Affinity partnerships can help travel insurers to extend their reach, while affording them new opportunities. This is particularly important during times of difficulty and, with the world beginning to re-open in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, travel insurers are facing a unique set of challenges. But, in order for the partnership to be productive and reap benefits, an affinity programme and a travel insurer must be compatible.
No man is an island and, in times of crisis, the importance of uniting and working together to overcome challenges cannot be understated. Teamwork has proven critical – be it societal, scientific, political – in the face of adversity brought about by Covid-19. The travel insurance community is one that has been deeply impacted by the pandemic, yet has demonstrated strength and resilience, and much of this can be attributed to partnerships.
As the travel landscape reawakens from its Covid-19-induced slumber, affinity partnerships are proving key to creating new opportunities for travel insurers, while the presence of trusted brands is helping to provide reassurance to potentially wary travellers. Indeed, it could be said that affinity programmes are more valuable than ever before for improving customer retention, increasing customer spend, and securing new customers during what is an undeniably turbulent time.
But, for an affinity partnership to be effective and reap maximum benefits for all parties involved, there are factors for travel insurers to take into consideration when selecting a partner. These include, importantly, whether there are shared goals and a mutual vision, which can help ensure that a strong and productive partnership can be achieved. Ultimately, it boils down to making sure that the travel insurer and affinity partner in question are a good match.
Broadening the reach for travel insurers
The right affinity partnership has the potential to broaden a travel insurer’s reach, as well as helping them to increase their service offering. ITIJ spoke with Greg Lawson, Head of Travel Insurance, Collinson, who said: “Affinity partners have always been important in the distribution of travel insurance products, whether they be travel providers or, in recent years, brands from within the retail, financial and telco industries, amongst others. They help an insurer reach a wider audience of customers and create both brand and product awareness, so selecting the right partner to increase the desired audience in the right way, at the right price, is key.”
This is particularly pertinent given that, at the moment, many travel insurance customers may be requiring new and more extensive forms of insurance.
“Since Covid, a greater number of people who previously self-insured are now seeking specific levels of cover to protect themselves and their family when travelling,” David Watling, Head of Partnerships, Staysure, told ITIJ. “Therefore, the travel insurance market has increased in size, widening the opportunity. Forming affinity partnerships allows Staysure to widen its reach.”
Travel insurance peace of mind
ITIJ also spoke with Bruce Reid, Commercial Director, Hood Group, who emphasised how the current uncertain landscape has heightened the need for peace of mind for consumers, with the world of travel and travel insurance now looking different to how it did previously; and, in turn, consumer requirements have changed. “The world post-Covid, and also post-Brexit, has presented opportunities for branded propositions. Consumer awareness and appreciation has been heightened and customers are looking for travel and assistance products that will protect them, their family and/or travel companions, both pre and post departure and throughout the travel/holiday duration,” he told ITIJ. “Travel insurers recognise that as part of this increased awareness, the personal or learned experiences that have made national news have shifted the value consumers place on trust, customer experience and peace of mind.” The right affinity partnership has the potential to help fulfil the growing need to establish consumer peace of mind, as partnering with a recognised and trusted brand is a good way to help enhance consumer confidence.
the personal or learned experiences that have made national news have shifted the value consumers place on trust, customer experience and peace of mind
Lawson also highlighted the importance of affinity partnerships at this current turbulent moment in time: “As travel recovery kicks in, customers are understandably going to be nervous about travelling again and protecting themselves, both financially and physically whilst on their trip, and are more likely to go to brands they know and trust,” he said. “This gives a great opportunity for affinity partnerships with trusted brands as they can bounce back stronger into a potentially smaller market pool if some insurance providers have fallen away, either specialists that have failed to survive or composite insurance companies that no longer see travel insurance as viable.”
Reid agrees, stating that certain brands are particularly well placed in terms of the inherent trust they have with their existing customers, as well as new customers. “There is extra confidence and protection that comes from knowing you are buying a product that has been designed carefully,” he said. “The consumers also know that should they need to use the product or have issues, they will be dealt with by that brand that they know and trust.” And consumers are willing to pay extra if it means that peace of mind is secured. “People seem happy to pay a few pounds more for the extra reassurance that a branded product will bring them – in terms of brand protection as well as the quality of product,” Reid said.
Trusting insurance brands
‘Trusted brand’ is a recurring concept and seems to be unanimously an important requisite for an effective affinity partnership. There must be trust between the travel insurer and affinity partner, and also between the insurer/brand and consumer. Reid agreed: “The brand's reputation is everything and will ensure that a customer’s experience is uppermost in all areas of purchase, service and claim,” he told ITIJ.
the customer is always right, and partners should be on the same page with this important tenet in order to deliver a seamless customer experience
For Kelly P Sahner, CCO of Trip Mate Travel Insurance, a Generali Global Assistance company, transparency is key: “Do not promise something that you cannot deliver to the partner or their members. People respect you more when you are honest with them, so be honest. If you can help, then help. If you cannot, then tell them that,” she states.
As we know, the customer is always right, and partners should be on the same page with this important tenet in order to deliver a seamless customer experience. Sahner highlights the importance of this: “Anytime you can leverage two organisations that share the same goal, success for the traveller/customer should be the outcome,” she stated.
CONSUMERS KNOW BEST
This is at the forefront of the minds of travel insurers as customer service is key, and it is known that working with the right affinity partner can facilitate a smooth and memorable customer experience. “A good partner understands its customer base and has an in-depth knowledge of their customers' buying habits, wants and needs,” explains Staysure’s Watling. “This enables them to select relevant offers and products that will both aid acquisition and retention.” Watling told ITIJ that this plays into choosing an affinity partner: “We carefully select partners based on having a relevant database and an engaged audience and those that meet certain criteria to ensure our brand is positively influenced,” he said.
Indeed, a good partnership should provide customers with value for money, while enhancing brand awareness and delivering profitable growth, added Collinson’s Lawson. “Our approach is to add value to the partnership, not to simply be the name on the insurance document, and we do that through product design, process improvement, and collaborative pricing strategies, but all of these require an aligned and willing partner,” he told ITIJ.
Lawson succinctly outlined the roles of insurer and partner in delivering a seamless customer experience and how this can be accomplished: “The partner knows the end customer better, the insurer knows the insurance market better, and the parties need to agree to meet in the middle to optimise their experience and knowledge, provide the best product and servicing for the target market and deliver a mutual goal of profitable growth. This is achieved with regular meetings, dialogue, engagement and understanding to ensure an open and constant relationship.”
APPRAISING PARTNERS’ PRIORITIES
one of the hallmarks of a good affinity partner includes having an aligned vision so that the partnership fuels growth for both partners with purpose
Goals cannot be realised without alignment between partners. This is why, for Sahner, it’s crucial to find out a potential partner’s priorities. “First and foremost, we want to understand what is important to the partner to ensure that we can meet their needs and that our goals and theirs are aligned. We will throw our heart and soul into a partnership, but if we are not aligned with the partner then our efforts may be wasted,” she told ITIJ. Similarly, Reid said that Hood Group has a list of tenets that it always discusses with prospective partners, including: a strong trusted brand, a clear strategy, and an awareness of the commercial model for travel insurance. “Experience has taught us that without the understanding and agreement to them, one or more parties in the partnership are going to be disappointed, frustrated, or as importantly, not achieve the income projections and strategic aim of offering travel insurance to their customer proposition,” he said.
Patrick Graham, Head of Strategy for Cigna International Markets, also believes in the need for a shared vision and how this can yield positive results. He shared his thoughts on this with ITIJ: “We believe that one of the hallmarks of a good affinity partner includes having an aligned vision so that the partnership fuels growth for both partners with purpose.” For Cigna, Graham said, when looking at prospective partnerships, it is important that a partner can accelerate pace of innovation, create mutual value, rapidly expand Cigna’s addressable market, and that it also has a complementary brand and customer fit.
Adoption of digital insurance services create loyal customers
Evolution is key to travel insurers’ success, in an uncertain world and otherwise, and one way that travel insurers are transforming in recent times is through the adoption of digital services. This is a way to ensure they are meeting consumer demands, as well as remaining at the top of their game. Covid-19 has heightened this need for digital transformation, and Graham highlighted that the pandemic has had a significant impact on how people engage with one another across industries and geographies; and, for insurers, this represents a need to evolve as consumer expectations increasingly shift towards digital services. The move and progression into digitisation is something that can be facilitated by an affinity partner.
“With a digital revolution that’s vastly reshaping the insurance industry landscape and reinventing the way protection across the insurance ecosystem is being offered and delivered, forging digitally integrated affinity partnerships will be key to success in optimising consumer reach, driving sales, increasing revenue and strengthening customer loyalty,” he told ITIJ.
Indeed, Graham believes in the transformative power of the right affinity partnership: “Affinity partnerships have the potential to transform the traditional insurance industry into one that offers innovative solutions and services like lifestyle-linked preventive insurance solutions,” he said. “However, identifying and forging affinity partnerships will first have to start with prioritising factors such as culture, technology and customer engagement and how it aligns with the insurer themselves.” So, the bread and butter of an affinity partnership is ensuring values align, there is a shared culture, looking at a brand’s reputation and customer engagement, as well as the technology they use and, building from these solid foundations, digitisation and innovation can really take off.
Collinson’s Lawson, too, recognises the digital benefits an affinity partnership can bring about: “The increasing demand for digital customer service means that an insurer that can deliver digital solutions for sales and/or claims will increasingly be able to integrate more easily and cost effectively with the growing number of travel and finance tech companies,” he told ITIJ. “By focusing on digital first but customer choice, insurers can broaden reach and manage both cost and scalability at the same time.”
Boost travel insurance profile
There is no denying that these are uncertain times for travel insurers and their customers. When discussing the benefits of affinity partnerships, front and centre of the conversation is the value they can add to the customer experience. Trust and peace of mind have never been more important, and the right affinity partnership can help reassure consumers and establish a feeling of security, as well as playing an important role in delivering a positive experience for the consumer. In addition, an affinity partner can create new opportunities for travel insurers; helping them to extend their reach and maximise successes, and the value of this type of collaboration is heightened in the post-Covid world we now inhabit. The right affinity partner should share goals and values with the travel insurer and must be selected carefully. As Sahner articulates: “Partnerships are a reflection of your values and whether we know it or not, say something about who we are as a company.” In addition, with digital services increasingly in demand, establishing affinity partnerships that can facilitate this and help deliver the services that consumers require is of the essence. Indeed, affinity partnerships could even be transformative for travel insurers, helping them to navigate an uncertain future and maintain success. Partnerships, provided compatibility has been verified, can accelerate the path to success and will prove key to navigating the travel insurance landscape now and in the future.