Health Insurance editor David Sawers meets Denplan boss Steve Gates
As managing director of Denplan, Steve Gates (pictured) is used to being the boss of a company within a company.
After all, the dental payment plan specialist, which was set up by two dentists back in 1986, has been part of AXA PPP healthcare since the insurer acquired it in 1993. That was until December of last year when it was announced that AXA had sold the organisation to Simplyhealth, the mutual cash plan and private medical insurance (PMI) provider, for £115m on a debt-free cash free basis.
And Gates, who has been managing director of Denplan since 2001, says he is comfortable in the new organisational structure in which he finds himself.
In fact, when I speak to him following news of the acquisition, he is at pains to stress that it will be “business as usual” for Denplan and its dentist and broker partners and, of course, for its customers.
“We were previously a very self-reliant business within AXA,” Gates explains, adding that he is not aware that Denplan’s new owner has any plans to shake things up.
“Simplyhealth has bought a number of different businesses that have continued to operate as self-sufficient businesses within the group,” Gates continues, pointing to brands such as BCWA which have been integrated within the Simplyhealth group over recent years.
The path to today
Last year’s announcement that Simplyhealth intends to purchase Groupama’s UK PMI business means that Denplan is going to remain part of a heavyweight insurer with a broad remit across healthcare. But why did AXA not want to retain Denplan which, after all, has grown to have over 6,500 dentist members and approximately 1.8 million patients across the UK?
The official line is that AXA wants to focus on providing PMI and associated medical services to individuals and businesses and since selling its traditional life and pensions business, AXA has refocused its UK operations in four core areas: personal and commercial insurance, wealth management and healthcare.
Simplyhealth, meanwhile, has previously told Health Insurance that it remains focused on generating scale across the broader healthcare landscape. As part of that drive, there are no plans, Gates says, to make wholesale changes at Denplan.
Brand will remain largely the same – although there may of course be reference to Simplyhealth in logos and literature – while there will be no changes in personnel as far as brokers are concerned, with Pam Whelan continuing in her role as corporate sales manager.
“It will be exactly the same team providing the same service,” Gates says. “There are no redundancies, no people changes.”
In any case, even prior to working within AXA – somewhere where he enjoyed “really quite a lot of freedom” as a MD – Gates has had experience of working for a business unit within a larger parent company when a spell at Norwich Union (now Aviva) saw him involved in the setting up of the provider’s healthcare business.