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The HI&P Profile: Courtney Marsh, Health Shield

From cash plan to wellbeing services provider

Health Shield has enjoyed remarkable success at the Health Insurance & Protection Awards over recent years. Emily Perryman spoke to chief executive Courtney Marsh to find out how he intends to keep up the pace.

Health Shield has long been known for its expertise in the cash plan market, but the friendly society is going through a major rebrand which it hopes will position it as the market’s leading wellbeing services provider.

Courtney Marsh, chief executive of Health Shield, says changes have been taking place throughout the business since he took the helm a year ago. His main goal has been to redefine who Health Shield is – not just through a new logo, but by altering its entire proposition.

“We’re not just a cash plan provider, but a wellbeing provider too,” he says. “We’ve been digitising and automating our business to make it easier to use for our members, brokers and internal staff. We’ve also been working on our CSR – given our status as a mutual we want to do more in our community.”

Marsh says there has been a shift over the last 15 years in the types of benefits that cash plan providers offer. Instead of just focusing on dental, optical and physio, cash plans are increasingly offering wellbeing benefits like virtual GPs.

Health Shield’s new proposition is a natural extension of this shift. Marsh says that with more wellbeing services being added onto its cash plan, there was a sense that the provider should focus on each of those services as much as the cash plan itself.

Digital one-stop-shop
At the core of the mutual’s new proposition is Breeze – a digital one-stop-solution that brings together all of the physical, emotional and financial health and wellbeing services that Health Shield provides.

The services offered include a virtual GP, on-demand physio, health assessments, the Thrive wellbeing app, 24/7 counselling, cancer screening, stress-related absence support, home assistance following hospital treatment, and deals and discounts from a range of brands. Screening is provided via Prevent Plc, which Health Shield acquired in 2017, while the virtual GP is supplied by Medical Solutions.

“We want to help people lead happier, healthier and more productive lives,” says Marsh. “We are not just a cash plan provider. We’re trying to become the leader in the wellbeing services market by partnering with the best in the market.”

As well as offering employees immediate access to a range of wellbeing services, Marsh claims Breeze has several benefits for employers. It is simple to manage, offers automated onboarding and provides anonymous usage stats. Employers can remove benefits if they aren’t popular or tier benefits for different levels of seniority.

SME focus
Although Breeze is relevant and applicable for all sizes of company, Health Shield is specifically focusing on the SME market.

“We feel that SMEs are not serviced that well,” says Marsh. “They are too small to use a broker which means adding benefits can be piecemeal. Through Breeze all their benefits are in one place and this helps companies to meet their obligations and join in the government’s drive to ensure businesses take a more proactive approach to absence management and improving employment prospects for those with long-term health conditions.”

Marsh claims Breeze is a very cost-effective solution that has a slightly lower price tag than Health Shield’s cash plan.

“The platform helps employers to justify the cost and show a return on investment,” he adds. “The stats highlight how many employees are engaging with the service as well as problem areas. Our consultants can work with the company, look at the evidence and put in place solutions.”

The government is keen to ensure companies take a preventative approach to health, and Marsh believes this is particularly important for smaller businesses. He points out that sickness absence and reduced productivity can hit SMEs very hard, whereas large companies can typically absorb the impact more easily.

“If an SME is seen to be actively looking after their employees’ health and wellbeing it will attract more people to the company and ensure it has a happier and healthier workforce,” he says.

A particular focus for Health Shield is developing its occupational health capability to offer more affordable services for SMEs. Its new proposition will offer occupational health risk surveillance assessments, an online support service and occupational health management referrals.

“At the moment occupational health is fragmented and it is used reactively by SMEs,” says Marsh. “Through Breeze, companies can have a more proactive occupational health element which tries to stop the problem from happening.”

Not just a buzzword
With so many companies talking about wellbeing, it could be argued there is a danger of it becoming a buzzword. Marsh disagrees although he admits Health Shield needs to make it clear what wellbeing actually means.

“We need to clearly define it and create a culture around it,” he says. “It is up to us to make it clear what wellbeing is and what businesses can get out of it.”

Health Shield is competing with the likes of Bupa and Aviva in the health and wellbeing space, but Marsh claims that if large insurers’ advertising campaigns increase awareness of wellbeing that would be a good thing because Health Shield could “piggyback” onto it.

“If you think solely about the wellbeing market, it isn’t dominated by one provider. If Breeze gives us something unique it will make the market sit up and notice us,” he argues.

Becoming the dominant player is no mean feat, especially as Health Shield is up against large corporations. Yet Marsh reckons Health Shield’s mutual status works in its favour.

“Mutuals have had a resurgence because people are getting fed up with big corporations. People like to give a little bit back and being a mutual is a very positive thing.”

Looking ahead
Health Shield intends to keep offering its cash plan, which currently represents the vast majority of its business. Marsh says there is still a lot of value in cash back plans, however the mutual’s focus is now shifting to wellbeing.

“In the next couple of years all of our services will come under Breeze, including our cash plan,” he says. “We want to find out what employers’ main concerns are and then show them the best solutions. For some it may be a cash plan and for others it could be a virtual GP.”

Over the next 12 months Health Shield will be working on raising awareness of Breeze.

“Once we sell it into a few companies we hope it will snowball,” says Marsh. “If we get Breeze right and prove it with case studies it will be a massive opportunity for us.”

Breeze is available from January 2020 and the plan is to add more benefits over time by acquiring or partnering with other service providers. Marsh says launching Breeze direct to consumers is on Health Shield’s radar, although this won’t happen until the provider is happy it is working for SMEs.

“Breeze is available to companies with at least three employees, so offering it to individuals is not a massive step,” he adds.

There are challenges ahead – not least economic and political uncertainty – but Marsh sees these in a positive light.
“If anything, economic uncertainty means companies will want to retain their best staff. Services like Breeze will help that so it is an opportunity for us,” he claims.

Whether or not Breeze is a hit among employers remains to be seen, but with Marsh’s determination and forward-thinking approach the next 12 months could prove to be exciting not just for Health Shield but for the wider wellbeing market too.