Liz Hammond looked surprised as she wound her way through the admiring crowd to the stage at last year’s Health Insurance
Awards. But she was the only one. It was not the first time Hammond had accepted an award on the behalf of Private Medicine Intermediaries, and it’s unlikely to be the last. Since the company was established more than 15 years ago, it has netted all sorts of commendations, from the Investors in People (IIP) programme to the Duke of Edinburgh award scheme.
There are too many reasons for its success to list, but they all stem from one thing – the company’s holistic approach to the effectiveness of its work. From staff training to customer care, Hammond and her team ensure that standards are flawless, while also keeping innovation and development a priority. “We are always looking to make things better,” says Hammond. “And we always listen to comments and suggestions from inside and outside of the company.”
Private Medicine Intermediaries is fundamentally an intermediary business dispensing a broad range of PMI products. It employs around 70 staff and, while the majority of business is through group schemes, Hammond explains that the company has used this as a base for branching into other products. “We sell a lot of international schemes on the back of group products,” she says. “Companies are expanding and needing to go abroad more and more. So they need the extra cover and come to us for advice.” Indeed, so successful has the international PMI service and sales been, Judith Latham, specialist international PMI intermediary, also earned the company an award at the Health Insurance
Awards last October.
But business does not stop there. It has also developed a highly successful group leavers scheme and continues to provide the member company’s ex-employees with valuable advice. “It has been a great opportunity for us to expand out individual base,” enthuses Hammond. “Many employees now approach us when it comes to leaving the company and ask our advice on buying their own PMI. What’s more, many approach their former employers about taking cover after they have left the company and employers generally seem quite happy to refer them to us. It gives us confidence that we are providing a valued service and makes sure that group leavers have extra security. So we are all happy,” she laughs.
But what makes the company particularly distinctive is its separate arm, Corporate Medical Management (CMM), which offers a managed care service. CMM has approximately 40 staff, including eight general nurses and three occupational health nurses, and offers assistance to customers from 8am until 6pm, Monday to Friday. “CMM offers a very specialist and effective service,” says Hammond. “As well as being available for advice on the telephone, staff will actually go to the workplace and ensure that customers are working in the best way possible.”
Indeed, CMM has proven so valuable a part of the company that it experienced 20 per cent growth last year and subsequently received considerable investment.
So the popularity that Private Medicine Intermediaries has undoubtedly earned not only comes from its personal approach, but also from the diligent attention to detail. And here it is the company’s insistence on scrupulousness that is so impressive. “Because many benefits are so alike, many intermediaries can list the benefits available with various policies,” says Hammond. “But knowing what the exclusions are is very important as they can vary enormously. Psychological and HIV exclusions are a good example of this.”
Such variations inspired Hammond to undertake the mammoth task of producing product comparison tables. “It was a formidable task because there are approximately 30 exclusions per insurer,” says Hammond. “Some differ from policy to policy and there are also differences between published rate and bulk schemes. The finished document is 19 pages long, so it is not something that can be shown to clients, but it is the definitive training document for the sales team and account managers.”
And she adds: “There is a phrase used in the industry which said `what the large print giveth, the small print taketh away. These tables are basically spreadsheets on the small print of policies.”
But although such dedication proves that Private Medicine Intermediaries provides services beyond the call of duty and standards well beyond necessity, the company is insistent such standards are constantly monitored and upgraded. “We do make sure that we run regular quality checks on our work and there is a comprehensive complaints procedure,” says Hammond. “Also, I am developing a client checking system which will work by letter. It will ask how the customer found the service and if there is anything that can be improved upon.”
However, she adds: “We are confident our standards are good as we have such a low lapse ratio and so many thank you letters.”
Despite the rigorous standards it holds itself to, Private Medicine Intermediaries is a relaxed and friendly place to be. The interior is warm and spacious and the atmosphere is busy but cheerful. Staff are quite clearly content. However, even this has been achieved through hard work and attention to detail. Hammond ensures that all staff are treated with respect and encouragement – and given as many opportunities as possible. “So far, 18 staff have passed the P 15 medical insurance exam and two got distinctions,” says Hammond proudly. “Also, three have gone to sit and pass the P75 exams. We encourage everybody to study for these and anyone taking them this year will be taking the revamped version.”
The company also offers many opportunities to school-leavers and those still studying. In conjunction with Cheshire County Council, it provides a day-release scheme for students working towards an NVQ. The company is always happy to take on young employees and train them provided they have basic qualifications. Hammond says: “When we take on very new or young people they are office juniors. As soon as we possibly can, we promote them to administration assistants. Most of them aspire to be co-ordinators and to manage accounts with field staff.”
She adds: “Those too young to take the CII exams are being encouraged to take PMl competency exams – they learn exactly what insurance is and understand the concept of risk as well as learning about the health insurance market more specifically. We are not competing with the CII, but are just preparing people for them.”
Hammond has applied this quest for high training standards to herself as well as her staff. Having passed the P15 and P 17 papers last year she is currently studying for the PO 1 general insurance exams and aspires to become a Member of the Society of Technicians in Insurance. She also makes the most of other skills developed throughout her career: “I was in personnel for three years and there are many skills that can be transferred, and my secretarial training has also been very useful.”
It is an active picture. And the activity doesn’t end after working hours. Private Medicine Intermediaries has made a significant mark on the community. Its charity work includes a link to the Ray of Hope appeal which meant the company stopped sending Christmas cards, instead giving a donation to nearby Leighton hospital which used it to furnish a ward for babies. And it has also provided support for the Marie Curie cause, the Kosovo appeal, and the Jeans for Genes day, as well as for a local school.
Liz Hammond is a proud woman who believes that commitment to best practice is the source of her company’s success. “Our dedication to good practice stretches to all areas of our business,” she confirms. “Last year, we got the IIP award and that was the culmination of two years work. And the rewards for improvements in standards are increased sales and retention and, hopefully, happier clients.”