Swiss Life wants to become the number one group risk insurer in the country. This is not a surprising ambition for a company renowned for its product flexibility and technical expertise. What is unusual is that it has little to do with a desire to increase premium income. Swiss Life wants to be recognised for its commitment to customers, both internal and external.
The Swiss Life Group was founded in Zurich in 1857 and now has worldwide assets in excess of £38 billion. Swiss Life UK is a little younger than its parent company as it was established in 1967 – but the last 30 years have seen it go from strength to strength.
Swiss Life can boast impressive statistics: group critical illness revenue topped £1 million for the first time in 1997, more than twice as much as any other group risk insurer, and the company is the UK market leader for critical illness, second for group life and third for group income protection. Last November, it fulfilled its target of providing personal security for two million people by the year 2000.
Graham Clark, director of employee benefits, says Swiss Life has a new vision, one which is closely tied to his reasons for joining last August.
“I used to work for a reinsurer so I saw lots of companies. Swiss Life stood out for me, as it has done for others. The company has an empowered culture, individuals within it are given opportunities to grow. Our new vision is to be an `individual’ company, one which has no standard way of doing things. The message is, what you do as an individual can make a difference,” he says.
Testament to Swiss Life’s focus on the workforce is its Investors in People accreditation, a recognised industry benchmark. Training is crucial in achieving such high standards.
Swiss Life is composed of various sections, including Employee Benefits Business Unit, Personal Finance and Investments services. Each division has an appointed trainer who co-ordinates training within the unit. They spend three days in the office and two out selling. But some of the more centralised training can take on a more unconventional role.
“We have an annual training conference for the top 45 people. This year, four teams had to plan achildren’s carnival, involving elements such as promotion and project management, and then present to the whole group. The one that won had to hold the carnival the following day.
“The exercise meant staff had to look at project management in a new environment and use teamwork. It assessed how people reacted to different pressures,” explains Clark.
These may look like unorthodox training methods, but Swiss Life is renowned for creating a working environment where staff are motivated by enthusiasm. And what better way to enervate key employees than by throwing them in at the deep end?
Clark points out that the insurer’s creative ideas and productivity do not stop at training. Swiss Life is applying the same process to enlarging the group risk market.
With more companies wanting to make employee benefits available to staff, but some unwilling to fork out themselves, the need for voluntary schemes is growing. Corporations are well aware of the power of bulk purchasing and the ability to negotiate satisfactory terms. Similarly, insurers appreciate the lesser costs involved in big group policies, particularly reduced marketing budgets and simplified underwriting.
“A number of companies, including British Airways, Whitbread and Asda, are getting together to form Benefits Alliance. They are going to providers and asking for deals. Swiss Life has come up with a critical illness package which will be marketed through them, via meetings and newsletters,” says Clark.
Servicing clients is the name of the game throughout the business. And the increasing reliance on occupational health specialists is one of the moves away from the traditional purely financial transactions.
The advantages of providing an occupational health service are manifest. A disabled claimant can have almost immediate contact with a trained nurse and can be sure of having the most suitable care.
Clark is confident the market for this specialist service will grow: “Occupational healthcare contains the costs for the insurers and the employers. The insurer pays less claims and the employers benefit from lower insurance premiums. And the individual gets the right treatment. Everybody wins. Not to mention lower re-skilling costs and re-staffing costs.” But occupational healthcare is not limited to helping someone at point of claim. It can be a preventative measure, as Clark explains: “We can go into a company and look at the way it’s run. We can look at why there are a lot of stress claims and examine why. Occupational healthcare is big business in the US, it has really caught on. It will take a while for the UK but it has to come.”
Swiss Life is currently working with intermediaries to develop this essential area of health insurance, a process which serves to emphasise its commitment to all its customers.
Swiss Life takes its relationship with IFAs very seriously. The insurer has a sales force of about 30 consultants who liaise directly with over 1,000 IFAs.
IFAs ringing Swiss Life with a query or a prospective client are assured of receiving expert advice.
“We think the IFA market services the client well, people are looking for independent advice. We support our IFAs with marketing aids and IFA seminars. Swiss Life is an IFA dedicated company,” asserts Clark.
The development of information technology is an integral part to Swiss Life’s IFA strategy. The insurer sees it as a major priority to meet the needs of the company’s customers. It includes new employee benefits and personal finance quotation and the growth of more flexible commission systems.
“The IT side of our business helps us to answer IFA questions immediately. And the streamlining of the administration schemes keeps costs down,” he says. “The last few years have been spent developing good quality systems. Now we are going one step further with the electronic transfer of data between ourselves and IFAs. This is something we are building on at the moment.”
Building blocks for the future are evident throughout Swiss Life. One such initiative is the lunches it arranges with senior politicians for selected senior IFAs and key Swiss Life staff. Past lunch dates have been with Peter Lilley and Frank Field. Clark says a wide raft of issues are discussed over lunch: “It is an opportunity for politicians to bounce ideas off us. And IFAs get a better understanding of current issues. Whatever is said is never repeated outside.”
A further link with Government will be established in October. Swiss Life is co-sponsoring an annual conference, predominantly for IFAs, with the left leaning Fabian Society. The aim is to get senior people, from Government and financial services, together. The theme will be Social Exclusion
. What employers can do to help give benefits to their staff will be under discussion.
Swiss Life is clearly an individual company with individual ideas and looks set to succeed whatever criteria it chooses to measure.