Cash plans are traditionally thought of as being staid and rooted in the past. But one of the oldest cash plan providers intends to change the public’s perception and make cash plans as relevant today as they were 100 years ago.
The Manchester and Salford Hospital Saturday Fund was established in 1872 in response to a funding crisis in the voluntary hospital movement. Money was raised through churches and workplaces to provide care for those who could not afford doctors’ fees, and employers were encouraged to permit regular contributions to be taken from workers’ wages.
The turn of the century saw the establishment of a convalescent home supplying free care for regular contributors. But it was not until 1928 that a weekly 2d scheme was brought in allowing members free treatment in a local voluntary hospital. Cash benefits for specialist consultations, dentures and glasses were introduced in 1949.
Chief executive, Richard Sear, joined the insurer three years ago and it is his vision that is shaping the future of the Hospital Saturday Fund. Considering his predecessor had been in the job for 30 years, Sear had a few changes he wanted to make.
“We launched Select [the company scheme] in 1996 but prior to that we had just one product, the `Pound Scheme’, where people paid £ 1 a week. I recognised that our competitors had more than one product so I quickly introduced a multi-tiered scheme and transferred to £ 1.25 a week. Everyone has to be on that but can be upgraded,” says Sear.
Sear adds that a lot of people outside the corporate environment wanted to join the Hospital Saturday Fund but had no mechanism to allow them to do so. A simple solution was to brand the scheme “direct” and allow groups like the self-employed and the retired to pay via direct debit.
More recently, the Hospital Saturday Fund has added another couple of strings to its bow. A personal accident plan and a funeral cash plan are available at what Sear considers to be very affordable premiums. Starting at 99p a week for a personal accident policy, paying for a plan will hardly break the bank.
“The take up has been excellent, especially as we haven’t done a major mailing campaign. Of the literature we sent out for the funeral plan, there has been an 80% take up,” says Sear.
It is not surprising, given Sear’s boundless enthusiasm and commitment, that the changes encompass more than new products. The recent renovation of the offices reflects the company’s overall progressive strategy.
The gross membership has increased by 30% over the last three years and the Hospital Saturday Fund can now boast more members – 210,000 – than any other firm within its trade body, the British Health Care Association (BHCA). And Sear is convinced that this can only grow.
The original cash plan providers were set up to help people get access to dental, optical and medical treatment. The need for financial help for these services has continued to grow in recent years following the crippling demands made on the NHS. And Sear believes cash plans can benefit all sections of the public.
“The more I read of trends, the more I’m convinced that cash plans have almost come full circle. Cash plans are a relevant product for today. We’ve got to create the future in individual health care provision. There is still a big gap and if you don’t have PMI, cash plans can provide at a lower level,” he asserts.
|s Partnership Sear’s appointment of a new business development manager is an indication of how he intends to increase the public’s awareness of cash plans. Martin Goddard is adept at building third party relationships and it is his job to forge partnerships with intermediaries.
The Hospital Saturday Fund is a firm believer in the value of independent advice, as Goddard explains: “An integral way of us moving forward is through third parties. IFAs are important partners. At the moment, it is like pushing a ball up a hill but in a matter of months, it will be rolling down the other side.”
Sear adds that the Hospital Saturday Fund wants to target 2,000 specialist and professional intermediaries.
Despite the various transformations throughout the insurer, the company holds fast to its core traditions. Sear explains: “This year, we are giving in excess of £140,000-£150,000 to local charities and hospitals. We put our money where our mouth is. Part of our remit is that we’re non-profit. Our surplus is fed into a charitable trust which then makes donations.”
Sear is clearly a man with a mission. He is passionate about The Manchester and Salford Hospital Fund and is convinced it will succeed in all things. And with Sear at the helm, he could well be right.