Take-up of support services offered by group risk providers has historically been very low, meaning that both employers and employees are missing out on many of these benefits these insurance products can bring. Can digital healthcare solutions drive new levels of engagement with group risk, and is the key to this engagement an employee app that acts as a single point of entry for all services?
Delegates at a recent Corporate Adviser round table agreed a digital approach to the delivery of support services, with high profile benefits such as virtual GP at their core to attract users, have the potential to change the conversation between employers and employees when it comes to group risk.
Several of the intermediaries attending the round table agreed that a virtual GP service would be particularly highly valued by clients, with smaller businesses likely to be especially interested.
They pointed out that many employees need have to take half a day off work just for a routine doctor’s appointment, so the opportunity to speak to a doctor online can help companies manage absences, and provide peace of mind for staff that they can be seen by a clinician quickly.
Unum, which sponsored the round table, last month announced the launch of a range of medical support services to group income protection policyholders through its new ‘Help@Hand’ app.
The service offers employees and their families access to a remote GP, a second medical opinion service, mental health support as well as physiotherapy options.The insurer has teamed up with Square Health to offer the healthcare services, which are all delivered through a single app.
Delegates at the round table described the innovation as a potential ‘game-changer’ in terms of boosting engagement levels and driving new sales. Virtual GP services have typically only been offered on PMI policies.
Towergate group risk and protection consultant Terry Fromant said Unum’s launch is a tangible benefit, and a real differentiator from other GIP products.
He said: “This can certainly help stop the conversation with clients being all about price, and moving onto the value of these products.”
Lifesearch business protection and group leader Alan Richardson agreed. He said: “Additional services like this makes our job that little bit easier. It has the potential to be a real game changer, particularly as it offers this service to policyholders’ families.”
He adds that services like this have the potential to be a ‘lifesaver’ as they may encourage people to seek medical advice, who otherwise struggle to get a GP appointment, or can’t take the necessary time of work to do so.
PIB head of healthcare, risk and technology Clare Dare said it would be interesting to see how this market develops, and how quickly other group risk providers follow suit.
Unum customer solutions director Glenn Thompson said he expected other providers would follow suit, in some cases quite rapidly.
However, he said the platform they’ve developed — which will combine both new and existing services, such as rehab, within a single app — will be harder for competitors to replicate. AIG announced the launch of a virtual GP service for group risk customers shortly after Unum’s launch.
Group risk products already come with a range of additional support services, such as employee assistance programmes.
Virtual GP v EAP
But those attending the round-table thought a virtual GP service would be more valued by clients than an EAP.
Howden Employee Benefits head of benefits strategy Steve Herbert said: “Employee assistance programmes are certainly useful and should be promoted better. But they are now a given on all policies. A virtual GP service offers something different. It is likely to be used more, and valued more as a result.”
Many of those attending the debate though, did not agree that consultants and advisers should necessarily focus the sale of these group risk products on the range of added value services now available.
Richardson says that Lifesearch, as a company, does write a lot of new business from clients new to the group risk market. He said: “Their first enquiry is often about death-in-service benefits. Through this initial conversation we can start to talk about other products, and the additional services and benefits they offer.”
He said many clients are not aware of these services initially, so did not necessarily think they need them. “If the focus is on the support services, rather than the core insurance benefits, then we may not get those initial enquiries, and be able to take them on this journey.”
Fromant agreed that there is a danger that by putting too much focus on these added-value ‘extras’ risks devaluing these key insurance benefits.
Herbert pointed out that for intermediaries, insurance remains the core element — be it group life cover, income protection or critical illness. “That’s the bit the employer needs to know about and provide. We can make that more accessible as a product by talking about these other services. This should not be the lead focus though.”
However, Thompson argued that the industry has led on the insurance and protection benefits for years, but had failed to significantly grow the group risk market. “When you look at the SME market in particular penetration is tiny. Perhaps it’s time to start looking at other ways to market these products.”
He pointed out that just 0.2 per cent of employers with between two and 50 staff have group income protection, with this figure rising to 8 per cent at the larger end of the SME market, with companies with 250 plus staff.
In contrast most large organisations have some of GIP, but as he points out they typically only insure one in seven of their employees.
“Many companies value the protection that income protection offers, but this is not a big enough catalyst to buy. Given there are on average just two to three claims per 1,000 employees, some small companies may go years before they make a claim.
“Our bet is that if we can provide a range of more tangible benefits, such as this virtual GP service, this may offer a new way of looking at these products. We’ve two strategic goals with this approach: to increase take up of group risk products among smaller businesses, and boost penetration of those covered on existing plans.”
Herbert agreed that the industry had, as a whole, been unsuccessful to date, in selling group risk to the SME market. But he says this may be more to do with commission structures, which can make the cost of acquisition uneconomic for smaller companies, than the fact the benefit structure, or plan complexity is unsuitable for this segment of the market.
Dare said she would like to see additional support services used to increase coverage within companies, rather than these benefits being carved out for senior and managerial staff.
She said: “It isn’t just senior staff that get sick. Arguably this may be needed more by those on lower salaries, who might not get paid if they are not in work.
“Our role is to help clients get the best and most appropriate level of protection for all their employees. We don’t want to be in a situation where employers are reluctant to promote added-value benefits like this to insured policyholders, because other staff don’t have access to these services.”
Unum said that for clients where price remains an issue, it will be possible to offer these added-value benefits to uninsured employees, for less than £50 per person. This, Thompson points out, means there is no P11D liability raised.
Fromant said that advisers will want to look closely at the cost of this, when compared to the cost of an affordable GIP arrangement.
Advisers attending this roundtable debate were optimistic that many of these services — which are often delivered via digital apps — would provide a wealth of data and management information, which will prove useful for the intermediary sector.
Square Health executive chairman Bippon Vinayak said there is “no shortage of data” with digital applications and online platforms like this.
He added: “We will be providing a comprehensive suite of management information from day one, and we take great care to ensure this is all anonymised.”
He said this data will become more granular over time, for example showing for companies of a certain size, how often the app was used and potential savings to employers in terms of days not taken off to visit a GP.
Stackhouse Poland account director, health and protection Steve Thomson said this sort of data would be a useful part of the consultancy message, particularly for smaller companies, who remain time-poor, but are likely to be more adversely affect by staff absences.
“Many of those clients are looking for HR support when there are staff absences. EAP and virtual GP services have proved to be a massive success in the PMI market.”
These type of products, and the data they generate, should help advisers shift from more of a broking role to a consultancy one.
Assessing the value and quality of these added-value benefits is likely to become part of the intermediaries’ role, particularly if services like this become more ubiquitous.
Steve Thomson said: “Most brokers today out there aren’t switching for the sake of it, or churning business. But in parts of the country there can be pressure on costs from competitors, who may be offering commission kickbacks. This can make it more difficult to focus on value.”
The advisers debated whether the popularity of some of these added-value services may prove to be a longer-term hindrance, making it harder to re-broke this business if clients didn’t want to lose these benefits.
Most agreed though that these seemed unlikely to be a serious issue. Fromant said: “Provided there isn’t a massive premium increase at renewal I don’t foresee this being a problem.”
Richardson added: “It is quite satisfying to do a client re-broking exercise, and conclude this product it still the most appropriate. It shows the job was done well to start with.”
The brokers attending the roundtable agreed they would like to see providers do more to help support take-up of group risk’s extra services, be it help with onboarding or engagement — to ensure employers promote these services to clients effectively.
Herbert said there was “no nervousness” about providers communicating directly with clients once they are insured. “If they provider is doing this well it reflects well on us. And it isn’t just clients that are time-poor these days.”
Fromant added that good employee benefits is a collaborative effort, which involves the intermediary, provider and client working together to engage employees to ensure benefits are delivered to the employer.
Those attending this debate were confident that a wider range of support services, that were easy to use and access, and delivered benefits for employees and cost savings for employers would ensure help drive sales of group risk products in future.