Company Profile: Collinson Group

Company Profile collinson group london skyline
Leading the field

With over 25 years’ experience, Collinson Group is a global leader in shaping and influencing customer behaviour to drive revenue and add value for its clients.

Built on a history of success within the travel and financial services sectors, the group develops and delivers innovative products and services that increase engagement and value for customers across four core capabilities: loyalty, lifestyle benefits, insurance and assistance. It employs over 2,000 individuals in 25 global locations and manages over 20 million end customers for more than 800 clients in 170 countries. 

Since its inception, Collinson Group has been bringing innovation to the market – launching the first independent global VIP lounge access programme, Priority Pass, being the first to sell direct travel insurance in the UK through Columbus Direct, and establishing the first loyalty agency of its kind in the travel sector with ICLP. 

As a private company, Collinson Group has the agility to serve and accommodate its clients’ evolving needs quickly and effectively and, by doing so, it has remained a trusted partner for many renowned companies across multiple industry sectors, including Visa, MasterCard, American Express, Hilton, Delta and Cathay Pacific, who have been partnering with Collinson Group for over 10 years.

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Industry insights 

What are your main distribution channels for travel insurance? 

We distribute travel insurance through global B2B and B2C travel insurance relationships where Collinson Group is managing and delivering an insured solution to a client or direct to the consumer.  

Our direct retail brand Columbus Direct was established in 1988, selling both online via and offline via call centre channels. It also works with affiliated travel companies and aggregators to bring our products and services to consumers. 

In addition to selling direct to consumers, we have the capabilities to deliver white label or branded, bespoke travel insurance services, from capacity only, through to full product design, pricing and underwriting, depending on clients’ requirements. We also provide assistance and claims management services for insurers and brokers around the world and work directly with utility companies, affinity organisations, travel specialists, governments and non-governmental organisations, including some of the biggest brands in the UK and Ireland. 

Our B2B2C distribution channel contributes to the majority of our travel insurance business and we are able to leverage the loyalty expertise of Collinson Group to enhance each end-customer’s experience. 

In which countries/regions do you sell the most travel insurance policies?

Taking all direct, white label and affinity products into account, we sell most travel insurance in the UK, followed by Ireland, Italy, Australia and the Middle East. 

Who are your assistance partners?

We provide differentiated and bespoke assistance propositions through Intana, our in-house global assistance and claims service. Our own operation centres are based in the UK, Ireland and South Africa. Soon we will have operations embedded in the Collinson Group’s international service centres in Hong Kong, Australia, the US and United Arab Emirates.

To enable efficient delivery of global services at a local level, we have invested in expanding and refining our international medical and logistical network of over 40,000 quality assessed partners

Due to the Group’s heritage in the travel sector and its international presence, we have the scale and capabilities to operate on a business model that allows us to engage travellers at every point of their journey, from providing access to a network of 1,000 global airport lounges through our ownership of Priority Pass and concierge services, all the way to assistance and medical support. 

To enable efficient delivery of global services at a local level, we have invested in expanding and refining our international medical and logistical network of over 40,000 quality assessed partners. This puts us in a unique position to provide Columbus Direct’s own customers, but also the customers of our partnered clients, with pre-travel medical and security advice, plus 24/7, global assistance services and emergency travel support. 

Our medical and travel assistance packages can be purpose-built to our clients’ specifications, from medical screening and impaired life cover to travel assistance and legal advice and expenses. With the support of our specialist teams, we can leverage our in-depth travel knowledge, network management expertise and cost containment capabilities to provide tailored assistance solutions for clients and their customers, both on a standalone basis or embedded within a broader insurance proposition. 

Columbus Direct has rolled out self-service digital kiosks at 10 UK airports

What are your latest travel insurance products?

To address the risk of people travelling uninsured, Columbus Direct has rolled out self-service digital kiosks at 10 UK airports

since last summer, allowing travellers to buy last-minute travel cover at the same prices as online quotes in just three minutes. The introduction of digital kiosks also speaks to changing consumer purchasing behaviour, as more travellers are buying travel insurance policies online or via mobile. As customers are becoming more discerning, we recognise the importance of multi-channel engagement and timeliness of service. Following the successful launch in the UK, we are looking to expand our digital kiosk offering in Europe this year. 

As travel insurance is seen as a commodity, there is a growing need for travel insurers to provide innovative services and unique product features to offer customers additional value. Utilising our access to more than 1,000 airport lounges via Priority Pass and our technology, we are able to add airport lounge access as a free benefit to our travel insurance, both for Columbus Direct’s customers but also our clients, in the event that a customer’s flight is delayed for two hours or more. Historically, travel delay is claimed after the event, but it doesn’t help relieve customers’ pain point at the moment. With this ‘Stranded Traveller’ proposition, we want to help customers solve a problem at a time that they are experiencing it and will proactively deliver an email/SMS to enable them free access to a lounge. 

In addition, telemedicine will play an increasingly important role in delivering medical and healthcare services. Instead of sending people to hospitals, for example, mobile diagnosis or a doctor outpatient visit can spare tourists from having to travel to healthcare facilities and give them the right level of support that serves their needs, as well as providing prescription delivery to their hotel door. Not only does this give tourists alternative access to healthcare, this also allows insurance and assistance companies more flexibility in managing their costs. We are currently prioritising investment in research and development to incorporate innovative product offerings such as digital mobile health in our service spectrum. 

digital travel insurance

Do you underwrite your travel policies in-house? 

We underwrite our own travel policies in-house through Astrenska Insurance Limited, part of the Collinson Group and administered by Collinson Insurance Services Limited. We also provide full insurance underwriting on behalf of Great Lakes, Axis, Munich Re as well as Lloyd’s of London, essentially as a managing general agent.  

We manage our claims in-house through Intana

Do you manage your own claims, or do you work with a claims management company?

We manage our claims in-house through Intana and we handle travel insurance claims for major travel-based schemes, independent insurers, insurance included in packages from tour and cruise operators, and policies within employee benefits, loyalty or membership programmes. We adopt a customer-centric approach to the handling of claims to provide a personal and quick service that helps clients keep their costs under control.  

Furthermore, we have our own medical claims management teams who take care of billing, filing, updating and processing medical claims that relate to patient diagnoses, treatments and medication. Supported by our medical assistance teams, many hospitals and medical facilities use our expertise to look after patient records, work with health insurance agencies and issue invoices for medical services.

Greg Lawson AA9_1994m

Greg Lawson, Head of Travel Insurance

Personal point of view: From Greg Lawson, Head of Travel Insurance at Collinson Group

What is your experience in the travel insurance industry, and what do you enjoy most about your current role? 

I have been working in the travel insurance industry for 23 of my 25 working years, including 10 years in the London Market as a Lloyd’s broker, and have gained a broad range of experience across B2B and B2C sales, underwriting, medical screening, claims and assistance services, digital marketing, e-commerce, business strategy and proposition development, even compliance for my sins! In that time, I have chaired the Association of Travel Insurance Intermediaries, spoken at conferences and sat on various committees. After all these years, I have developed a passion for the product and will happily engage in debate about how the UK market needs to evolve – but, in recent years, I have taken this passion to the global markets to explore ways to develop and innovate product in order to increase the perceived value of travel insurance to clients and end-customers. 

With understanding customer behaviour being a driving force for us, working for Collinson Group means I can introduce innovative and progressive elements to our insurance products and services and deliver a positive customer experience that can be both tracked and promoted by clients.

What are your current key objectives? 

After continuous development of our B2C retail proposition within the UK and overseas including Italy, Australia and the Middle East for Columbus Direct, our aim is to continue to demonstrate our innovation and focus on customer experience through our own brand. At the same time, our travel insurance experience and culture of evolution will deliver the tools for our clients to optimise conversion and segment product offerings using their own data sources, as well as ‘Big Data’ such as social media.

our travel insurance experience and culture of evolution will deliver the tools for our clients to optimise conversion and segment product offerings using their own data sources, as well as ‘Big Data’ such as social media

In addition, we are looking to expand our travel insurance services beyond the UK, supported by the wider Collinson Group, and continue to focus on the travel and financial services sectors. Leveraging our group’s suite of added-value travel products, such as 360 Assistance, ID Sentry and Stranded Traveller, we will deliver global travel insurance solutions for airlines to help them drive ancillary revenue both within and outside the booking paths. Our aim is to offer additional value outside of travel insurance and to work in partnership with our clients to enable growth and enhance customer experience. 

Ultimately, we want to establish for ourselves a global reputation for travel insurance through innovation, expertise, reliability, customer experience, profitability, partnership and consistency – not much to aim for really!

What are some of the biggest challenges currently facing global travel insurers, and how are these being met?

Consumers globally have experienced a huge amount of upheaval and change in the last 12 months. The true ramifications of Brexit cannot yet be understood, with many insurers having to consider their access to market in case passporting rights are taken away. The falling pound has already made overseas travel more expensive for British holidaymakers – our own consumer research has revealed that 16 per cent of Brits are considering a staycation instead of a vacation this year. At the same time, the weakened pound is driving up medical costs overseas for insurers.  

Recent terrorist incidents in popular holiday destinations like Tunisia, France and Turkey have put more pressure on other already popular destinations, such as Spain and the Balearics. This can put a strain on local facilities, as well as drive increased medical costs simply through demand exceeding supply at peak times. 

At the same time, there is an increase in people travelling further afield to explore places that are less populated by tourists. The travel industry is very well equipped to provide help and support in popular locations, but when tourists encounter issues or require urgent medical treatment in less familiar/developed territories, inadequate local medical facilities or higher extraction costs might require them to be brought back home for appropriate treatment, which can increase medical costs for insurers. 

Ultimately, the biggest challenge to the UK market for insurers is how to ensure there is sufficient margin to meet the requirements of running their business, as well as satisfying the regulator, their clients and specifically the end-customers. In recent months, some insurers have reviewed their approach in the UK and others may follow.

travel insurance document

How do you see travel insurance products and services developing in the coming years?

Consumers today have embraced the world of technology; it plays an integral part in their daily lives, with travel being no exception. Key areas of innovation like telemedicine allow insurers a new way to engage with consumers and provide value added services, thereby saving travellers’ time and giving them immediate feedback but also with the potential to minimise costs for insurers. In a similar vein, technology can play a key role in enabling more efficient claims processes through automatic claims settlement/real time compensation, further streamlining customer experience. Machine learning and artificial intelligence and other elements of Insurtech will add most value to low margin lines such as travel, provided that there is the commitment to invest for the long term.

There will be a need for insurers to re-examine their offerings and explore ways to tailor their products and services to minimise potential gaps in cover, in light of developments such as people visiting far afield destinations or terrorist attacks. As some market players have started introducing cover for terrorism, there will be pressure within the industry for more insurers to take a similar approach. Of course, travel insurance will not be able to provide a security blanket for every circumstance, but insurers need to reflect travel patterns and evolving risks, rather than stick to the safe and known format. 

In addition, the industry will continue to explore a more inclusive market through specialist schemes for older people, or travellers with pre-existing conditions, partly driven by increasingly sophisticated medical screening services in recent years. However, niche risk areas demand high premiums for higher risks and the search for the ultimate balance of these factors will continue among the bigger insurer players – leaving opportunities for the more agile and focused entrants to enter the market.