Assistance & Repatriation Review | April 2019
Insurance companies have had to adapt to this changing world and have opted to offer assistance in other ways such as telephone apps for on-the-spot information about medical facilities in an area
ITIJ caught up with Carlos Hernandez, Operations Manager at Tangiers International, to talk about his role, digital claims, and a particularly challenging assistance case
How did you first get started in the assistance industry, and how did your career progress to your current role?
It was purely by chance! I was given the opportunity to use my language skills when working for a health check screening company based in Wakefield, UK, in the early 2000s and that was my first contact with the travel insurance world. From there, I got a taste for helping people and my interest in assistance grew. Later that decade, I moved into repatriation and claims handling where I gained a deep understanding of complex medical evacuation protocols, providers, hospital liaison and expectation management and team management.
Finally, the chance arrived to make the leap to Operations Manager with Tangiers International early in 2017.
Can you talk us through a typical day in your role as Operations Manager?
This is a challenging role! Apart from checking that all systems are working and all members of the team are ready for work, there are other things such as: making sure that payments to providers are made in a timely manner; delegating tasks; contacting providers and updating existing contracts; checking that all members of my team are up to date with training, protocols, and so forth; creating reports, organising and attending meetings, supervising cases and claims; contacting underwriters and brokers; checking, updating and creating new schemes; liaising and informing accounts when we need to invoice; guiding the Operations Team; reporting to the General Manager; solving problems; updating rosters … and anything else that may come my way.
What, in your opinion, are the key elements of facilitating a smooth and co-operative relationship between an insurance company and an assistance company?
Clear and precise communication is vital – knowing who is doing what and how to contact the correct person if necessary. A good explanation of benefits and exclusions on the policies, avoiding ambiguity. And quick responses in case authorisation are needed for high-cost cases.
How has the global landscape for assistance changed over the past decade, in your view?
People are travelling to more challenging places, where there might be problems with communication, political unrest or lack of services. Insurance companies have had to adapt to this changing world and have opted to offer assistance in other ways such as telephone apps for on-the-spot information about medical facilities in an area, information on safety or by having on-the-ground agents that can actually call or visit the insured directly and give local advice in the local language.
Has introducing your Tangiers Travel App made a noticeable difference to your relationship with your clients?
It has changed in the way that it is easy for them to submit claims without the need to use emails or even call us! They can attach all the necessary documents and get an instant reply with their reference number, and a member of the team can message them asking for further information or call them if required. They can also use the app to get a list of hospitals and medical facilities in the area where they are, should they need them. Obviously, we are always at the end of the phone 24/7 if our clients prefer to speak to one of our operators.
Can you give us an example of a recent case that proved particularly challenging?
We had to transfer one of our clients from Afghanistan to India for an operation. There were issues with the Indian Embassy as it would not issue a visa to this particular person unless there was an invitation letter from the receiving hospital in India. To expedite things, we contacted the hospital directly and also our Tangiers International agents in India and Afghanistan. They sent the letter, but still the visa was declined as the claimant’s companion was not considered a close family member (they were a cousin). This was changed, so that the new companion was the patient’s father. Still, the visa was declined as the patient had less than six months on his passport! Eventually, all was fixed with the help of our field agents on the ground and the claimant made it to India. He was operated on and discharged. Pakistani air space was closed on the day he was scheduled to travel back to Afghanistan, plus the airline lost his booking. Again, our agents had to intercede and accompanied the patient to the airport, where they managed to solve the problem with the ticket and helped the patient with wheelchair assistance, and so forth.
Finally, the claimant arrived back in Kabul, where one of our Tangiers International agents was waiting for him, although he decided to travel onwards with a family member who was also there.
Of course, all assistance cases are complex in their own way, but are there any hotspots around the world at the moment that pose a particular headache when providing assistance?
Yes, in particular war-torn countries, where it is difficult to have an agent and where the infrastructure has been decimated and where it is difficult to get permission to land in case of medevacs. Examples are Yemen, Libya and remote areas of South Sudan.
What are the most challenging aspects of your job?
Finding a solution for every problem or challenge while under pressure and in a timely manner.
What are your proudest achievements, both professionally and personally?
I was part of the team that designed and implemented a new system for repatriations. It was great to see other people being trained on something I created. As a person, my proudest achievement was helping a dear friend to come out of his depression following a serious health problem. He now lives a full and productive life.
If you could invite any three people – living or dead – to a dream dinner party, who would you choose and why?
My mother – she was the wisest and most caring person I know. My other half – just because I love him and he could just not be out. And my best friend – because she’s the best and keeps me in check!