What has been your career path to date, and what does your current role involve?
Currently, I am the President & CEO of WorldTrips and Chief Product Officer for Tokio Marine HCC (TMHCC) Global Travel Group. WorldTrips is a member company of the TMHCC group of companies. We offer a variety of travel medical and trip cancellation insurance plans to meet the needs of individuals, groups, and organisations across the globe with a strong focus on technology innovation.
Prior to WorldTrips, I held a variety of leadership positions in health and medical care insurance.
How has the travel insurance sector changed since you first started working in it?
Technology and innovation have really revolutionised the travel insurance industry. Just a decade ago, travelers would be far more likely to pick up the phone to book their travel arrangements than log into a computer device. Now, mobile shopping is preferred. The industry now solely develops and markets products for a digital consumer. At WorldTrips, we continuously look for ways to improve the digital experience for our consumers and critical partners.
Aside from the shift to mobile, the expanding US marketplace has also triggered a response by regulators to encourage providers to adopt a consumer-first approach to product development. The National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) Travel Insurance Model Act set a comprehensive legal framework within which travel insurance may be sold. This has helped providers better navigate complex regulatory considerations and ensure transparency and accountability are prioritised. The goal is to design products to provide value and transparency for the consumers and work towards a fairer, healthier marketplace.
What do you think the industry can still do better, despite how far it has come?
There is always room for growth and development, especially when it comes to improving the consumer purchase journey while simultaneously educating buyers.
As insurance innovators, we often ask, ‘how do we educate brokers on what they are selling – and help consumers better understand what they are buying’? This is a challenge, especially as much of the industry is driven by speedy point-of-sale purchases.
While the industry has come a long way, there’s more work to do. Our goal at WorldTrips is to continue finding ways to improve the purchasing experience while educating buyers along the way.
What trends are you seeing in terms of customer demands with regards to the benefits they value most in their policies?
Customers simply want to know that they are protected against what is unforeseen. And, managing consumer expectations on what travel insurance covers – and what it doesn’t – is becoming increasingly important.
Managing consumer expectations on what travel insurance covers – and what it doesn’t – is becoming increasingly important
The Covid-19 pandemic was a great inflection point for the industry as it had to decide how to collectively respond to a global crisis. The industry, by and large, put profits aside in order to do the right thing for the consumer. This meant adequately pricing and adapting products accordingly.
Today, global travellers seem more apt to purchase travel insurance and consider additional benefits. In Canada, for example, we anticipate consumer preferences shifting from emergency medical to trip cancellation products as there's now a greater yearning to protect travel investments. Other markets seem to inch closer to pre-pandemic levels. Australia’s operation has come back. Japan is slowly welcoming tourists again. Here in the US, there’s a strong demand for travel insurance and we expect a steady rise in policy count for inbound visitors once the ongoing immigrant visa application delays get resolved.
Meanwhile, pent-up travel demand has also led to interest in specialised travel insurance products geared for specific audiences. International student insurance, for example, has become a large aspect of our growing business as study abroad-type programmes pick up steam.
At WorldTrips, we have developed a ‘global solution’ for our policyholders. Acquired in 2016 by TMHCC, On Call International is a leader in travel risk management and a long-standing partner to WorldTrips. Controlling the experience when WorldTrips customers most need it was a driving force behind their acquisition. They have expanded their reach through a close partnership with Intact, Tokio Marine’s Japan based assistance firm in Japan. This, in addition to On Call International’s founding ownership in the International Assistance Group, provides a worldwide solution for our policyholders.
But our efforts to expand solutions don’t stop there. We also monitor new product development opportunities in the global marketplace. For example, several travel insurance companies in Taiwan recently suspended a ‘sudden illness’ clause in policies. This suspension basically means their policyholders would not be covered for Covid-19 illness while traveling abroad. I’m pleased to report that we have not suspended a ‘sudden illness’ clause in any of our policies. In fact, our experienced global underwriting team has developed robust and fair policies designed to cover world travelers in the event they get sick with Covid-19 and require emergency medical care.
What role do you think the industry groups like UStiA and THiA play in helping to develop the travel insurance sector?
I served a term as President for the UStiA (2014-2015) and support the missions of these types of organisations. Fostering ethical and professional standards for the travel insurance industry here in the US is extremely valuable as the industry is quite complex and dynamic. Developing a strong code of conduct and fair regulations enable a clear roadmap for companies to follow in order to design products that meet industry standards and are beneficial for consumers.
With the fragmented regulatory system in the US, what do you think the travel insurance industry can do to maximise reach and sales opportunities across state borders?
Insurance regulation does differ from state to state, here in the US. For example, some states may require certain coverage or specific wording.
While I respect the desires of state governments to handle local issues, the variety of complex licensing requirements (from one state to the next) does pose a challenge for travel insurance providers, specifically when it comes to marketing products nationally for the general public. A confusing legal patchwork can also pose headaches for consumers. For example, a traveller with dual residency may have a vastly different experience purchasing travel insurance in New York vs. Florida.
While many other insurance industries must also deal with a fragmented regulatory system, minimising those differences to offer a seamless customer experience remains top of mind.
Here in the US, the UStiA has done great work in this area. The organisation is actively involved in regulatory matters and is always seeking new ways to improve the overall experience for both consumers and providers.
When it comes to developing new travel insurance products, what are the biggest challenges an insurer faces?
Our challenge is to meet the evolving demands of our consumers in a rapidly changing and dynamic marketplace.
For example, when countries started to roll out a variety of travel insurance mandates during the pandemic, we had to ensure that our products would meet and/or exceed those requirements. I’m pleased to say that they did. The Covid-19 era also resulted in many pandemic-induced policy innovations, such as coverage for telehealth services.
Aside from the pandemic, price expectations from consumers drive purchasing decisions and that expectation can pose challenges for underwriters as they look to expand product offerings.
Recruiting and retaining talent is a worldwide problem at the moment, how is WorldTrips facing the challenge?
At WorldTrips, we have been fortunate to recruit many talented insurance experts during a rather challenging hiring climate. We recently announced the expansion of our leadership team with the appointment of Jonathan Nichols, CPCU as Vice President of Underwriting, Clinton Bartlett as Managing Actuary and Lea Lundquist as Vice President of Operations.
WorldTrips is a TMHCC company and has an excellent reputation for fostering a positive work culture. We offer our employees a collaborative and rewarding environment within which to gain the knowledge, skills, and experience that lead to a rewarding career. We continue to look for ways to retain top talent such as competitive salaries, attractive benefits, and potential for career growth. We also recently opened our worldwide headquarters in Carmel, Indiana to foster long-term recruitment efforts. The city ranks No. 2 on Money.com's 50 Best Places to Live in the US in 2021-2022.
If you could share any advice to someone just entering the travel insurance market for the first time, what would you tell them?
The travel insurance marketplace continues to evolve and adapt to a rapidly changing environment. We remain optimistic as the 2022 travel rebound appears to be underway and there is high demand for travel insurance. That demand likely includes first-time buyers.
For consumers just entering the travel insurance market, I would encourage doing some research prior to making a purchase. It’s important to understand the lingo and differences within plans and policies. While policies can be a lengthy read, it’s critical that consumers understand coverage details, such as exclusions. If you get stuck, ask a licensed travel insurance agent for help.
The travel insurance marketplace continues to evolve and adapt to a rapidly changing environment
What has been your biggest challenge in your career, and your most rewarding moment?
The Covid-19 pandemic has been, by and large, the most significant challenge for the travel insurance industry – for many months there was much uncertainty.
I’m pleased with our response as we were able to quickly adapt and expand our product line to better serve our customers. At the time of the WHO pandemic declaration, WorldTrips had over 1,200 evacuations managed through our travel risk management company On Call International. Policyholders were located predominantly in the Asia Pacific, the Americas, and Europe; two thirds considered the US, Canada, UK, and Australia to be home. Our evacuation benefit approach allowed policyholders to move to or remain in the safest place. Some borders were already closed and WorldTrips honoured the benefit regardless of the time to border reopening.
The pandemic was also a powerful learning opportunity as we have now developed strategies for managing the unforeseen long-term implications of health risks for travellers. In addition to developing travel medical products to meet and/or exceed government mandated requirements, we recently expanded our product suite to include a robust trip cancellation product line with optional cancel for any reason and interruption for any reason coverage options. At WorldTrips, we are really committed to adapting our products to be more in line with the current travel climate and consumers’ needs.