Interview: Declan Murphy, MAPFRE ASSISTANCE
Ireland’s travel insurance sector is going through a challenging, yet fascinating phase – and Declan Murphy of MAPFRE Assistance is ideally placed to tell ITIJ all about it
What’s your insurance background, and what attracted you to working for MAPFRE Assistance?
I kicked off my career in the industry in 2007 in a sales role with One Direct (now Post Insurance). Like many, I found myself in it, rather than having planned for it! Despite this, I’ve never looked back – in my view there has never been a more exciting time to be in the sector, with the amount of change and disruption we are experiencing. I have typically worked within personal lines for most of my career, the majority of which was spent with RSA Insurance and 123.ie, on car and home insurance products. This has been enjoyable, as both have seen significant change throughout the past 15 years – digitalisation of customer journeys, underwriting capabilities through automation/sophistication, plus the introduction of new technologies like telematics and IoT.
I’ve always had a relationship with MAPFRE and the current general manager, so when the opportunity arose to move into a completely different product line, I was keen. Assistance is an interesting business, as these companies have a lot more touchpoints than a traditional insurer. This attracted me, as one of the great challenges today is building a wider relationship with customers, moving away from one-time annual transaction. This was a good opportunity to explore something completely different.
How has MAPFRE Assistance managed the effects of Covid-19 and Brexit in terms of market turmoil and customer demand?
The impact of Brexit is ongoing, and the effects on the company and the wider Irish economy have yet to be quantified. The UK is an important trading partner and the long-term impacts are still unknown, but in the short term, we have seen some upside with brands who previously passported into Ireland looking for new capacity due to lost rights.
Regarding Covid, sales activity dropped very sharply following the updated advice of the Department of Foreign Affairs on 12 March, and a significant uplift in claims volumes resulted in a difficult period for us. Throughout the next year, we updated policy wordings regularly to account for quickly changing circumstances. The depression in sales continued up to the middle of July 2021.
Since then, we have seen an upsurge. Many had gone two years without a holiday and were eager to travel abroad again. Also, the risk of Covid made people aware of the ‘protection gap’ of travelling with no insurance in place.
MAPFRE Asistencia departed the UK market in 2021; what was the fallout for MAPFRE Assistance in Ireland?
The Irish unit has been in operation since 1991, almost 20 years before MAPFRE launched in the UK. We are standalone, so have experienced minimal impact. We had some mutual clients, but due to Brexit, Ireland is now a very different region, with many mutual rights between Ireland and the UK, such as passporting, removed.
One commonality we had was Insure and Go, but in Ireland we continue to trade under this brand today.
What are the primary challenges in the Irish market?
As a small open economy, what Ireland faces now – a cost of living crisis and the potential for recession – is reflected in the global economic landscape. The relatively small population (five million) is an obvious limit in terms of market size. Brexit is ongoing, and the full effects of that are uncertain. Acquiring and retaining talent is a challenge, but that is felt in many different countries at present.
Are travellers showing an increased interest in insurance, and do you think this effect will be temporary as the stresses of Covid and disrupted travel become distant memories?
There is definitely increased interest among Irish travellers, primarily driven by pent-up demand from the lack of travel, but also a greater awareness of the need for insurance. We expect this to continue, but are fully aware that the cost of living crisis and threat of a global recession could affect this into 2023.
How is MAPFRE deploying insurtech solutions to provide commercial partners and customers with products and services that meet the needs of the market?
We always aim to enhance our travel products through innovation. Personalisation is a big requirement, particularly for young people. Products that fit specific travel needs, rather than a ‘one-size-fits-all’ annual policy – this is something we are exploring.
Additionally, we are always trying to digitalise. An example from a claims perspective is the use of parametric insurance, where a traveller experiences a flight delay or lost luggage, and we instantly provide a benefit such as lounge access or a voucher to spend on essentials until their bag is located. All this can be done without human intervention, which provides a great service.
What do you find most challenging about your role, and what do you enjoy the most?
Like most businesses, we are going through our own transformation programme. There are so many solutions we would like to introduce, and prioritising these can be a challenge, as you’re always looking to get the biggest bang for your buck. The diversification I have in my role is what I enjoy most – no two days are the same, which is refreshing. Meeting clients for a coffee and a catch-up is always good too.