Comment: Am I sitting on the fence when it comes to Bupa?

I had a vision of Bupa drawing up the stumps and taking their ball back - not quite cricket

At the Association of Medical Insurance Intermediaries' conference recently I was heartened by the number of people who came up to me and complimented me on my comment pieces in Health Insurance. One of my followers chastised me for ‘sitting on the fence’ and while some think he may have a point, I find that extreme views might sell the tabloids but are no substitute for balanced, rational debate.

This got me thinking about the intermediary’s role, and how balance is the key to success. Balancing the needs of your client with the demands of the provider and your own business requirements. Never has this necessity for restrained commentary been more to the fore than now. As you are all now aware (if not – where have you been and why did you miss the news reported exclusively on the Health Insurance website?), Bupa have announced that they will no longer be selling PMI to individuals through intermediaries.

My instant reaction cannot be printed in this worthy vehicle but I must confess that the phrase ‘broker-bashing’ sprung to mind. I had this image of Bupa playing cricket with intermediaries and as the pitch conditions deteriorated, rather than adapting to the rules, they suddenly drew up stumps and took their ball back. Not, as we say in the UK, quite cricket.

But then the logical brain kicked in. Bupa stated that "challenging market conditions, a fall in the number of leads and high business acquisition costs" prompted this withdrawal. I guess if it’s their ball, even though it’s a public playing field – it’s their right to stop the game. (Last of the sporting metaphors for now, I promise). Bupa has also withdrawn five personal line products to new sales through intermediaries. An understandable business decision as streamlining of deliverables is bound to reduce their costs. This is also an uncomfortable reminder of the tricky environment in which we operate - if the market leader is struggling to make a headline offering pay, whither the rest of the market?

So what do intermediaries do? One-man IFA businesses may be severely damaged by this and I have great sympathy for them. Others presumably will be tempted to direct their clients towards Bupa’s competitors who shall surely be waiting with open arms. The group market may also be affected as brokers worry about continuation options and freedom of choice for members. And that is the major issue. As intermediaries, we must treat our customers fairly and our best chance of success is to offer our clients informed, comprehensive choice.

With this initiative, Bupa has hindered intermediaries’ ability to offer that choice. And that, as we say, sitting uncomfortably on that fence, is disappointing.

What are your views about Bupa's decision? Email them to the editor at david.sawers@informa.com or post them (and read more) on the forum of the Health Insurance LinkedIn group.

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