The HI Profile: Des Benjamin

Simplyhealth, the parent company of HSA, BCWA, HealthSure and other well known health insurance names, is merging its units in a major rebranding exercise this year. Health Insurance editor David Sawers spoke exclusively to its chief executive to find out why

A retail outlet at the unassuming shopping centre in the middle of Andover, the quiet market town in Hampshire, isn’t typically the sort of place where I canvass the thoughts of chief executives of major health insurers. But, Simplyhealth’s ever-reliable PR team assured me, their boss was sure I would find a visit enlightening.

They were right. The shop, a bright, inviting place, is in fact the physical embodiment of Totally Active, the online provider of health and support products for the elderly and disabled which Simplyhealth acquired in 2006. It opened in November 2007 and shows, Des Benjamin tells me, just what his organisation is about – people, their health and their healthcare needs.

In fact, showing what Simplyhealth is all about is Benjamin’s key challenge for 2009 and beyond. The parent company of a number of well known cash plan, private medical insurance (PMI) and healthcare trust providers is currently in the middle of a major rebranding exercise which will see individual names phased out, to be replaced by the overarching Simplyhealth brand.

It’s not just a major decision – it’s a very brave one too. And it’s not the only one that Benjamin has made in recent times, with Simplyhealth closing down its occupational health business, Vitality Healthcare – which operated under the Adastral Health brand – in December of last year.

So why is the rebranding such a brave move? Well, each of the individual organisations have, over time, built up excellent reputations with consumers and brokers alike. In fact, one of those organisations, HSA, is a hugely successful cash plan provider whose brand was not so long ago officially recognised as the second most recognised in the health insurance industry, after Bupa. Last year, BCWA won broker plaudits by scooping the Health Insurance Company of the Year Award. So why take such a gamble?

“On their own, the brands could have kept going almost indefinitely but they weren’t necessarily providing what the future of healthcare looks like,” Benjamin explains. “Together we’ve got scale that allows us to develop new products, put in new systems and allows us to tackle the agenda of healthcare in the future with some considerable ability.”

Simplyhealth’s broker partners stand to benefit, too, as there will be greater name awareness among their clients.

“As it stood we couldn’t do national branding for each of the separate brands,” he says. “Once decision makers see national brand advertising for Simplyhealth and we have a high name awareness for that, then the familiarity will increase and there won’t be the ’who are they?’ factor which has held some of the brands back in the past.”

It is not a decision that has been taken lightly, Benjamin says, explaining that each of the brands has a “fundamental” position of trust with its customers.

“We mustn’t compromise that trust in any way,” he says. “Nothing will change except the name. We are confident that what we have done in the past is going to feed its way through to our customers. That trust will transition from the brands that have got us here over the last 137 years to the one that is being built for the future.”

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