The world of travel insurance is a complex web of business partnerships, built up between insurers, assistance providers and, increasingly, technology developers. Many of these partnerships will last for years, but even the most successful collaborations need to be built on strong foundations before they can reach this point – a foundation created from trust, shared values, and meticulous due diligence.
The importance of shared business values
When seeking to partner with a new business, ensuring that your potential partner shares your own business’s values, outlook and ability to deliver on its end of the bargain is of paramount importance.
We look for integrity, quality, location, and when possible, price – often in a similar order
For LaShanta Sullivan, Manager of Allianz’s Travel Assistance Department, the medical assistance companies her company looks to collaborate with are those that demonstrate a high level of commitment to standards, and that are best placed to provide a high quality of service to clients. “We look for integrity, quality, location, and when possible, price – often in a similar order,” she explained. “The goal is to build strong relationships with providers and provider groups that provide honest, quality care so that it is available when and where we need it most.”
This position was reciprocated by Greg Pearson, Founder and CEO of travel risk management and crisis response provider FocusPoint International and its subsidiary CAP Tripside Assistance, who said that FocusPoint also looks to partner with businesses that share its outlook. He said that his companies look for broader ‘synergies’ between the two organisations – ‘executive buy-in, company culture and ethos, its commitment to the partnership, integration requirements, marketing commitments, the product/market fit of the combined offering, and its alignment on the goals and objectives of the partnership’, he explained
According to Carl Carter, UK CEO of CPP and Chief Operating Officer of insurtech firm Blink Parametric, the picture is similar for partnerships between insurers and insurtech firms. He explained that the most important thing his company searches for when looking for partners is a drive for ‘innovation’, as well as a shared ‘range of goals and values in supporting … the travelling consumer’. He added that while high standards have always been a key expectation for Blink, ‘this is especially the case now, ‘as travel returns’ and travel insurance brands look to ‘building consumer trust back into both travel and travel insurance in the process’.
Carter said that Blink Parametric takes an open approach to its potential partnerships with insurance companies, stating that ‘all insurers can be valuable partners … because each partner brings its own unique and valued perspective to product, underwriting and distribution’. This dynamic can vary significantly, between insurer and insurtech according to scale and levels of business experience.
Alex Laidlaw, Technical Product Director at WTP/Cover-More, agreed, adding that insurtechs need to be able to adapt to meet the needs of both the insurer and its client base. “Cover-More needs to be confident that insurtech partnerships are going to be viable in the long-term – we want to be able to invest in development and grow with them. They also need to be willing to use feedback from us to help shape their products,” he said.
Establishing a level of service
Beyond having shared values, establishing and committing to a mutually understood level and quality of service is critical when developing a new business partnership – known as a Service Level Agreement (SLA).
For Alerah Turner, Director of Global Provider Networks for World Travel Protection (WTP), understanding the full-service suite of an assistance company was a ‘salient consideration’ when deciding to partner with them: “We consider SLAs to be particularly important when partnering, as we need 24/7 access and a rapid average speed of response for travellers,” she said. “We also need to have confidence in how they credential medical staff, and be assured that they are licensed and registered to practice medicine in the country in which they are operating.”
“For example, if we have someone who falls ill or is injured in Japan, we need to understand the capability of the assistance partner to provide in-country logistical support by way of issuing guarantees of payment through their network, provide access to accredited translators and interpreting services or arranging referrals to local hospitals and clinics, enabling WTP to deliver exceptional service during exceptional situations,” she explained.
Sullivan agreed, adding that: “We look for better providers in locations more easily accessible to travellers, ensuring first that they are accessible through our relationships and then, more affordable where it’s possible. Globally, we look at providers where customers are going and reach out to them. Additionally, we look for partners in upcoming hotspots.”
When looking to establish an SLA with an insurtech, Laidlaw of WTP/Cover-More said that many considerations are similar to those used when partnering with an assistance firm, with a focus on finding insurtechs with a ‘strong financial position, global capability, commitment to development and the ability to scale up and meet demand as we grow our customer base’.
However, beyond the more traditional business concerns of a standard SLA, insurers looking to partner with an insurtech must also consider the quality of the technologies on offer. This includes quality of specific elements used in an insurtech’s solutions, such as artificial intelligence (AI) employed – is it going to deliver the information the insurer’s clients really need and are going to respond to?
Laidlaw explained: “For example, WTP’s Travel Assist app is powered by OnSolve, a tech company selected due to its strong AI engine that pulls data from thousands of verified sources including government bodies, news feeds, Twitter, fire and rescue and other reputable information sources. App users have immediate access to 24-hour emergency medical assistance, security alerts and detailed country reports.
“By having access to the OnSolve Portal, staff at WTP Command Centres can see what events are unfolding across the world near their travelling customers. If a bomb goes off, for example, travelling customers within a certain radius of the explosion are sent a push notification through the app asking if they are OK and to check in if the situation requires it. Travellers can reach WTP through an SOS alarm, phone call or via the chat function,” he continued.
Beyond just the effectiveness of the technology however, there is another consideration – the privacy and management of data handled by a potential insurtech partner. Laidlaw explained that Cover-More (WTP’s parent group) also looks at their ‘ability to comply with regulations within various jurisdictions’, adding that his company is ‘committed to protecting customer privacy and ensuring data security’. “Data protection has never been more important, with many countries across the world, particularly in Europe, holding businesses to account when it comes to using personal and sensitive data,” he explained.
From the perspective of the insurtech, the ability for a tech solution to be integrated into an insurer’s existing systems is also a key consideration, says Carter of Blink Parametric. For Blink, this includes to what extent the partnership will require ‘repurposing’ and integrating the partner’s existing parametrics into its own technology, or ‘whether we are creating something from the ground up’.
“In the latter scenario,” Carter explained, “Blink will provide its own in-house developed parametric technology and core platform – a choice he argues is more convenient for both parties, as ‘we don’t have to reinvent the wheel with each new parametric solution.
“We find that larger insurance partners tend to have an innovation department, which means that the insurer is already seeking out the kind of innovative insurance services and solutions in which we specialise. Smaller-scale insurers on the other hand, are keen to make the most of our global experience in innovation and differentiation, bringing themselves a nimbleness that complements the flexibility of our parametric solutions,” he explained.
Analysis, certification and due diligence
While establishing shared values and expectations are key priorities when building a new business partnership, such principles are flimsy on their own. To give them weight, due diligence is required when looking to build a new partnership.
When searching for a new medical assistance provider, Allianz will undergo an extensive investigation of the provider in question. “Our first step in partnering is conducting an honest, in-depth analysis of the provider’s practices and reputation, along with a survey of services and capabilities,” Sullivan explained. This includes investigating the locations an assistance provider can reach, how in-demand those regions are with travellers, and how well connected they are within the wider medical ecosystem in an area.
Turner added that on top of this, WTP will investigate what licensing and certifications are held, whether the provider has medical malpractice and professional indemnity insurance, as well as considering the network coverage of potential partners, how accessible their services are to customers, and whether they are able to scale up their operations to respond to ‘crisis events’.
According to Turner, checking a potential partner’s insurance, licensing and certifications is also critical to ensuring that they meet standards. “In the case of a hospital, we validate whether they have an international accreditation,” she explained, listing accreditation providers such as the Australian Council for Healthcare Standards International (ACHSI), ‘which [also] covers a lot of hospitals in Asia’, as well as the US Joint Commission International (JCI), ‘which has also accredited international providers’.
Similarly, accreditation in other service sectors is equally valued. “When it comes to aeromedical transfers, we also consider any accreditations held by international accrediting bodies such as the European Aeromedical Institute (EURAMI) or the Commission on Accreditation of Medical Transport Systems (CAMTS),” she told ITIJ.
“In today’s world, it’s important to validate what kind of service is being portrayed as there can be a lot of misinformation via the internet. WTP does our due diligence by understanding how potential providers operate, the quality of care they deliver and their financial standing.”
It’s important to validate what kind of service is being portrayed as there can be a lot of misinformation via the internet
Turner highlighted one audit undertaken by WTP in Southeast Asia as an example of how important such due diligence is: “One facility portrayed amazing services and hygienic practices, but during the audit it became quite apparent that what was being portrayed on the internet wasn’t the reality. Auditors saw questionable hygienic practices and incorrect storage of medications and blood products, which as you can imagine, could have dire implications for a patient.”
In addition, WTP also carries out an annual process of inspections to ensure that its 20,000 affiliated providers maintain the same level of service that they had when initially inducted into the GlobalCare Network.
This includes hospital site inspections that ‘examine clinical experience, quality and safety in the delivery of care, infection prevention and control, medication safety, supply chain, patient identification and procedure matching, access to blood banks and storage of blood products’, said Turner.
To support this process, WTP created a digital assessment tool for use when accrediting hospitals, outpatient and aeromedical service providers, which Turner says is ‘where all onboarding, validation and approval processes take place.
Pearson of FocusPoint and CAP said his company’s priorities when looking to partner with another business are similar to its counterparts in the travel insurance industry. Like Allianz and WTP, FocusPoint has a ‘defined process for conducting due diligence on prospective business partners’, which investigates the financial state and reputation of any businesses the company is looking to deal with. This includes checking an insurance provider’s rating with a credit ratings agency: “When FocusPoint is looking to integrate its products into the ecosystem of an insurance firm or insurance product, we’re looking for an insurer with an AM Best rating of A or higher,” said Pearson. “We’re also looking for an established book of business, and a product that is easy to integrate with, and allows us to enhance the benefits of the end consumer through the combination of insurance, technology, and service.”
The fire triangle of business partnerships
Finding the right business partner is challenging, no matter whether you are an insurance provider, an assistance firm, or an insurtech. It demands a clear-sighted vision of both partners’ core corporate values; a realistic and firmly agreed understanding of the level and quality of service both partners have mutually agreed to provide as part of the partnership; and rigorous due diligence to guarantee that standards are upheld.
Like the ‘fire triangle’, which states that you can’t get a self-sustaining fire burning without oxygen, fuel and heat, no strong business partnership can be built without the existence of all three factors: without having a strong grasp of your business’s values, you don’t know what to look for; without a strong SLA, you won’t know what can be feasibly delivered; and without due diligence, you won’t know that what you’re getting is what you want.