As the Jelf Group celebrates its 25th anniversary of being in business this year, Health Insurance Daily editor David Sawers caught up with the man in charge of a more recently established division within the business that looks set to keep the intermediary at the forefront for many more years to come
Doug Rice might only have joined Jelf last year, but he has known the UK-based insurance brokerage and consultancy firm well for many years.
Rice (pictured), who heads up Jelf International – the organisation’s dedicated global consultancy business – worked closely with the business during spells in his career at both Bupa and Cigna, the medical insurers.
But Jelf – which is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year – is evolving and Rice is at the forefront of that new era.
Brought in to build and develop Jelf’s international offering, Rice is in charge of what he says is one of the most exciting areas of the health insurance market today.
The reason that is the case will, of course, not come as a surprise to regular Health Insurance Daily readers. Put simply, ‘international’ is the one part of the industry that is flourishing ahead of all others and Jelf, Rice says, was quick to notice that some time ago.
“Because we were coming out of one of the longest recessions we’ve had, many clients were telling us that their plans to grow would involve ‘international’,” Rice explains.
Jelf listened to what clients had to say and built a strategy both to support them and to develop its business in its own right.
Now Jelf is entering into the second year of a growth plan for its international operations and it is a strategy which is built on four pillars.
The first of those, Rice says, is a proposition that is designed to support the health and wellbeing of employees.
“We offer a wellbeing service that goes across not just international private medical insurance [iPMI] but things like employee assistance programmes, dental and more,” he says, adding that through partnerships with relocation firms, foreign exchange firms and global savings firms, the additional services it provides are broad in scope.
The second pillar, Rice continues, has been the development of the Jelf Umbrella Scheme, which is a group of about 150 or so small to medium-sized corporates who enjoy preferential rates from the scheme’s insurer because of economies of scale.
“It’s for people with short-term assignments who are looking for a benefit bridge, a low cost proposition,” he says. “It generally comes out about 30% under market price. It fits many smaller, fledgling companies or companies who are looking to move into international.”
The third pillar is the fact that Jelf is a member of the Worldwide Broker Network, an arrangement which enables it to offer access to advice on healthcare and protection policies that are only available in local countries. WBN has broker members in more than 500 cities in around 100 countries around the world and it means that Jelf’s clients can get access to local specialists who speak the local language and who can offer specialist advice on local policies. It is a set-up which Rice says has taken Jelf’s international propostion to the next level.
“The WBN has proven to be one of the best things that we’ve done in the last 12 months,” he says. “It’s given us a real advantage, it’s helped us win business, helped us retain business and more importantly it’s helped us to engage with globally mobile employees.”
Equally, it gives other WBN members access to Jelf’s expertise, should they have clients with UK-centric needs.
But how does that stack up against what the larger multinational employee benefit consultancies provide? After all, they have in house capabilities and offices based in different parts of the world – something which Jelf, for the time being at least, does not.
“The multinational EBCs are always going to say ‘if you’re dealing with us then you’ll deal with us consistently around the clock’,” Rice counters. “I would argue against that. It’s more to do with the relationship and WBN provides that through its member network. These people go the extra mile, so that clients have that local presence, local understanding, local relationship and it really is peace of mind more than anything else.”
Peace of mind, of course, is key and the legislative aspect of international broking and consulting is one of the main areas of concern for intermediaries and clients alike – and for Jelf, it forms the fourth and final pillar of its international proposition.
Its set-up gives clients access to independent legal advice and counsel through a corporate audit.
“Many intermediaries have a bit of international stuck onto their UK book and when they’re asked about it they give advice as they understand it at the time,” he says.
In general, Rice believes, that advice is given largely on the back of what the insurers say, which he believes “isn’t necessarily always the right thing to do”.
“Insurers have a particular view depending on whether they’re licensed or not in a particular territory. It’s always gauged by that,” he says. “Where I see a difference is actually having an independent legal counsel which gives us the facts across a territory. I’m not saying insurers are wrong. What I’m saying is there are always different views and having an independent view helps us to make informed decisions.”
Making informed decisions around international consulting is something that many brokers are – understandably – nervous about, Rice continues.
Nevertheless, given the hype around international, there is of course a lot of temptation for brokers who are not active in iPMI to get involved – but Rice also has a few words of caution. In spite of all the hyperbole and optimism that emanates from iPMI providers about the opportunities on offer for brokers, it is not as simple as it seems.
“It’s not opencast mining,” Rice says. “It’s not even ‘deepcast’ mining. International’s probably more like fracking. You’ve really got to look for it and then when you find those seams you’ve got to flush it out.
“Some clients don’t really know that they’ve got an international need, they think ‘we’ve got this travel policy that sends people off two or three times a year’ but in actual fact it’s not fit for purpose. Unearthing those clients and then convincing them they need to switch to a more appropriate vehicle is a challenge in itself.”
Added to that, of course, is the ongoing geopolitical uncertainty of a world constantly in flux.
“The volatility’s there, that’s the thing about international business,” Rice says. “The volatility is hard to predict. You’re going to get growth. But you might invest in an area for six months, twelve months and not see any signs of it until another six months down the line. So if you’re an intermediary looking to just get in and get out, I don’t think that’s the right strategy. I think you have to have a long-term approach to it.”
It is clear that Jelf, for one, is in international for the long-term and things to date are looking good.
“We’re 60% up on numbers this time last year, so the growth targets are being achieved across the board whether that be individual through SME to large corporate,” Rice says. “We’ve invested in the team, trained the team, developed an understanding, given them the confidence to get there and take this proposition forward. And it’s been a big step forward.”
A big step perhaps, but the approach that Jelf has taken to ‘international’ – in all its guises from healthcare to workplace savings and beyond – is no surprise to Rice.
“I knew Jelf because I worked with them when I was at Bupa for 12 years, I worked with them when I was at Cigna for three years,” he says. “I’ve helped to develop products and policies, I’ve helped to develop marketing for them. I know Jelf really well from an insurer perspective. Being on this side of the fence now is really exciting.”
DOUG RICE’S CAREER TO DATE
Doug Rice’s career spans over 25 years in leading employee benefits organisations, with a particular focus on corporate health.
He joined Jelf as director of healthcare in 2012, before being appointed managing director of Jelf International in April of last year.
He spent 12 years in corporate sales leadership roles at Bupa, including a spell as head of wellness and client management.
Rice has also been director of sales at Cigna, leading the Partnership, Corporate and Health Services sales effort for the provider’s UK operations.
Immediately prior to joining Jelf, Rice was commercial director, Europe, for Medic4all.
His previous sales management roles have been in financial services and asset finance. He has a BA Risk Management and MBA from the University of Stirling.