What is your background in travel and health insurance; how did your career progress to your current position?
As with many people in the insurance market, I somewhat fell into the career I have now. My career started as temp job in a third-party fulfilment company called Rubicon insurance, who fulfilled policies for ‘Link Insurance’. After three weeks, I was offered a permanent position in the household team. From then until 2008, I specialised mainly in household insurance but in August 2008, I joined Travel Insurance Facilities (TIF), where my journey in travel insurance began. From there, I joined Voyager Insurance Services in 2018, where I am now Underwriting and Broking Director.
What’s the most challenging aspect of your job at the moment?
For anyone in the UK travel insurance market over the last 18 months, there have been multiple challenges and some hard decisions made. As part of the Voyager Insurance senior management team, we work very closely together and taken this as an opportunity to strengthen to the future of the company. Although these challenges have been tough at times, ultimately, they will prove positive for the organisation in the long run and that is the positive we take from the long hours involved.
While Covid has had a negative impact on the travel industry, do you think that ultimately, travel insurers could see benefits from increased awareness of their products and improved levels of innovation and customer service as a result of it?
Undoubtedly there has been a negative impact on the travel industry in general, and while there has been a degree of increased awareness of travel insurance, quite often over the past 12 months, this has been in a negative context.
While there will be some growth as travel markets re-open, much of this is likely to be in the short to medium term, similar to what was seen previously with the Volcanic ash cloud, whereby clients looked to protect themselves in the short term and then as the perceived risk reduces over time, the take up of cover slows down. As we move several years down the road and vaccinations become more widespread, it is likely that Covid-19 will become a medical condition that is covered as normal under a policy. For travel to certain areas, it may be a requirement that travellers have a Covid-19 vaccination, such as there already is for yellow fever or dengue fever.
Over recent years, travel insurance has become increasingly commoditised, so scope for product innovation is lower than ever with prices so low, so we may see an upward adjustment in rates. Similarly, companies may choose to focus, much like we do at Voyager Insurance, on excellent customer service.
How has Voyager updated its various travel products to ensure they are fit for purpose in the post-Covid travel world? Are you offering coverage for cancellation due to a positive Covid test or need to isolate?
The Covid-19 pandemic has created a fast-moving environment, so in order to keep on top of what seems like almost daily changes, Voyager Insurance has been working closely with our panel of insurers to provide up-to-date products, to meet the needs of our diverse client base.
This helped us to stay at the forefront of product development in the past 12 months, leading Voyager Insurance to provide emergency medical expenses cover, including cover for Covid-19, on our Voyager Plus travel insurance product. We were also at the forefront of being able to provide the first cancellation cover elements on some of our niche products, such as our Voyager2Europe product.
Throughout the pandemic, we have sold our High Risk Voyager travel insurance scheme. While originally intended for people such as aid workers or journalists travelling to trouble spots around the world, it found a new market during the pandemic, being able to provide medical cover for those travelling while the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Development Office were advising against ‘all but essential travel’.
Cancel for any reason coverage has gained significant market share in the US and has now been rolled out successfully in Australia as well; do you think this is something that the British market should be considering offering? If not, why not?
If you go to the London Market or a Lloyds syndicate, this type of cover could relatively easily be provided, however it is likely to be very expensive. However, I feel it’s unlikely to form a part of the mainstream travel insurance proposition anytime soon, due to the aforementioned commoditisation of the product, where price can take precedence over cover.
What we may see is cover that purports to being cancellation on an ‘all-risks’ basis for the name, but has significant exclusions (one of which is likely to be pandemics), and therefore be of limited benefit to customers and in reality, being no better than current cancellation cover.
Having said that, on some high-level policies you might find that cancellation terms widen where the premium allows.
In addition to its standard travel insurance policies, Voyager also offers a high-risk, K&R travel insurance policy. How difficult was it to find an underwriter for this policy? What are the key benefits offered, and what extensions to cover are available?
At Voyager Insurance, we like to feel that none of our products is ‘standard’ per se, however we do have a number of more niche areas that other wholesale brokers may not have available.
With our High Risk Voyager product, we have a great relationship with the capacity, who write some of our other more mainstream travel insurance products. They have fully bought into what we were trying to achieve and through our underwriting controls, we are able to ensure the risk profile is appropriate to the market. The High Risk Voyager policy predominantly covers emergency travel medical expenses and personal accident, however it can be extended to cover non-medical coverages, such as cancellation cover or baggage cover.
The Kidnap and Ransom product is very much a niche area of business for us. Again, we work closely with our capacity on this, as it is provided on almost a bespoke basis, therefore coverages vary on a case-by-case basis.
As governments around the world differ in their advice and risk ratings for different countries with regards to the risk of Covid, and with their vaccination rates, what role do you think travel insurers can play in informing customers about coverage, risk and the benefits, and exclusions, of travel insurance?
Everyone in the travel industry has their role to play, however ultimately it is down to governments to provide timely and relevant advice. We will obviously work within the boundaries set by the Government and keep customers informed where possible.
Our customer services team and websites are regularly updated as and when information is released by the Government, in order to be able to provide customers with clarity of information.
The management team at Voyager Insurance meets regularly to discuss events in this rapidly changing environment to ensure we are reviewing our information and processes.or the future, particularly where the external environment moves so quickly.
Public perception of travel insurance is an issue we cover regularly; do you think that travel insurers have a PR problem? The focus is nearly always on what’s not covered, instead of what is covered! How can the industry address this?
While travel insurance has been in the spotlight recently, as we deal in a number of non-travel markets we see that it’s not just the travel insurance industry that has a poor perception but insurance in general.
Because of the intangibility of insurance, customers often struggle to understand its value, thinking as insurance cannot be seen, the protection it provides is cheap. This, coupled with high expectations of cover, means that often customers are often left feeling dissatisfied.
As times have changed, everyone has a device capable of leaving a review or posting on social media in their pocket. This immediateness for customers to vent their dissatisfaction means that often this will be when they feel a policy has not performed to their expectations, regardless of how valid their dissatisfaction was.
The insurance industry has struggled for years to try and get these points over. The general public does not see insurance as interesting and therefore policy wordings can often be thought to be all but impenetrable to members of the public. The market - regulators and insurers – has got to move towards making policies easier to understand, while explaining the true value of insurance.
Moving forward, do you think that travel insurers can take advantage of the increased awareness of travel protection products to boost the number of people taking out insurance for their holidays?
As stated previously, the profile of travel insurance has been raised by the recent pandemic, although not always for the right reasons.
Despite this, when people book holidays, it is likely that, in the short to medium term, travel insurance is going to be higher up a customers’ list of priorities than before, which provides an opportunity for insurers to capitalise on this demand.
However, insurers need to be careful that they are meeting customer expectations, otherwise they are just building up a backlog of potential complaints f