What’s your background in the insurance sector, and how did your previous roles prepare you for your role as CEO of nib Travel?
I have been working in the insurance and broader financial services industry for over 20 years for both ASX-listed and multinational organisations, including AMP, Suncorp, BT Financial Group and GE Capital. Before my move to nib Travel, I was the Chief Executive Officer for a specialist Australia-based general insurer, LFI. Spending the better half of two decades in leadership and senior leadership roles has helped me to prepare for my role as CEO at nib Travel.
What attracted you to transfer your skills to the world of travel insurance?
I’ve always enjoyed a challenge and helping organisations to shake up the traditional way of doing things. Like many other industries going through significant disruption, I was excited about the opportunity to lead a customer-centric brand that is prepared to challenge the status quo.
Although, little did I realise how big of a ‘disruption’ the travel sector would go through almost eight months after starting my role. While we have certainly had to make some tough decisions throughout the pandemic, we’ve remained steadfast in our commitment to providing the best support for our customers. My experience has also taught me that no matter what industry you work in, if you have trust in your people and place your customers at the heart of your decision making, you can achieve some great things.
How has nib Travel been affected by the global pandemic, and how have you updated your product range in response to the changing risk environment and alterations in customer demands?
Our travel insurance business, nib Travel, was significantly impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic with the global and domestic leisure travel one of the hardest hit sectors. As you can appreciate, varying restrictions and border lockdowns have prevented many people from travelling around the world. We created a product ready for our members when the time came to travel again that would help to give them some peace of mind and support them to travel in a world changed by Covid-19.
A survey of our travellers showed they were looking for Covid-19 related protection within their policies with the coronavirus now well and truly a part of normal life. In response, we launched a new travel insurance product in December 2020, which includes plans that offer cover for some Covid-19 related events, including cover for quarantine expenses and trip cancellation if you’re diagnosed with coronavirus.
Travel has proven to be an important driver of economic prosperity all over the world and it is important we do everything we can to give people the confidence to book holidays and get the global tourism industry back on its feet.
Telehealth solutions have become the mainstay of many international and domestic health insurance policies, but can they be as popular with travellers do you think? How can it change the issue of customers heading to the ER without notifying their insurer?
In some ways, travel insurance has been a pioneer of telehealth, with 24/7 international emergency assistance service teams helping to guide travellers to the best and most appropriate medical care when they are in greatest need. Our international assistance team remains in regular contact with treating clinicians to ensure travellers are receiving the right standard of care and can be repatriated home where required.
Telehealth will assist greatly into the future, enabling travellers to speak with their own GP when necessary, but there will also be the need for assistance in life-threatening emergencies where a traveller is likely to need hospital attention right away.
Digital interactions with customers are now accepted as ‘the way things are now’. What are you hoping to do to ensure you continue to meet customers needs digitally?
We are continuing to invest in digital member services channels due to their growing popularity and convenience compared to traditional face-to-face servicing. We have a number of contact and self-service avenues available to help meet the needs of our customers. This includes our online claiming system, which allows our members to make a claim online from anywhere, at any time. Our customers can also get in contact with us via our Contact Centre, social media, email and our 24/7 Emergency Assistance line. In addition, our website provides the latest FAQs and travel alerts so travelers and customers can quickly find the information they need in the one spot.
nib’s Covid credit idea is a great one for keeping customers loyal, a notoriously difficult proposition in the insurance industry. Was this idea just for health insurance customers, or were annual travel insurance policyholders given the same benefit?
nib health insurance recently announced it would be returning $15 million in claims savings to eligible members through an ex-gratia premium relief payment as part of its ongoing Covid-19 member and community support package.
This Covid credit is only available to Australian health insurance members because it reflects nib’s promise to return claims savings to members due to Covid-19 restrictions impacting their ability to access some health services. For background, in line with requirements by our industry regulator, nib set aside funds to ensure we were able to pay for our members’ future healthcare needs as there was an expectation there would be a 'catch-up' in claims once Covid-19 restrictions eased. The anticipated ‘catch-up’ in claims for financial year 2021 has not eventuated, and as a result nib was able to return claims savings to their health insurance members.
For our travel insurance customers, we were able to provide a full refund or credit to customers who had their travel plans cancelled as a result of the pandemic.
What are your hopes for the future of the travel insurance market in Australia and New Zealand? Are there ways to increase penetration?
We conducted a survey recently and found there was a significant increase in the number of Australians looking to travel internationally in the next three months following the announcement of the international borders re-opening (48 per cent in November compared to 13 per cent in May). I believe there’ll be no shortage of people looking to get out and explore the world again and given the ever-changing nature of the pandemic, we expect people to increasingly value their travel insurance to help prepare for those unexpected events outside the norm (like lost luggage).
We’re always looking at ways to increase penetration in the market and this includes evolving our products and services to a changing environment, continuing to listen and engage with our customers and partners so that we deliver products and services that they want and are confident about and, importantly, providing value for cover.
Are you happy not travelling for business purposes, or do you miss face-to-face business interactions?
I’ve been lucky enough to travel to our office in Cork, Ireland last month and it was certainly a welcome change to the past two years working mostly from home. It’s been great to ‘do business’ in person and explore the other side of the world again. However, I can also appreciate the convenience and power of technology in helping us to connect with our people and colleagues from wherever we are.
Where are you most looking forward to travelling to once you’re allowed?
I was able to take a weekend to visit the amazing Cliffs of Moher in County Clare, Ireland which has been on my list to visit for a very long time. After texting a close friend that I had found the ‘Cliffs of Insanity’ from the movie the Princess Bride, I received a text back stating ‘Inconceivable’, which was quite apt. It is fantastic to think we can look forward to finally being able to explore more soon.
If you could give some advice to the new generation of insurance professionals entering the workforce and seeking to make a difference, what would you tell them?
Insurance is incredibly rewarding but it is also very complex. Ask questions and take the time to build your understanding of how insurance works. Having this knowledge will enable you to add a lot more value in your role and will help to make that bit of difference when it comes to helping your customers through those tough times.