You have been Commercial Director for William Russell for the past few months. How have you adjusted to the role? What are your goals as Commercial Director?
Firstly, let me say that I am extremely appreciative of having been given the opportunity to join William Russell in this key senior position, and in particular at this juncture given the transformative nature of the next 12 to 18 months for William Russell.
I am pleased to say that I have been made to feel extremely welcome by everybody in the business, and equally so by our distribution partners, on whom we place a heavy reliance for business opportunities.
Since joining in early February, I have immersed myself in learning the business and getting insights into the current situation across our various markets. From that, I have started to think about the strategic imperatives of the different markets to drive sustainable and long-term growth.
My overarching aim is to truly understand the obstacles and challenges we need to solve to enable the William Russell team, and our intermediary partners, to service more members across our markets, in a long-term sustainable manner, supported by relevant and market-leading products, delivered to customers with a truly differentiated approach to customer service.
We have had a great start to 2022 from a new business and customer retention perspective. We are on track to deliver a 35 to 45-per-cent increase in year-on-year new business sales across our markets. Our members are rewarding us because of the way we treated them during the pandemic, and colleagues in our Loyalty Teams are working really positively with the members to deliver a year-to-date average of 85 to 90 per cent. We will be working extremely diligently to maintain the current trajectory to the end of 2022, and into 2023.
How has your previous role informed your role at William Russell?
In my professional career, I have been fortunate to have been given opportunities to have senior roles in some great organisations, leading and working alongside some high-calibre teams and people to deliver results.
Most recently, as the Sales Director of HCA Healthcare UK, I undertook a strategic review of Sales and Distribution on the back of a difficult trading period for the business. I have over 20 years of experience in the insurance industry and leadership roles, so I am excited to bring this strategic leadership to William Russell’s UK and Global Sales Teams, helping us expand on the success of the past 30 years, as a leading independent expat insurance provider.
Prior to HCA Healthcare UK, I had a 13-year career at Bupa, starting as a National Account Manager consulting with strategic clients across a whole range of health and wellbeing solutions. Following that I became the Head of Bupa’s Affinity Team, accountable for a book of £200 million in GWP and 250,000 lives, before moving into full P&L Management as the General Manager of Bupa Travel.
I moved to Citibank in 2011 as Head of Sales and Distribution and successfully transitioned into the Global Wealth Management and Retail Banking sector for high-net-worth individuals, with a global lifestyle. During my time at Citi, I played a leading role in the wholesale strategic transformation of the business, taking it from a loss of US$24 million to having a clear path to profitability, before moving into a Head of Customer Experience and Business Transformation role at Citi, with accountability for process reengineering and optimisation, as well leading transformative books of work to drive the customer experience, and effectiveness and efficiency across the business.
I am fortunate in that I have had very successful stints in three different business sectors, which in itself exposes you to varied experiences, as well as bringing exposure to different thinking and ways of working. I am relatively unusual in that I have had roles that have required commercial as well as operational delivery, as well as full P&L accountability. I have needed to drive areas such as organisational structure, compensation and reward programmes, sales force effectiveness, segments and target client modelling, process reengineering and optimisation as well as technology and business transformation.
I think it is this breadth of experience and broad-based business skill set that will hopefully enable me to deliver for my customers, people and distribution partners.
Expat insurance is going through a lot of changes due to Covid – are there any changes you welcome and that you hope stick around?
2021 was a difficult year for consumers and businesses alike. It became clear that some members would struggle to cover their insurance premiums. Before I joined, we adopted a special retentions strategy that gave our teams far more flexibility and the remit for personalised case management. A renewed focus on the needs of our members meant that, throughout 2021 and into 2022, percentage retention figures on our global portfolio remained in the high 90s.
Unlike many insurance providers, we didn’t insert pandemic clauses into our insurance plans. Members remain covered for treatment for Covid-19 as they would be for any other viral infection. During the past 12 months, we have introduced:
- Revamped areas of cover to help customers reduce premiums by eliminating cover in expensive countries where they don’t need access to healthcare. Our aim is to produce simpler pricing levers, fairer and more accurate premiums for members, and far more competitive premiums in our key markets
- Zero-per-cent average premium inflation across our global membership portfolio. The best way we could support members, beyond the cover they have under the plan for viral infections and follow-up treatment, was financial. We also continue our flexibility in offering premium holidays to customers who cannot afford to pay their premiums and/or helping to adjust their plan to alter their premium without significantly compromising their cover
- New benefits such as outpatient mental health medications, and an accidental death benefit, where the customer’s beneficiaries receive a cash lump sum in the event of their accidental death.
Do you have any stories of particular claims that stayed on your mind?
This was from the last couple of years before I joined, but I was pleased to hear about William Russell working closely with our emergency assistance partner to extract a couple from a remote location in Malawi to the intensive care unit of a South Africa hospital.
Having lived in Malawi for 45 years, Yvonne and Roger had become two of our most valued and best-known members. After Roger suffered a stroke in April 2019, William Russell arranged a medical evacuation to ensure he received the best possible treatment in South Africa. Thanks to Yvonne’s comprehensive international health insurance policy, we were able to cover the cost of Roger’s life-saving journey and subsequent hospital treatment, plus two weeks of Roger’s rehab, a new wheelchair and even the cost of Yvonne’s flight home from South Africa.
Better still, Yvonne was able to access funds from her insurance policy with no hassle because she was put in direct contact with her personal claims manager at William Russell, Cosmina. Yvonne and Cosmina kept up regular contact for four months via WhatsApp and email. This helped the pair build up a relationship, which Yvonne says made a big difference.
Cosmina helped Yvonne understand her policy wording and was quick to reassure Yvonne about what she was entitled to receive. Like all our claims managers, Cosmina’s job was not to focus on cutting costs, but on doing everything she could to ensure the best possible treatment for Roger.
Have you adopted any new technologies recently? What role does technology play for your company?
We adopted Microsoft’s Power Apps platform as the next phase of our digital transformation programme. Power Apps is the front-end development platform powering our online quote tool (delivered October 2020), online application tool (scheduled delivery September 2021), and broker portal. It provides comprehensive quoting for all countries, plans and plan options, but the distinguishing feature is the user experience. We consciously departed from industry standards to create an intuitive, conversational, and educational journey. We avoided technical jargon and knowledge assumptions and produced a truly consumer-focused tool. The online quote tool has been well received by our brokers, but we’ve noticed the greatest achievements in the direct-to-consumer channel. The new quote tool was responsible for a 72-per-cent increase in quote volume and a 50-per-cent increase in conversion rate from website users into quotes.
We started to roll out an added value benefit of Solace Secure. It’s a smartphone app that provides real-time security and travel risk intelligence to customers locally.
We also introduced a new front-end user experience strategy. We adopted Microsoft’s Power Apps platform as the next phase of our digital transformation programme. As a result:
- Impressions through search increased from 1.37 million (April 2021) to 19.7 million (up to March 2022, source: Google Analytics) – a 14-fold increase
- Six-monthly click-throughs through organic search increased from 22,000 (up to March 2021) to 699,000 (up to March 2022) – a 31-fold increase
- Organic traffic increased by from 5,345 to 131,438 monthly visits (March 2021 – March 2022) – a 24.5-times increase in organic traffic (source: SEMRush).
What’s your ideal travel destination?
Cornwall In the UK, Mauritius or Fuji, Japan.