Opportunity knocks overseas

The gloomy weather in the domestic PMI market means now is the time to go global says Kevin Melton, sales and marketing director at Axa PPP International.

Kevin Melton, Axa PPP healthcare
Kevin Melton, Axa PPP healthcare

2012 is proving to be yet another challenging year for intermediaries and employee benefits consultants advising on private medical insurance in the UK, with larger and smaller sized employers continuing to feel the drag of a British economy bogged down in the slow lane.

Whilst arguably there is plenty of potential for growth and development of the UK corporate healthcare market (given that only about 15 per cent of working people receive healthcare cover from their employer), the market remains stubbornly static and looks likely to remain that way for the short to mid-term. And with protracted pressure on the Euro, traditional international PMI markets in Europe have been under pressure too.

But intermediaries and EBCs shouldn’t despair –tremendous opportunities abound further afield. For example, in the Bric group (Brazil, Russia, India and China), buoyant economies attracting enterprising companies and individuals present considerable prospects for providers of international medical insurance (IPMI) and for intermediaries alike. The Middle East and Asia Pacific too continue to attract the attention of multinational players and, again, offer decent opportunities for insurers and intermediaries to meet the health and wellbeing needs of these businesses and their employees.

Stepping back, the international PMI market comprises two distinct segment. Firstly, ‘expatriate business’, where UK-based employers post employees (and, in some cases, their families) to destinations overseas. Secondly there is business in new and emerging markets where UK-based underwriters work in partnership with local agents and/or distributors to offer products and services tailored to meeting the healthcare needs of local populations.

At Axa PPP International we’re mindful of the greater potential of the latter and, by way of example, building on our experience of partnering with local distributors in the Gulf region, have joined forces with our sister company, Axa Asia General Insurance, to strengthen our healthcare business in Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Hong Kong and China.

But there’s no reason why UK-based intermediaries and EBCs shouldn’t consider the opportunities in international markets too –either directly or by working in partnership with overseas distributors. Towards this end, experienced health insurance providers may be able to turn this aspiration in a reality –whilst being acutely aware that it pays to be fully appraised of the requirements and regulations governing local markets before taking the plunge.

Whether, as an intermediary or an ECB, you’re considering new international PMI opportunities or focusing on strengthening your relationship with existing clients, we believe that having access to quality intelligence is key to supporting you. A well briefed, dedicated sales support team for brokers (together with a team of experienced regional sales managers) can give intermediaries the edge they need to operate successfully in the international PMI environment –whether it’s a question concerning regulatory requirements or a simple query about product benefits.

With increasing economic globalisation and many UK employers looking abroad to new markets to help ensure their future prosperity, inevitably organisations will look to post employees abroad. For UK-based intermediaries and EBCs, therefore, the market for ex-pat business holds considerable potential to boost their business. Moreover, compared with domestic business, annual premium income is often higher on international business, reflecting the more comprehensive cover clients generally require to meet their healthcare needs abroad, so it follows commission is commensurate with the higher premiums.

Providers with a strong global presence can ensure that, should their clients’ employees require treatment of an illness or injury, they have ready access to quality assessed hospitals throughout the world –ideally, facilities where fees are settled directly so members who undergo treatment aren’t left out of pocket. And, because there’s more to supporting members than just paying the medical bills when they are ill or injured, medical insurance providers can add real value by offering –for example, skilled translation services helping to take the headache out of making sense of foreign medical paperwork as well as valuable information and insight on countries to help members find their feet in unfamiliar surroundings, to name but a few of the services offering practical and emotional support employees truly value when it comes to safeguarding their –and their loved ones’ –health and wellbeing.

There’s never been a better time for intermediaries and EBCs to increase the value they bring to their clients by demonstrating their capability to advise on international healthcare cover.