You became Allianz’s General Manager in 2019, and have introduced a raft of changes – organisational transformation, and upgrading the company’s CRM platform – to the company since then. Which one do you think has had the most positive impact?
While the upgrade of the CRM platform was a critical initiative that was technically challenging, the transformation of our organisation to an agile structure was truly game-changing for our associates, customers and partners. Prior to the agile transformation, we had people in divisions and departments who were not as connected to one another and unable to see the full end-to-end business easily. This increased the time that it took to accomplish key goals that would benefit partners and customers. We created a pilot agile team for our direct-to-consumer platform, combining all the subject matter experts on one team, and the results were outstanding. We were able to make upgrades to our platform in weeks that had previously taken months. Due to the success of the pilot, we decided to broadly implement the agile structure to other areas of the company and, as a result, we have become a much faster, nimbler and more responsive organisation.
In June 2020, with many pandemic restrictions still in place, you took on the role of CEO of Allianz; what made you want to take on the position during this incredibly challenging time for the travel insurance and assistance sector?
The Covid-19 pandemic brought unprecedented challenges and caused devastating impacts across the globe. It was truly a challenging time for our company and the travel industry. Like many others in our industry, incoming sales drastically slowed and requests for cancellations and refunds stretched our customer service and claims teams to their limits. I was incredibly impressed with how our associates and teams from across the entire company came together to get through one of the most difficult times ever faced. Their dedication and sacrifice in meeting the needs of our customers and partners reinforced what an amazing place and true family that Allianz Partners really is. With this as a backdrop, when the CEO opportunity arose, I was thrilled and honoured to become the leader of this family.
How is Allianz dealing with Covid claims at the moment; are you enhancing policies to include cancellation as a result of a positive Covid test, for instance?
As travel has returned, claims have understandably gone up significantly. Our claims team is working tremendously hard to automate the claims process so that simple claims can be quickly approved while more experienced examiners handle the more complex claims. We moved quickly both last year and this year to add epidemic accommodations to our travel insurance products. This March, we made permanent some of the temporary accommodations for Covid illnesses that we put into place when the pandemic began, and we added coverage for mandatory personal quarantines and denied boarding due to illness. We felt that it was imperative that we move quickly to help increase confidence among travellers to help speed the travel recovery. We continue to look for ways we can make travel insurance more valuable for our customers.
How difficult is it to vary coverage by state? Do you think that the effort to standardise travel insurance regulations across state borders is going to achieve its aim?
The regulatory situation in the US, where insurance products are regulated individually by each state, is one of the biggest challenges faced by any company in our industry. It takes a lot of resources to file products in every jurisdiction and follow up with the departments of insurance that may have questions. Fortunately, we have been a leader, along with our trade association (the US Travel Insurance Association) in advocating for model legislation that would simplify travel insurance regulations and make them more uniform across jurisdictions. We have a lot of work to do, but we’ve made great progress in getting states to adopt model regulations that benefit both our distribution partners and consumers.
What’s the take-up rate of Allianz’s TravelSmart app? Plenty of insurers have these apps, but getting customers to download them and then actually use them is a lot more challenging.
We’re really pleased that hundreds of thousands of our customers have downloaded our TravelSmart app and that it has a 4.5-star rating in the Apple store. We’re really proud of the functionality that is available in the app, and I think that our customers have really taken to it. The ability to download your travel insurance policy and carry it with you on your phone is very attractive to travellers, but the ability to file and track claims comes in a close second. When you add flight tracking, a medical translator, finding local resources around you and one-touch dialing to our customer service and travel assistance teams, the app is an extremely useful travel tool. As more customers download TravelSmart, we’re hopeful they see us as a true travel partner that provides useful and valuable technology solutions that drive even stronger customer loyalty.
Congratulations on being awarded Travel Insurance Partner of the Year by the American Society of Travel Advisors (ASTA)! How vital is it for Allianz to work with travel organisers in terms of using them as a distribution channel?
Thank you! This is the second year in a row that we’ve been honored by ASTA as their travel insurance partner of the year. I think that this really speaks to our dedication to our travel advisor partners and the importance of being there for them when times are good, and when times are not so good. The last 18 months have created a variety of new challenges for travel advisors, and we understand that they need our support now more than ever. That’s why we’ve stepped up our training programme that provides them with information about how our products and services help their customers, and why we’ve moved quickly to add epidemic enhancements to our products in order to give their clients the confidence they need to book travel. Travel insurance helps travel advisors provide peace of mind to their customers, along with a valuable revenue stream for their business. We’re incredibly proud to be part of an industry that is doing so much to help get the travel industry back on its feet.
What are your other key distribution channels?
Ecommerce partners such as airlines and online travel agencies make up a large part of our total distribution, but other partners such as travel advisors, tour companies, cruise lines, hotel operators and our own direct-to-consumer channel all contribute tremendously to the overall success that we’ve had in the travel insurance market. We also sell insurance for the event/ticket space, as well as tuition insurance. The great thing about this business is that every channel and every partner comes with its own unique challenges and opportunities to learn and grow. Meeting those challenges and exploring those opportunities for the mutual benefit of our company and our partners is what makes what we do so exciting. We’re proud that we have driven both significant incremental revenue for our partners and provided valuable products and services for their customers, which in turn helps improve the loyalty their customers have for their brand.
The claims process can be arduous for customers; what do you think the travel insurance sector needs to do to better service clients making claims? Is technology the answer?
We understand that the claims process can be a friction point for our customers. That’s why our customer experience programme is closely focused on understanding those points of friction and working to find ways to make the claims process faster and easier. We have used technology successfully by allowing customers to file claims online or with our app, and are using proprietary automated systems to quickly approve simple claims. At the end of the day, we know that how we administer claims can be the difference between a customer who is truly satisfied and one who is not. We have dedicated significant resources to be available to answer questions and assist customers who need help with their claim. We’ve also taken steps to make our claims process easier, including providing instructions that are easy to follow and reducing the amount of documentation customers need to provide when submitting a claim. We also added a ‘no receipts’ option to certain benefits in a number of our most popular plans. While we hope our customers have a safe and trouble-free trip, we want them to know that we are here for them and that we’re committed to making things as easy as possible, if and when they need us.
What are your hopes for the future of the travel insurance sector? A lighter touch from regulators? Better coverage? Improved customer understanding?
My hope and expectation is that we will emerge as a stronger and more nimble industry, having survived the challenges that the pandemic has presented. We’ve seen that providing products and services that meet the needs of both our partners and their customers is the best thing we can do to help revive the travel industry. We’ve also seen that when customers understand what they are buying, it leads to higher customer satisfaction and repeat buyers. I believe that our strong focus on customer experience, products and technology is what sets us apart. The pandemic has been brutal for everyone in our industry, but if there’s one silver lining, it’s that we have been able to enhance the value we bring to our customers and our partners.