What does an ‘average’ day look like for you?
I’m not sure that we have an ‘average’ day at ROCK. Every day is different, but there is a theme – we are growing our business, which is exciting, and investing time and energy in the team, technology and partnerships to take advantage of the returning travel market. There is always a lot going on, and being part of a bigger group means we can do this faster, which is really important.
The ROCK team is back in the office, and we have been since the start of the year. We have kept our flexible working protocols in place, meaning that the team can work at home, in the office, or a combination of the two, which is what most do. To support this moving forward, we are updating the offices to allow ‘hot desking’ and the refurbishment will be completed soon, which is really exciting.
In July 2021, ROCK was bought by Staysure. What has the buyout meant for the company in the short and long term?
Joining the Staysure family was a strategic move and a mutually beneficial business decision that is set to expand our customer base to over three million and allow Staysure access to sell our products and services. The acquisition has allowed us to bring together our combined knowledge and expertise to grow our business faster and increase market share. I am continuing to run and grow ROCK Insurance Group operationally as a standalone business within the new framework along with my team. Collectively, my team and I have worked hard to develop ROCK and are now evolving it further in this strong partnership that our customers will benefit from.
The UK’s travel insurance market has experienced some understandable difficulties, with Covid and Brexit leading to the perfect storm of no travel and complex regulatory barriers. Is there cause for concern for the future of the industry, or do you think it’s a natural part of market evolution?
There have certainly been obstacles to overcome within the last two years, but this unprecedented time has taught insurers the importance of flexibility and adapting their policies in line with changes in travel restrictions and consumer demand.
During the first few weeks of lockdown, many insurance providers withdrew any existing cover their policies offered for pandemics. This forced some insurers to step away from the market and many have still not returned to the aggregators after removing this cover.
Our response at ROCK was to introduce a Covid-19 travel insurance product for consumers in July 2020, covering pre-departure cancellation if they tested positive before their trip, along with emergency medical care and repatriation costs if they tested positive while away. We later introduced cover for travel against Foreign Office advice for single trips to European countries. This cover has stayed in place, and we are constantly evolving our product offering to meet consumer demand.
While market conditions were under threat it was important for insurers to support the travel trade, too. We introduced Covid protection products that covered agents against cancellation costs if a customer booked a holiday and needed to cancel due to testing positive for Covid-19, giving the opportunity for an agent to change the booking and recover additional costs incurred in doing so.
Inevitably, when faced with a global travel crisis, it’s sink or swim for insurance brands. However, I’m confident the travel insurance market will bounce back. It might take some time to meet pre-pandemic levels, but we will get there. Organisations within any sector, not just insurance, have to adapt their product to suit changes in trade and consumer demand, which is all part of market evolution.
How has industry collaboration helped the UK travel insurance sector cope with the fallout from Covid?
An invaluable lesson that has emerged during this difficult period is the importance of collaboration. The market conditions have been tough for everyone; we’ve seen numerous insurers exit the UK market, so brands are consolidating the business they have.
During the past 18 months, ROCK has strengthened and diversified its offering by launching underwriting agency Tigon, partnering with Tesco Bank and, most recently, being acquired by the Staysure Group – giving us access to more resources and allowing us to continue offering our services to wider audiences.
ROCK also cemented a partnership with specialist medical technology company and Covid-19 test provider DocHQ to offer customers a one-stop-shop for all their travel insurance and testing requirements. The partnership provides an antigen testing product that can be booked with a 35 per cent discount when customers buy Insurefor travel insurance.
All tests are administered in front of a healthcare professional via a live, secure online consultation process. If at any time a passenger tests positive, either in resort, before returning home or before they depart from the UK, one of DocHQ’s General Medical Council-registered doctors will contact them directly to explain the next steps and offer reassurance as part of their patient care protocol. This additional step is unique amongst the current testing community.
This partnership shows that it’s not just important to collaborate with companies within the travel sector, but also within the health sector to allow people the best possible chance of travelling again.
Meeting customer expectations in order to garner loyalty and customer retention has long been a challenge for travel insurers; do you think that the industry is getting better at it?
Yes and no. Communication and customer service have been key to the success of a travel insurance brand during this time. Travel insurance can be extremely confusing to consumers anyway, but continuous changes in travel restrictions during the pandemic have heightened this issue, as it was not always clear to consumers for what they were and were not covered. The insurance brands that have thrived during this time are those that have developed their product in line with changes to travel restrictions and ensured their policy wording is consumer friendly. However, for other insurance brands there is still work to be done.
We always strive to be as transparent as possible about exactly what our policies include, so customers are aware of the level of protection. We’ve worked extremely hard to be able to provide customers with clear guidance by regularly updating our website with content and Covid-specific scenario coverage questions.
As international borders continue to reopen, we know that consumers are keen to travel and explore the world again. This is a great sign for insurance companies as people will more likely prioritise getting the correct travel insurance to ensure they are covered in case of unprecedented circumstances.
Affinity partnerships are one of the ways in which travel insurers increase their reach. How important are such partnerships to ROCK in terms of percentage of revenue?
Our partners are at the heart of everything we do. We value our partners and we are very strategic in ensuring that we only form partnerships with organisations that are mutually beneficial and allow us to broaden our product offering and customer network.
The signposting of travellers towards companies that specialise in providing cover to those with pre-existing conditions seems to have worked, with more people reporting that they were able to access a policy that met their needs. Do you think that more remains to be done to improve access to travel insurance for those with pre-existing conditions?
It’s really positive that more travel insurance brands are specialising in providing cover to those with pre-existing conditions. It is equally important that consumers are now taking the time to ensure they declare any pre-existing conditions when purchasing travel insurance to ensure they are covered for any eventuality relating to a specific medical condition.
The Staysure Group is the market leader for providing travel insurance with pre-existing medical conditions and this means that we able to support all our partners with a wide range of products and services that are tailored to the customer.
What do you enjoy most about your role at ROCK, and what is the most challenging aspect you face?
We have an intelligent, dynamic and ambitious team here at ROCK who inspire me on a daily basis. I enjoy working closely with them to develop new and innovative products that will benefit both our trade partners through ROCK as well as consumers via our B2C brand, Insurefor. There aren’t many businesses that can grow without great people, and this is why we are continuing to invest in growing our team and investing in our people – it’s an exciting place to be!