Health and wellbeing is a key workplace benefit, with employers and employees prioritising this area after the pandemic. For advisers in this space, this demand represents a great opportunity to grow and develop their businesses.
“Employee health and wellbeing is at the forefront of employers’ minds,” says Claire Ginnelly, vice chair of the Association of Medical Insurers and Intermediaries. “There’s still room for brokers who want to focus on selling medical insurance but, offering a more holistic consultative approach has become much more important.”
More than a perk
This shift away from simply broking the medical insurance each year has also been noted by Ed Watling, senior employee benefits consultant at Mattioli Woods. He says that over the last five years, employee health has become much more than getting seen quickly in a nice hospital. “It’s more about outcomes now,” he says. “Employers are looking at ways they can keep employees fit and healthy, as well as how they can support their mental and physical health if they do become unwell. It can’t be about price; it has to be about value.”
It’s also the right time to shift into this broader health and wellbeing space. While the pandemic has helped to catapult the topic up the workplace agenda, the current employment market means an organisation’s benefits are coming under much greater scrutiny. “There’s a battle for talent out there, especially at the lower end of the market,” adds Watling. “Advisers can help employers look after staff and improve prospects for attraction and retention.”
Another trend that has played into this demand for more holistic health and wellbeing advice is the growth of commoditisation in the group medical insurance market. John Dean, managing director at Halcyon Trustees, says this has been driven by greater efficiencies across the leading brokers. “In recent years, brokers have become far more efficient with broking platforms and automated reports and analysis. This allows more clients per account manager, better margins and the ability to analyse big data,” he explains.
But, while these efficiencies have benefits, ultimately fuelling some of the merger and acquisition activity in the sector, Dean is concerned it could have some unwanted consequences. As broking platforms compare the key features of products, there’s a risk that anything that doesn’t quite fit the mould will be overlooked.
“In some cases, this automated approach will lead to clients not appreciating all the new types of cover being developed in the market,” Dean explains. “It also risks limiting product development in the market.”
Lessons can be learnt from the experiences of brokers in the general insurance market. Comparison websites made it easy for consumers to compare home and motor insurance, making price the most, possibly only, important feature and forcing brokers into more niche areas of cover. Medical insurance may be more complex than a motor policy but there are concerns this process may already be underway.
Spot the difference
To demonstrate how advisers and their clients might be missing out, Dean points to added value benefits. These have been steadily added to medical insurance over the last decade, with the pandemic seeing a flurry of activity in this space as insurers adapted to the needs of remoteworkforces. “These are valuable additional benefits that need to be appreciated by the buyer but they don’t seem to be fully analysed by the automated broking processes,” he adds. “If this automation goes too far, we’ll see challenger brands declining to work with some brokers, and clients turning away from the big brokers to smaller firms that offer a more bespoke service.”
Ginnelly agrees that there is demand for this more bespoke service. She says that advisers must shift away from the product focus and look instead at the health and wellbeing challenges that businesses are facing. “These issues may be addressed by medical insurance but other products and services such as group risk and occupational health might be more appropriate,” she explains.
To ensure an adviser is aware of these challenges, she recommends treating every client as if they were new, even if they have worked with them for years. “A client’s needs can change and this is particularly true with regard to their health and wellbeing requirements following the pandemic,” she explains. “In many firms, more employees will be working from home now. An adviser can help clients stay on top of their health and safety responsibilities, whether employees are in the workplace or working remotely.”
Offering this level of service requires a broader knowledge of workplace health and wellbeing. Ginnelly says the added value benefits on medical insurance policies make a great starting point. “Insurers have some great resources that can help clients with their health and wellbeing challenges,” she explains. “For example, mental health and menopause are two common issues for employers at the moment, and there’s plenty of insurer support available.”
As well as getting under the skin of the products, Watling says advisers should also look to understand other health and wellbeing services that can complement or replace an insured solution. “Insurers’ offerings are much broader now but sometimes it’s necessary to recommend a stand-alone health service,” he explains. “A service providing virtual ergonomic assessment may help an employer with remote employees’ health and safety needs while mental health training might be the most appropriate option for an organisation experiencing issues in this area.”
Advice can also extend beyond health and into employee communications and marketing. Watling says a common issue is that employees are just not aware of the benefits that are available. “We will help employers communicate their benefits,” he says. “This can make a significant difference in take-up but also in employee health and wellbeing more broadly.”
Broadening out an adviser’s network can also support this shift from broking to consulting. Ginnelly says that having some good introducer relationships can really strengthen an adviser’s proposition. “If you’re going to specialise in one area, whether that’s medical insurance or the broader health and wellbeing market, working with introducers is a great idea,” she says. “There’s no risk to your business and clients get the benefit of expert advice from both parties.”
Nurturing relationships with insurers is also beneficial. All have a strong commitment to the adviser distribution channel and will support it wherever possible. “Insurers can provide claims data for larger employers,” says Watling. “This gives insight into the health issues affecting a workforce, enabling us to recommend initiatives that might address them.”
Where an employer is smaller and the provision of claims data risks compromising employee confidentiality, insurers may be able to provide insight into a broader group, such as all companies in that sector or those with similar age profiles. Analysing this data can enable clients to take a more proactive approach to managing employee health, potentially helping to prevent conditions. This can reduce absence, stabilise the cost of the company’s medical insurance and even support a talent management programme.
Ultimately, Watling says it’s all about demonstrating the value the adviser brings to the organisation rather than focusing on the annual renewal price. “There’s not enough margin or providers to just go on price,” he adds. “Offering a more holistic service is a win for all parties: employers and employees benefit from a more tailored service while advisers secure much more sticky business.”