SME private medical insurance - Getting it right for brokers

From online quotation portals to simply being able to get through to someone who knows what they are talking about, brokers operating in the SME sphere know what they want from insurers. Madeleine Davies finds out who is meeting their expectations

When Discovery announced its acquisition of Standard Life Healthcare (SLH) in May this year group chief financial officer Richard Farber told Health Insurance that a factor “normally low on the priorities list” had influenced the company’s bid: good old-fashioned customer service. “Standard Life Healthcare is a fantastic asset around people and operations,” he said. “The customer experience is very good and we want to keep that going.” His comments echoed those of intermediaries reacting to the deal.

“Standard Life Healthcare has always had an enviable reputation in the market for providing excellent customer service to their clients,” Richard Holden, compliance director at national specialist intermediary Chase Templeton, told us, urging PruHealth to “maintain these high expectations moving forward.”

Of course, it is not only the expectations of customers that private medical insurers have to meet, but those of the broker channel. This is perhaps particularly challenging in the highly competitive SME sphere in which they must balance the provision of a personal service with demands for a speedy turn-around and efficient systems.

Alistair Sclare, healthcare director at insurer Groupama Healthcare, is well placed to comment on walking this particular tightrope having secured the gong for best customer service at last year’s Health Insurance Awards.

“As a small provider we feel that service differentiation is something that enables us to compete with bigger players who may be a little less agile,” he says. This view seems to be borne out by the intermediary experience. Paula Aitken, commercial manager at health insurance consultancy The Private Health Partnership (PHP), believes that Grouapama “stands heads and shoulders above the rest for consistently high levels of customers service”, followed by SLH, “leaving the others far behind.”

“We asked intermediaries what it was we needed to do and we go back to confirm we have done it,” continues Sclare. “When we haven’t succeeded we have gone to them and asked why not.”

Following Sclare’s example, Health Insurance spoke to four intermediaries operating in the SME sphere about what matters most to them.

“Insurers’ online offerings vary in ability but the better ones allow you to get your own quotes, download renewal terms and make amendments to a policy or place a group on cover pending underwriting,” says PHP’s Aitken. “The sites store-up to date literature which assists the broker in ensuring that out of date literature is not given to the clients and negates the need to keep piles of literature which tends to date.”

Both Chase Templeton’s Holden and Peter Lurie of intermediary Proactive Medical & Life singled out Health-on-line for praise. The online provider, underwritten by AXA PPP healthcare, enables brokers to obtain quotations for personal and company plans immediately and submit new business electronically with no need for paperwork.

Many of the providers Health Insurance spoke to are in the process of upgrading their online offerings for brokers. Groupama is launching EasyAdmin 2 which, in addition to enabling brokers to download literature and make mid-term adjustments to schemes, will provide all renewals and allow brokers to access replacement certificates and P11D statements.

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