Bupa’s international private medical insurance business remains a core part of the organisation’s overall strategic focus. HI Daily editor David Sawers meets its managing director to find out why it is being rebranded as Bupa Global and what brokers can expect from it in the years to come
The long-term impact of Stuart Fletcher’s decision last year to fundamentally restructure the organisation he became chief executive of in 2011 remains, of course, to be seen.
But the strategy – to create five distinct ‘market units’ – is one that Robert Lang believes puts Bupa in the ideal shape to meet the challenges and opportunities of rapidly changing global healthcare systems and economies in the years to come.
With an impressive CV made up of leadership roles in the insurance sector across Australia, Europe and Asia, Lang was asked by Fletcher to run one of the five market units – then known as International PMI – last year, taking his place on a Bupa Executive Leadership Team alongside his peers who run the other new market units: Australia and New Zealand; International Development Markets; UK; and Spain and Latin America Domestic.
And with the new structure now in place, Lang is setting out on a quest to take his own market unit forward under the new brand identity of ‘Bupa Global’.
The new name – the names of the organisation’s international PMI businesses which traded historically as IHI Bupa, Bupa International and as Bupa Latin America have been phased out and all are now operating worldwide as ‘Bupa Global’ – is the result, Lang says, of extensive customer insight research over more than a year. And, he believes, it perfectly represents the way that the attitudes and outlooks of both individual and corporate customers are changing.
A GLOBAL OUTLOOK
“Our insight tells us that customers are now thinking globally,” he says. “They’re not worried about lines on a map, they wouldn’t distinguish between getting treatment here or treatment in a different country. What they want is the best treatment.”
In essence, that means that there is an increasing number of individual and corporate customers today with a ‘global’ outlook on life, including their attitude to healthcare. And that doesn’t just mean wealthy jetsetters.
“Yes, there are high net worth individuals that are willing to demand the highest possible quality health benefit they can get and we do cater to those, very well I think,” Lang says. “But there is a growing phenomenon around the world of people that we describe as ‘globally-minded’. They may not travel a lot, they may not move around the world a lot but they think globally and when they choose the partner that they want to deal with they would prefer to deal with someone who is a global organisation rather than a purely local organisation, because they associate with those values in the way that the organisation behaves and serves.”
More and more people are no longer defining themselves by their passport or where they were born or a line on the map, Lang continues.
“That’s all quite arbitrary,” he argues. “They define themselves by how they think and the life experiences that they have had.”
In terms of pure product, at least, that concept is nothing particularly new in itself, Lang argues.
“At its core, international PMI is nothing more than more comprehensive, more high-end, more premium coverage and there’s actually nothing in the product that requires you to utilise it in any specific geographic location.”
“We see a very strong potential in the individual market for people who are globally minded that want the benefits of global coverage, whether they travel or whether they stay right here,” he goes on. “We have a lot of customers in a lot of markets around the world who never leave their country of origin but they want global cover because it is the best cover they can get.”
According to Lang, Bupa Global already has a significant number of customers that like the reassurance that they can travel to the US, the UK, Switzerland or Singapore, for example, for treatment.
“But actually the reason they’re buying global coverage is because they get a more comprehensive, more premium offering in their [home] country as well,” he says. “These people want the benefit of that international coverage, they like the fact that they can get higher benefit limits, greater choice and greater breadth of coverage with an international plan, even if they claim in their own [home] country.”
The decision to rebrand Bupa’s iPMI business as Bupa Global was made to demonstrate the fact that the organisation is dedicated to providing “global coverage, not just point-to-point expatriate coverage,” Lang says.
“We can still offer that benefit, absolutely, and that’s a big part of what we do, but we now are also supporting corporates and individuals who are looking for that worldwide global benefit,” he adds.
PRODUCT TIERS AND CUSTOMER SEGMENTS
While the ‘traditional’ expat assignment – where an individual employee is sent overseas for two years, for example – still takes place, the broader landscape has changed.
“More and more we’re seeing flexible working assignments in multiple locations,” Lang says. “There is a necessity for Bupa to be able to provide continuity of care, not just point-to-point when someone goes and comes back but as they remain mobile around the world.”
Equally, Bupa Global will cater to the needs of other customer segments by offering, for example, solutions for migrant workforces as well as basic travel insurance.
“What you will see is a very specific proposition strategy around the world where brokers will be able to offer tiered propositions from Bupa with a clear selection of benefits and price points for them to be able to offer and represent on a global basis consistently,” Lang says, adding that UK-based brokers will see that in some new products coming on stream later this year.
“It’s also important to know that we offer 24-hour travel insurance at a very low price point, so we have access to people that might have very international needs but basically just want cover while they’re backpacking around southern Spain for a couple of days,” Lang explains. “Then at the other end of course we have very comprehensive global coverage. So the tiered propositions enable us to position for our clients and our brokers a number of combinations of price point and benefit ranging from specific and international to comprehensive and global. That should enable a conversation for a broker in terms of offering someone a number of options for trade-ups or price points. Essentially it’s products that are tiered on price, cover and service.”
CHALLENGES IN A WORLD OF OPPORTUNITY
There is little doubt that the opportunities on offer for Bupa Global are significant. The iPMI market remains, of course, one of the success stories of the health insurance and protection market and its potential customer base is huge.
“There are now 250 million international migrants around the world,” Lang says. “It’s almost like it’s the fifth largest country in the world.”
Meeting the needs of such a broad customer base – or ‘being truly global’ in Lang’s terms – is far from straightforward though, especially for an organisation whose own home market is not the US, he acknowledges.
“If you’re going to claim to be global you’ll really struggle without a US base,” he says. “The US is an area of enormous strategic focus for us in order to fulfil that global promise. We talk about these global customers who think globally and the largest market for that in the world is actually the US. Twenty three per cent of this customer segment around the world comes to the US, so it’s going to be a huge part of what we do.”
Lang points to two deals signed over the past twelve months which he says addresses that challenge. The deals – a partnership with US-based health insurance group Blue Cross Blue Shield and the acquisition of a 49% stake in Highway to Health – have created “by far” the most comprehensive global treatment network in the world, he says.
“They enable us to fulfil on that promise to both corporate and individual customers that you really are dealing with an organisation that can manage needs on a global scale,” Lang argues.
Deals like those, Lang says, mean that his role as managing director of Bupa Global is “without doubt the most exciting commercial remit” he has ever had, while he is relishing working with “the most aligned shoulder-to-shoulder executive team I’ve ever been a part of”.
“This is without doubt the most rewarding and enjoyable role I’ve ever had in my career,” Lang continues. “It’s energising every day, not just because of the sense of purpose that Bupa has as an organisation, but simply because of the momentum we have as a business and the enthusiasm that you get from members of the team towards what we’re trying to achieve.”
That momentum was acknowledged earlier this month when Bupa secured the Best Individual International PMI Provider gong at this year’s Health Insurance Awards. Only time will tell, of course, if Bupa Global will be able to keep up – or even build on – that momentum in the long-term, but for the time being at least, Lang is clearly enjoying the challenge.
“We all feel,” he concludes, “that we’re part of the birth of something that we’re creating.”
BIOGRAPHY: Robert Lang, managing director, Bupa Global
Robert Lang joined Bupa in February 2013 as managing director of Bupa Global. Prior to joining Bupa, Lang had an extensive international career in the insurance sector spanning Australia, Europe and Asia.
He served as chief distribution officer for insurance (Europe) at ING, prior to joining HSBC, where he served in multiple leadership roles. These included CEO of HSBC Life (UK), head of insurance (UK), head of insurance (Europe) and managing director of HSBC’s four market-leading insurance businesses (Life, General, MPF and Health) in Hong Kong. Most recently Lang was head of strategy and transformation for UBS Wealth Management in Europe.
Lang started his career as an Officer in the Australian Army and holds a Master of Business Administration from London Business School, in addition to an Economics and Arts (Honours) degrees from Monash University, Melbourne.