the biggest of them all.
If you could do any other job in the world, what would you do, and why?
Anything that would make a significant difference to a lot of people. For me, it feels like it’s time to ‘give back’ and use the skills I have gained for the benefit of others.
What are your proudest achievements – both personally and professionally?
Personally, it has to be seeing my daughter achieving her goals, she’s well on the way to becoming a doctor. Thankfully she has inherited my tenacity! Professionally, it’s to be where I am today and making the world a slightly better and more financially secure place for a lot of people.