You have been with Allianz Partners for over six years. What are the biggest changes you’ve seen in the industry in that time?
Undoubtedly, the Covid-19 pandemic had a huge impact on the insurance industry. Some medical providers that were almost fully dedicated to catering to travellers suffered greatly as lockdowns and restrictions were put in place. As a result, they struggled to maintain their standards and level of service as the pandemic ended and normality resumed. Following the pandemic, customers began looking for more protection. Clearly, they felt more exposed than ever to hazards and unexpected diseases. This was a particularly relevant development for travel insurers.
But there remains a huge appetite for travel. The volume of travel nomads is increasing all the time, and travellers have become increasingly digitally savvy and expect digital solutions. They want to be able to interact with their insurance providers immediately and get an immediate response, often via web-based technology, such as WhatsApp, and they don’t want to endure long phone calls. This can create new potential issues for providers as they need to stay up to date with compliance and data protection obligations, which are continually evolving. Insurers have simply been forced to adapt with the times we now live in.
However, although I’ve been working for Allianz Partners in a full-time capacity for six years, I’ve been with the company in a part-time capacity for 25 years altogether. In that time, I’ve been at the forefront of unprecedented change within the industry. Medical facilities have improved in many countries around the world, meaning there is less pressure to find an urgent means of evacuation for those needing assistance. That said, there is still room for progression in many regions around the world. Allianz Partners has devised a list which classifies countries according to medical risk; 80 countries on that list remain flagged as ‘red zone’ destinations.
The air ambulance industry has also progressed to a staggering extent. We used to charter private jets and recreate sanitary environments to care for patients wherever they were in the world. We now have a selection of providers with aircraft that are fully dedicated to providing medical attention to patients. Though we have built some trusted partnerships on very strong foundations, it’s still imperative to select the most appropriate provider for every situation.
But what hasn’t changed is our commitment to providing the best medical assistance, and we continue to systematically assess medical facilities and providers on a regular basis.
Medical facilities have improved in many countries around the world, meaning there is less pressure to find an urgent means of evacuation
All in all, travelling has become a routine for many people. With communication becoming much more accessible through technology, travellers are demanding that their insurance providers maintain pace with the changes. Travellers expect immediate responses from their travel insurance and assistance providers, particularly when they find themselves in unfortunate situations, and they want the best quality care. We need to continue meeting those demands.
What are the primary responsibilities of your current role and which aspects do you enjoy most?
While I don’t usually deal with individual medical cases directly, my role as Group Chief Medical Officer (CMO) means the most complicated cases are escalated to my desk. An internal escalation matrix determines which cases I am required to review. Despite the demands of my role, I am always happy to support our various teams in tricky situations. Finding solutions to these situations is perhaps the most rewarding aspect of my role.
At Allianz Partners, we also have a relatively centralised set-up and approach to governance. It means that all Chief Medical Officers in various countries report to me. This approach facilitates a high level of consistency across our various entities around the world. Such a system also allows us to share best practices, guidelines and protocols with one another. Of course, we’re also learning all the time and these learnings are also shared so we can continuously improve the standard of service we provide.
We are progressively moving closer to one global medical team and I’m delighted to play a key role in this process, though there are some challenges involved in setting up this new system. It’s nevertheless a very exciting development which I cannot wait to see come to fruition very soon.
How is Allianz Partners using new technology to better serve its customers around the world?
Throughout the years, technology has become an integral element of our business and how we cater to customers. For example, Lumi, our global health app, revolutionises the way insured members can manage their health and insurance. It offers a wide range of features and benefits that allows users to access services they need at a moment’s notice. Users can call a doctor, search for a healthcare provider, book medical appointments and submit and track their medical claims conveniently in one place. Insurance doesn’t need to be unnecessarily complicated.
We are now replicating this model across our travel line of business with Allyz, our digital companion for travellers. This digital platform offers travel protection and access to care via several digital channels. The user will have the option of telemedicine solutions, appointment booking tools and a direct link to emergency help when required among other services. The model will also help facilitate a real-time tailored response to requests for support.
How did Allianz Partners adjust during the pandemic, and are there are any changes made then that have been made permanent?
While there were no permanent changes to the way we run our medical assistance due to the pandemic, it did reinforce our commitment to ensuring our customers had peace of mind during a very unpredictable period. Expats continued to need support, especially those who felt cut off from their family and friends. We provided them with a human connection.
While we naturally saw a dramatic drop in travel during the pandemic, the medical cases we continued to treat tended to be extremely complicated. Many patients needed to be evacuated and cross-border movements became exceedingly difficult amid ongoing lockdowns and restrictions, which differed from country to country.
The Allianz Partners team nevertheless was always on hand to provide peace of mind to customers, especially those who were presenting symptoms of Covid-19. At times, our customers were stuck in quarantine in locations that had more in common with jails than medical facilities. That said, those experiences reinforced the need for us to always provide peace of mind as much as medical assistance.
Customers will never want a fully digital journey. In stressful situations ... all demographics continue to request human contact
Mental health policies are becoming more important for customers – how is Allianz Partners responding?
We believe that mental health services are an essential component of health insurance packages, particularly for our international health customers and students. In response to this, our mental wellbeing app offers a wellbeing assessment, a personalised programme of videos and exercises, a progress tracker and links to crisis support services and personal coaching.
Detection of mental health issues can easily be digitalised and made accessible to all demographics. But we also believe that digital apps must be supported with the human touch. For that reason, once we identify mental health issues, we endeavour to connect patients with reliable support services as soon as possible. Allianz Partners’ role in supporting mental health, we believe, is being the conduit between digital and human support.
With telehealth solutions becoming more common, how do you think international healthcare will change in the future?
International healthcare will continue to be digitalised – that much is certain. However, customers will never want a fully digital journey. In stressful situations, customers from all demographics continue to request human contact. Digital solutions play a crucial role in the current insurance landscape – but they will never replace the human touch.
So, while international healthcare will change in the future, it will not change beyond all recognition. Peace of mind should always be one click away, and technology will never facilitate peace of mind on its own. Finding the balance between cutting edge technology and the human touch will be central to the future of international healthcare.
What do you think are the biggest challenges facing the industry?
The insurance industry is facing similar challenges to many other industries. Foremost among those challenges is inflation. It’s impacting medical costs, air fares, fuel for medical transport, internal business costs etc. All aspects of our business are impacted by inflation and that, in turn, affects customers. Geopolitical uncertainty in several areas around the world is also an issue that requires constant monitoring. These are very real challenges. But challenges also bring opportunities.