What are AIG’s primary distribution channels for international travel and health insurance in the MENA region?
AIG Travel’s primary distribution channels in the MENA region are airlines and multinational accounts (including some online travel agencies), as well as travel agency and visa-processing companies, financial institutions and payment providers.
How do you choose your affinity partners when undertaking the selection process?
Our selection process within MENA is consistent with what we have in continental Europe and the UK: we’re interested in establishing long-term and sustainable relationships with partners that are looking for products and services that complement their core offerings, often underpinned by a desire to ensure that they’re adding value to the relationship they have with their end consumer. We have found, historically, that regardless of geographic region or distribution channel, we have been able to forge longer-term and mutually beneficial relationships with partners that share these goals.
Are there any particular strong markets on which you are focused at the moment in terms of market potential for development? Which ones, and why?
The travel insurance market in this region is still quite young; the propensity to buy consumer insurance products, especially travel, is still quite low. Accordingly, we do see opportunities for growth in the UAE, where we have a broad and established operation, supporting other lines of business beyond just travel. Regarding growth in MENA more broadly, we’re looking at an inward, reinsurance approach, in lieu of a classic, traditional brick-and-mortar, insurance operation.
How have you seen consumer awareness of the benefits of comprehensive travel insurance change due to the pandemic?
In this region, as with others across the globe, the increase in consumer awareness has been significant in the past two years. We’re definitely seeing a marked uptick in the number of people that are attaching an insurance product to their itinerary, so there is clearly a greater awareness and understanding of the importance of protection, both for travellers as well as their families, and also the value of the trip that they’ve purchased and invested in.
What would you identify as being the primary regulatory challenges of operating in the UAE, and how have you overcome these?
Regardless of where we’re operating, there is always a clear need for us to ensure that we are adhering to regulation. I think what's critically important for us – whether it’s MENA or anywhere else – is that we stay on top of what is happening in a dynamic and evolving environment. While we wouldn’t categorise it as a ‘challenge’, the most important thing for us to understand is how we adapt to the change and, by extension, how we ensure that we make clear to our partners and end customers what those changes are and how those changes impact all parties.
Building a network of reliable partners who can provide assistance, air ambulance, claims and other services integral to travel insurance is vital. How has AIG built their network in the UAE over the years, and how do you intend to support further growth of it in the coming years?
Over the past two decades, AIG has had a need for significant medical, air ambulance and other logistical support in and out of the UAE, which has given us the opportunity to build a complex network of providers in the region. During the past year, AIG has added a local UAE medical third-party administrator to our network, in support of the volume of Covid cases there and, more recently, the significant influx of travellers to and from Dubai for the World Expo.
This new medical TPA relationship is critical to our expansion of services in the UAE market, as well as our ability to make necessary adjustments based on the travel patterns and the needs of our customers.
When it comes to digital distribution of travel insurance, providers can be somewhat hesitant. Are your customers in the UAE demanding digital solutions such as online claims, and how are you responding?
Our customers do prefer digital solutions such as online claims, and AIG Travel has an online claims portal that customers can use to file. Moreover, with the increasing demand for travel insurance products in this region, there’s going to be a requirement to provide aftercare support, which is digitally enabled. Therefore, we are always looking to expand our digital capabilities, both in terms of the functionality and usability of our tools, and work as quickly as possible to migrate as many people as we can to our digital tools.
Is medical provider fraud prevalent in the region? How do you combat it?
Medical provider fraud is not prevalent in this region, but we recognise the vital importance to having clarity and understanding around regulatory billing practices, as well as contractual agreements. It’s the responsibility of both medical providers and insurance companies to engage in clear communication in order to make sure that the billing and payments, provided by insurance companies, are accurate. There is always an opportunity for both parties to do a better job communicating on pricing, on agreed contract rates, and making sure that everyone is aligning with those contractual rates and driving the volume of business that those contracts are committing.
Medical inflation continues to be an issue for travel insurers around the world. What does AIG find to be the most effective method of cost containment in the MENA region when working with hospitals treating international patients?
Through its relationship with its new, local medical TPA, AIG has addressed the issue of medical inflation in the past year in order to have closer day-to-day relationships with medical facilities, and work with them to find ways to lower costs.
When it comes to developing new products for new markets, what are your hopes for the future of international travel and health insurance in MENA?
Following the increase that we’ve seen in awareness levels, and the value that people perceive from travel insurance in MENA, my hope is that we continue to see a rise in utilisation. We want to see more usage of product, because that brings with it increased engagement and interaction, and a greater understanding of the value that the product potentially brings. As the customer gains a greater understanding of this value, it leads to more productive conversations with prospective partners about adopting a travel insurance product to offer to their customers.
Ultimately, we’re focused on higher levels of engagement with our end consumer, which we’re seeking both through a rise in utilisation, but also with engagement in market. We’re taking a fresh look at market surveys, and engagement through partnerships with travel industry media, among other channels, to better understand what consumers want and need when they travel, because there is variance, especially as you consider different age groups of travellers, origins and destinations. It's incumbent on us to talk to our consumers, so that they can tell us exactly what they need, and what we can provide for that need.