ITIJ caught up with Richard Lonsdale, Head of Client Services at Generali Global Health, to talk about the global health insurance landscape, 2018’s key developments and the challenges waiting in 2019
How did you first get started in the international health insurance industry, and how did you progress to your current position of Head of Client Services at Generali?
After completing my degree, I started work at AXA PPP healthcare as a personal advisor on the front line. I handled claims and membership queries from members or their brokers, which was a great introduction into health insurance.
After a couple of years, I was promoted to team manager, before making a switch to managing provider relationships as part of the network management team. This was a terrific experience and ultimately led to a move into international provider management with the – then relatively new – AXA PPP International team.
I was selected to join a new venture with AXA Healthcare Management in Singapore, where we worked with local AXA entities to design, build and distribute international health products through their local distribution. My focus was to build the medical network in Asia to support the proposition, but I ended up doing all manner of relationship management and development. When that came to an end, I returned to the UK and felt the time was right for a new challenge. I had been with AXA for 17 years by then and was fortunate that Generali Global Health was looking to establish itself as an IPMI insurer – I felt that the role was perfect for me to build on the good experience I had garnered over the previous years with AXA PPP.
Can you describe a typical day in your role?
Well, every day is different! Being a relatively new division of the Group and with a steep growth trajectory means that there are opportunities to be involved in a wide variety of different aspects of the business, which certainly ensures life isn’t dull!
I work with a great client services team who handle all our clients’ and brokers’ needs to a very high standard. I also handle relationships with some of our distribution partners, work to develop new markets, and am currently in Hong Kong for a few weeks to support the development of our proposition here in Asia.
Your job requires you to co-ordinate with a varied range of partners and service providers. What would you say are the key elements of maintaining strong working relationships within such a complex network?
Regular and good communication – especially face to face. There is sometimes a tendency to rely on e-mail and conference calls in our industry, but I think there is a danger that this can devalue and automatise relationships. You cannot beat face to face meetings for really establishing and building on relationships as well as accessing opportunities that would not be possible purely with remote communication.
How in your view has the global health insurance landscape changed over the course of your career?
On the positive side, the increase in competition can only be a good thing in terms of increasing choice for the customer, and as a result service has improved massively, especially in relation to greater access to centres of healthcare excellence and ease of claiming through digital developments such as online claims submission.
However, the industry has been maturing quickly, and part of this is a change in focus I’ve seen from chasing innovation to a more measured attitude to development of products and services for customers. I think, therefore, that there is scope for businesses such as ours to make a difference in terms of innovative product design and service delivery, as well as taking far more of a ‘whole health’ approach for our customers. Insurers have historically been payers of claims when treatment is required but this is very reactive. The focus should be on health maintenance, identifying health risks and proactively addressing them before it gets to the point where people develop conditions that require treatment. Insurers need to start to be far more proactive in this regard, especially with the significant increases in non-communicable diseases.
Congratulations to Generali Global Health on winning International Travel & Health Insurer of the Year at this year’s ITIJ Awards. What does this title mean to Generali and how do you plan to leverage the win going forward?
This is a terrific win and certainly an endorsement for all the hard work we have put in over the last three to four years. I think it really is a benchmark for us now – Generali Global Health is here for the long term and winning recognition from peers, clients and intermediaries needs to become something we continually strive to achieve to keep us fresh and vibrant in the industry.
As the year draws to a close, what would you say have been the key developments / trends in the global health insurance industry in 2018?
The move from being purely a payer of claims to a wellness partner is how the industry must continue to develop and remain the focus of transformation.
For our part we have significantly expanded our whole health approach. We have increased our digital solutions such as our wellness app Bria, which tracks healthy behaviours and allows you to set health goals and targets and enter challenges. This interfaces with a number of wearables and intuitively provides information on challenges to reach your health objectives. We’ve also added a telehealth app, My Digital Doctor, which enables members to access a qualified GP in their language from anywhere in the world through their mobile.
We have built on this holistic approach by providing services like second medical opinion and genome testing for cancer treatment to ensure our members get the best health outcomes should they fall ill.
However, insurers must ensure that they are supporting healthy behaviours and providing a support framework that promotes health maintenance in a way that is easy to access and is engaging, as well as ensuring that, should the worst happen, access to care and optimum health outcomes can be achieved.
And looking ahead to 2019, what are some of the main challenges facing the industry?
I think we all need to relook at our proposition – we can be guilty of deciding that we know what the customer wants before they have had a chance to tell us, and as a result provide an answer before we have really considered the question.
We need to rediscover our appetite for risk in terms of new products and new markets that traditionally have fallen outside what most IPMI players consider to be ‘normal’. At the moment, we as insurers tend to deliver broadly similar propositions, and they have not moved quickly to establish the changing needs of people when it comes to international health insurance provision. If the industry is to be progressive there should be moves to enter new markets and engage with local experts, which will bring its own challenges – how willing will we be to be so flexible and humble?
What are the most challenging aspects of your job?
Keeping clients and partners satisfied, having to look into the detail and really understanding their needs and, once identified, creating solutions that create real value for them.
What are your proudest achievements, both professionally and personally?
Collecting the ITIJ Award for best insurer obviously! Apart from that, being part of something great at Generali Global Health; building a really good medical network with fast and effective access; meeting and working with really good people; being married to a wonderful wife with two great kids.
If you could do any other job in the world, what would it be and why?
Cavalry officer in the Blues and Royals. Elan, fun, excitement and leading from the front.