When Jill Davies looks a back at her career, there are, as you might expect, several highlights. After all, as chief executive of cash plan provider Westfield Health, Davies is in charge of an organisation that has grown to boast more than a third of a million policyholders throughout the UK with some 8,500 companies across its client base. You would expect, then, that there are a number of defining moments during a successful career like that.
So it is perhaps surprising that she counts a sales pitch at a Post Office sorting office as a stand-out highlight during her time at Westfield Health.
“I was driving home afterwards and I thought I must have been mad,” she laughs, as she recounts the story to me in her office at Westfield’s headquarters in Sheffield.
The midnight visit to the sorting office, Davies explains, was at a time when insurance and cash plan providers could go to pitch their wares to employees at their place of work. During the visit, she was able – after the sorting machines were switched off – to persuade 200 workers of the value of signing up to a cash plan scheme. While it might not have been the most glamorous of her career highlights, it’s one which sums up Davies well.
Davies prides herself on the combination of a hugely enthusiastic and determined approach to sales with an absolute belief in the value that cash plans can bring to employees and employers alike. It’s an approach which has seen Westfield move ahead of the pack to make the number two position all its own, second only to Simplyhealth in terms of market share.
Key to that success was a decision taken by Davies early on in her time at Westfield to target the corporate company paid market which, she says, she realised was going to be the most cost efficient and most of benefit in terms of distribution.
“You get volume there and the cost of acquisition is lower,” she explains. “We took a deliberate, positive decision to go for that market.”
As a result of that decision – and not, unlike some competitors, by consolidation – Westfield now enjoys a 47% share of the corporate-paid cash plan market.
Intermediaries have proved increasingly important partners in the growth of cash plan providers’ businesses and Westfield is no exception. However, she believes there remains huge untapped potential for intermediaries to sell more cash plans to more companies – and she warns that those brokers who do not engage risk losing clients and business to their competitors.
“There are some intermediaries who have bought in to cash plans and understand how good they can be,” she says. “But there are others who have not embraced it because they think it might not give them what they need and they’ve only got so much time in front of a customer. It’s about placing the right products that the customer needs because if they’re not doing it, someone else will.”
Davies says she is pleased by what she sees as a renewed sense of engagement between Westfield and the intermediary community.
“Some intermediaries engage and some don’t at all, but those that do are starting to feed back how it could be better, which is great,” she says. “We don’t mind if they say ‘you should do this, you should do that’. I’m not saying we can always do what they want, but it just shows an interest and an engagement with us. Most intermediaries support our brand and think we’re good at what we do, but they don’t always sell.”
Many do, however, sell and Davies believes that the healthy dialogue between Westfield and intermediaries has been key to its doubling of intermediated sales year on year.
Much of that success has been down not just to a determined and flexible approach to sales and marketing, but also to some bold decisions by Davies around product and proposition design. Those decisions go back to 1997, when Davies helped to launch Foresight, Westfield’s innovative and popular cash plan product.
“When I came to Westfield, you couldn’t really differentiate the products across the market so we began to do things to demonstrate some USPs,” she explains.
Built around a straightforward benefit design, Foresight took a very different approach to the cash plan products that were available at the time.
“The latest product that had come onto the market from another provider had 42 benefits and here was us bringing one out with six,” Davies explains. “That went right against the market which was about adding more and more benefits and creating more and more confusion.”
“We asked ‘what are the core and the valued parts of the product?’” Davies explains. “A lot of what was in the market was about added value – and that’s not to say it’s not good to have – but our focus was on ‘what does the employer want?’ and ‘what do staff want?’”
That research among employers has continued throughout the years and this year prompted Westfield to introduce some recent developments to the Foresight Plan, including the addition of an employee assistance programme, access to cognitive behavioural therapy, a 24-hour GP advice line and new employer support services including BusinessCare, an HR helpline and a company health report.
Product evolution has also seen changes over the years to Mosaic, Westfield’s modular cash plan which has also appealed to intermediaries over the years by enabling cover to be tailored in a way that removes any overlap with private medical insurance (PMI).
Davies is acutely aware that the thin – often blurred – line between cash plans and PMI must be handled with care and attention and knew that the addition of Surgery Choices as an add on option to Foresight in 2007 was bound to cause controversy. Essentially, the product, developed in partnership with PatientChoice, covers employees for 60 different surgical procedures normally classed by the NHS as non-urgent. While it has gone down well in some quarters, Davies is aware that the product has had some detractors who have claimed that it encroaches too far onto territory better suited to PMI. She is keen to clear up the confusion.
“People who see it as a threat to the PMI market, we need to make them understand that it’s not,” she says. “It sits alongside it. It’s about where does it fit. It’s our job to educate intermediaries.”
The idea that cash plan providers are looking to muscle in on the PMI industry simply doesn’t hold water, Davies explains.
She continues: “Cash plans aren’t ‘instead of PMI’, they’re ‘as well as PMI’. The only ‘instead of’ is when you’ve got a company that isn’t going to buy PMI for everybody. It’s about placing products where they’re appropriate, it’s not about taking out of the PMI market.”
In fact, those intermediaries who fully grasp this concept are perfectly placed to both grow their own income streams substantially, while also helping their clients to enjoy a broader spread of healthcare benefits.
“We need to make sure they [intermediaries] don’t miss opportunities to earn a lot more money and give their clients much better cover,” she says. “Some intermediaries are not getting the message. It’s our job, we need to inspire and engender the ability among them to sell cash plans.”
Westfield, of course, isn’t the only provider hoping to persuade more intermediaries to sell cash plans. Competition in the cash plan market is fierce, yet Davies is confident that her experience in the field leaves Westfield in a more secure position that some of her competitors.
“As long as we maintain that level of excellence, competitors will come and go in their strategy,” she continues. “We have a long-term view, it’s not about short-term gain. We have a challenging growth target but it’s not knee-jerk, it’s planned.”
While stopping short of suggesting that some rival cash plan providers are getting too competitive to remain viable concerns, she sounds a note of caution.
“At the end of the day you have to invest in your business,” Davies explains. “If you cut your margin to the bone you’re not investing in the business for the next generation. One day this competitor might be standing out from the crowd, then in two or three years it’s that one then in five years it’s that one. We’re in it for the long haul so we have to have policies that are going to deliver satisfaction now, today, but also mean we’ve got a thriving business in the years to come.”
There are, Davies concedes, other challenges over and above competitors that require her continued care and attention. As not-for-profit organisations, most cash plan providers rely on a successful investment portfolio to ensure they have the appropriate reserves and solvency in place and recent movements in the stock market have been a concern to some in the industry.
“We have a very robust spread of risk in our investments and high cash reserves so we were well placed to withstand the equity market fall,” she says.
The cash plan market will also, Davies notes, have to deal with Solvency II, the European Commission directive which is designed to align insurers’ capital requirements with the risk they take on.
“Solvency II is coming upon us and some will be ready and some won’t be,” she suggests. “Perhaps some of our competitors should concentrate not just on growing and growing their business but satisying the regulators too.”
As for Westfield itself, Davies says that the provider has some exciting new developments up its sleeve.
“I’m very excited about the executive team we’ve got and the experience that we’re building is second to none,” she says. “We have a lot of new ideas. There was some minor criticism [in Health Insurance] that Westfield was no longer the rising star and others were taking our space. But this was just indicative that we were going through some changes and we’re now back on that mantle that says ‘watch what we do’. There are going to be some surprises coming out. We’ve got a very vibrant team that are looking at a while host of things – not risky things that would put our business at risk – but creative, new things that they’ll be having a go at.”
If they follow by example, it’s probably worth watching this space.
Jill took up her post as Westfield Health chief executive in 2008 after successfully leading Westfield’s sales and marketing team for more than 13 years.
Jill views working in the health sector as her destiny. She was successful in her first interview to become PA to the local medical officer of health in her home town of Wolverhampton. She later became a vaccination clerk organising TB jabs for children in the city.
But Jill’s first real taste of sales came from a job as a demonstrator organising Tupperware parties. She developed a passion for selling and managing people. Within the year she had her own team and achieved UK top 10 status. Jill is a Fellow of the Institute of Sales and Marketing and began her 25-year career in health insurance by selling physiotherapy insurance plans and developing a national team. Upon joining Westfield, she was responsible for developing national accounts and was later appointed sales & marketing director in 2003.
In 2009, Jill received the industry title of Protection Review Personality of the Year.
LIFE OUTSIDE OF INSURANCE
Jill Davies is keen on the idea of “learning from the experiences that life throws at you”. In fact, she believes it is a key to both personal and corporate success.
Jill lives in the Black Country where she was born and where she met and married her husband John. They have three children and two granddaughters. Family is very important to Jill and juggling the many demands of family and home life takes up much of her leisure time. But you might just spot Jill at Molineux where she indulges a lifelong love of Wolves FC.