HI editor David Sawers interviews the boss of Allianz's iPMI business
Ron Buchan recently celebrated the eleventh anniversary of Allianz Worldwide Care, the international health insurer he set up back in 2000. Health Insurance editor David Sawers asked him about the journey so far – and what might lie ahead.
The international private medical insurance (iPMI) industry is, by its nature of course, a cosmopolitan one. And in the case of Allianz Worldwide Care (AWC), the insurer, its chief executive is a case in point.
Ron Buchan is a British chief executive running a German-owned insurer based in Ireland – something he has been doing since AWC opened for business in May 2000. But while it is a role that has taken Buchan all over the world – I meet him and long-time sales & marketing director Claude Daboul in London ahead of another trip to the Middle East – his early professional life was slightly closer to home.
A chartered insurer, Buchan began his career with Norwich Union Life, before taking on management positions within Royal Life and then a Scottish Life office. It was during his time at PPP healthcare in the early 1990s, though, that he caught the attention of headhunters who would eventually send him on his global adventure. After a spell as an expat in the insurance industry in Bahrain, Allianz came calling. The global giant wanted Buchan to spearhead its launch into the iPMI sector.
THE ALLIANZ EFFECT
The decision by Allianz to target the iPMI market was perhaps not surprising. But the way in
which it went about it, Buchan says, was not the normal Allianz way.
Rather than use its financial muscle to acquire an existing provider, Allianz decided instead to capitalise on expertise within its existing businesses in different parts of the world to grow an iPMI capability from scratch. It proved to be a sensible move, Buchan, says – and a timely one.
“We were able to stimulate business from a variety of markets and wash that over the one investment that we’d made in the administration capabilities,” he says. “Our timing was obviously also good because 2000 was the beginning of a big economic upswing. Globalisation has played its part and we benefited from that. But the essence of the business model was using the central investment and using the might of Allianz to operate in different markets.”
While he has clearly played a significant role in building AWC to become one of the largest iPMI providers in the market, Buchan suggests he had a head start when AWC opened for business in May 2000. The Allianz brand, he explains, has been key.
“We attracted clients like a magnet,” he says. “I was staggered by what effect brand has. It’s something you read about and the market is always telling us about the value of brand – but to see it in action was breathtaking.”
That good start has seen AWC grow incrementally to now be operational in 18 countries around the world. In 2010 it recorded 34% premium growth and the additional business has seen staff numbers increase from 265 to 430.
WHY IRELAND ?
While, like most iPMI providers, AWC has capabilities all over the globe, the bulk of its workforce is based in Dublin, where Buchan himself spends much of his time. But why Ireland?