Many of Jelf Employee Benefit’s corporate clients have staff based in remote locations all over the world and for the intermediary’s international healthcare director Sarah Dennis, insurers’ technology is of crucial importance.
“We do talk to all the providers and this is one of our top priorities,” she says.
In her experience, there are significant disparities in providers’ online services, with most “playing catch up” to Bupa International and Aviva.
“Aviva are already ahead of the game with web technology,” she says. “They personalise every single pack for the member with their name and policy number and you can also do claims tracking.”
Meanwhile, Steve Nelson, sales manager of another specialist intermediary, April Medibroker, reports that “very few” providers offer online quotation facilities while some are “absolutely awful” in terms of the materials they provide for members to download.
“Some send you a scan of a print-out which looks awful for group schemes,” he reports. “IMG Europe is fantastic. You can make changes to a plan and go on their website and all the PDFs are there, personalised with our details.”
Nelson also rates new entrant Now Health International, describing it as a “shining light” offering a “superb proposition online” that puts them “head and shoulders above everyone else”.
The strong views of both Dennis and Nelson on specific providers reflect not only the varying stages of online development within the insurance market but the differing priorities of various insurers. Online applications, for example, are either hugely important or a minor consideration, depending on who you speak to.
Carl Carter, managing director of insurer IMG Europe, believes that what brokers really want is to be able to manage the entire lifetime of a policy online.
“It’s only been in the last few years that many of the competition even started quoting online, let alone having full policy application and confirmation online,” he says. “We’ve been doing that since 1995 and offer full cycle, including online renewal.” He estimates that 75% to 80% of customers are accepted online immediately.
Sheldon Kenton, managing director of insurer CIGNA International Expatriate Benefits, agrees that online applications are valued by intermediaries.
“One of the items of feedback we got from brokers was the lack of certainty that they have around underwriting when a client is with them in their office,” he explains. “If that client has got any reason to say ‘no’ to an underwriting question that typically generated a request for a form to be filled in and sent to the insurer. We introduced a fairly complicated online algorithm to get more quotes through the underwriting process automatically whereby certain answers generate further questions and exclusions can be offered so more policies sail through to a confirmed offering.”
Other providers who offer online applications include ALC Health, which provides cover on a moratorium basis, and Allianz Worldwide Care which has seen a 50% increase in the amount of direct individual business coming via the internet.
Aviva has not yet developed online applications and sales and marketing manager Teresa Rogers reports that the telephone approach is so far proving successful, with potential customers being contacted by the sales team after registering interest online. She feels this is an appropriate model for a product range that is modular with important choices to be made. Meanwhile, Paul Weigall, head of sales and marketing at insurer InterGlobal, is one of several commentators who share the view that while online applications may be appropriate for individuals, group business requires a conversation.
At insurer Globality, online efforts have been concentrated on claims submission, a service currently offered to individual clients who can access a personalised area online providing a form pre-filled with most of their personal details.
“This is not just transmission of data or an email service, it has direct integration to our core admin system so the data is not keyed and double keyed again but flows through into the system immediately,” reports director of operations Jeroen Van de Velde. “We have also created a system to ensure that data is filled in at the right place and the customer can only proceed if it is filled in correctly.”
There is now a guaranteed claims turnaround time of 48 hours and April Medibroker’s Nelson describes the service as “fantastic”.
Jelf’s Dennis believes that it is important that insurers’ online systems are fully integrated with their own back office systems.
“It’s not just what we see but whether that talks to the system in-house,” she explains. “That does not always happen. The systems might not work side by side, so they have to take data and input that in anyway.”
In addition to Globality, IMG Europe has fulfilled this demand for integration, with online applications appearing immediately in an underwriter’s work queue.
Dennis also values online claims tracking.
“It means that we get less issues in terms of chasing payment,” she explains. “The client is able to consistently see what is going on and we have seen a massively reduced turnaround time of claims being handled.”
IMG Europe, Allianz Worldwide Care and CIGNA all provide this service and CIGNA’s Kenton reports that online claims processing has generated unprecedented spontaneous member feedback.
“If you upload on Monday the chances are that within a week you will hear that the claims have been settled,” he says. “This draws people to the website where they can see all claims data. It has proved extremely popular, with thousands of members were making use of that within weeks.”
However, other providers question the value of the service.
“Claims tracking sounds great but you only need to track your claims if your claims service is not very good,” argues Andrew Apps, director at ALC Health. “We have a system called ‘clear to zero’, which basically means that when a claims comes in, providing we have all documentation, it will be cleared for payment within 48 hours.”
“It’s a facility that has been promoted by brokers but evidence would suggest a lot of customers don’t actually use it very much,” says Weigall, who reports that online claims submission should be up and running at InterGlobal this year. “People will only ever want to know what has happened with a claim if it has not been paid. A large amount are paid directly. We make it easy for customers to submit claims to us.”
Information for members
For Jelf’s Dennis, online services for members are a key consideration when choosing a provider.
“One of the questions we have on our fact find for clients is ‘is it a must for you to enable people to get access to documents online and transmit claims online?’” she says. “And 99% of clients are very keen to have online capabilities.”
One insurer heavily focused on such capabilities is Allianz Worldwide Care, which provides all members with immediate access to a membership account where they can access policy documents, change personal details, download, complete and save a claim form, as well as check their claims status.
This has also been a focus for CIGNA, which enables members to upload claims directly to the insurer’s operation centre.
“What we found over the years was that there are plenty of resources online, not least of which the expat forums which are very good sources of information on hospitals so we have focused more on transactional capability,” says Kenton. “Only we can tell you if a claim has been paid.”
Nevertheless, several providers have focused on providing destination information for members. ALC Health’s ALC World provides members with access to a database covering 175 countries with information on doctors and hospitals plus translations of drugs and security information on different regions. This is also available for download on web-enabled mobile phones.
“This has been a tremendous success story,” reports Apps. “We have secured business because of that.”
Other providers are also committed to providing online information for expatriates and their employers. For example, Allianz Worldwide Care provides detailed information on the healthcare systems of 25 countries and Bupa International has a huge range of detailed health factsheets free to download.
Jelf’s Dennis believes this is a worthwhile investment.
“We have lots of corporate companies winning contracts where they know nothing about the area,” she says. “They want information not just about hospitals and doctors but factual information – schooling, finance, banking and information about the country in general. Insurers are starting to work more on factsheets which is a great selling point for them. It’s helping out the HR manager.”
She gives the example of a client sending staff to Belarus where no direct billing agreements were in place. She sees it as the broker’s role to work with the insurer to not only put such agreements in place but to provide employees based in the country with online information about them.
Services for companies
In many cases, iPMI is purchased by companies and insurers are increasingly responding to Dennis’ suggestion that they “help out” HR managers tasked with arranging healthcare cover.
At Allianz Worldwide Care group membership managers have access to their own site where they can do a huge number of things, from creating, modifying and cancelling policies, to generating tailored membership reports and downloading insurance certificates. They can also set different settings to control which managers have access to which level of information. Policy documents are automatically sent out when a policy is created and head of marketing and client management Susan Landers reports that 60% of members now contact the insurer by email, despite the existence of a 24/7 multilingual helpline.
IMG Europe also offers group membership secretaries extensive powers, including the ability to make changes to membership and view live information about the scheme while CIGNA offers “role-based” access to scheme information so that different members of an HR team can access different levels of information about the membership or perform different functions such as enrolling new members online.
“It’s essentially auditable,” explains Kenton. “A senior person can see who did what and run reports.”
Other providers are set to follow this lead. Globality reports that it has piloted an HR portal with one customer and plans to roll it out “soon”.
Chris Bearshall, global account executive at specialist intermediary PMI Global, believes that this is an important investment.
“Our clients are interested in being able to manage their members online, from adding new members to requesting new membership pack and cards and emailing out registration certification,” he reports.
For other insurers the focus is on supporting the in-house online capabilities of corporate clients, particularly smaller ones. ALC Health will create personalised web pages for any client employing more than ten members of staff, comprising a series of templates that can be adapted to reflect branding.
“Big companies have always had it their own way and smaller ones haven’t had that negotiating power to say ‘we would like that’,” says Apps. “We provide this for free.”
Services for brokers
ALC Health will also provide free web pages for intermediaries.
“A lot of brokers are not necessarily technically minded and cannot spend thousands with a web designer,” says Apps. “There is a responsibility that insurers have to help brokers – they are our lifeblood. It’s all about a partnership.”
IMG Europe adopts a similar stance, offering brokers a range of online support tools, including personalised PDFs for download and web adverts which allow brokers to offer personalised online quotations.
“Over 60% of our turnover comes through brokers’ websites,” reports Carter. “What that means for us is that we use all our resources to make it easier for them.”
While his firm does not require marketing support, PMI Global’s Beardshall does value broker portals.
“There are providers with a secure log-in where you can view clients and commission statements and manage your portfolio online, which is useful,” he says. “It’s also useful to have all the application forms, literature and marketing material available. Being able to email the most appropriate forms and details through the website is very useful and helpful for brokers.”
This is the area perhaps least developed by insurers. While IMG Europe, Aviva and Bupa International offer broker portals, Globality, InterGlobal, CIGNA and AWC all report that their offerings are currently in development.
While brokers will not have to wait long, with several new portals set to launch in 2011, their message seems to be that insurers must concentrate first and foremost on getting online services right for expatriates based far from home.