We sat down with two of our network members to find out more about EB in the UK

In our new local perspectives series, we’re sitting down with our global network partners to find out about their markets, the services they offer and much more. For this first chat, we caught up with our friends in the UK, Nick Pemberton from MetLife UK and Tim Bliss from AXA Health to discuss COVID-19, the UK market and more.

Welcome Nick and Tim, can you introduce yourselves and explain a bit about how you work with MAXIS clients?

Nick Pemberton (NP): “Hi everyone, I’m Nick Pemberton, Head of Strategic Partnerships at MetLife UK, and I lead the strategic relationships with our key client and distribution partners and manage the MetLife relationship with MAXIS in the UK.

“We enjoy a very close relationship with the MAXIS team –of course it helps having the MAXIS HQ located in London which pre-COVID pandemic had become my second home! The majority of the time I work closely with Alex Rizk (MAXIS Regional Inbound Executive) and the MAXIS Regional Directors to co-ordinate activity across our respective sales and technical teams. It’s often varied and involves planning and pipeline management, responding to market reviews and tenders, developing broker relationships, reporting and training. MAXIS is a strong partner for us in the UK – regularly winning new global mandates which in turn creates opportunities for MetLife to provide local life and disability solutions for the UK-based employees.”

Tim Bliss (TB): “My name’s Tim Bliss and I head up new business for corporate distribution within AXA Health. I have been with AXA Health for seven years and spent the first few years working on the sales of our health and wellbeing propositions.

“In the last year I have taken over responsibility of the new business sales team which works with strategic new clients as well as working closely with our intermediary partners. I, alongside a dedicated small team, look after the MAXIS relationship to ensure we work closely to support both new and retention opportunities, alongside day-to-day admin requirements.”

Great to speak with you both. Now we know a little bit about you, can you tell us a bit about the UK market? Nick, can you start by telling us about life and disability insurance in the UK?

NP: “The group risk market in the UK is a mature and predominantly intermediated, valued at approx. £2.5bn (Swiss re. Group Watch 2020 figures) and has seen steady growth over the last few years. While not necessarily unique, provider product offerings have evolved considerably over recent years with the majority of insurers now offering integrated added-value services alongside financial benefits such as employee assistance programmes, online wellness portals, health apps, engagement tools etc. to support workplace health and wellbeing.”

And what about the UK medical insurance market, Tim? Is it different to other markets around the world because of the National Health Service (NHS)?

TB: “Everyone in the UK has access to our NHS which includes local doctors and hospitals, and does a fantastic job managing accidents and emergencies daily. Many individuals, businesses and large corporates take out private medical cover so they and their employees can access private treatment more quickly.

“The benefits under a private health plan will vary and with AXA Health can include additional value add services such as an online GP service, a 24/7 health and wellbeing support line, and access to our care pathways like Working Body, Cancer and Stronger Minds (where employees, if concerned, can call without gaining a GP referral first).”

You’ve both touched on health and wellness there and obviously this is a huge subject at the moment with the COVID-19 pandemic causing everyone to think very hard about their health and how they access healthcare. With employers looking to provide more solutions to keep their employees healthy, how have you adapted your coverages or product offerings to support this?

NP: “Under our policies, employees have access to a comprehensive range of health and wellness services designed to support physical, mental and financial wellbeing which are particularly relevant during these difficult and challenging times. Recent enhancements to our proposition have included streamlining and digitising our online proposal and claims forms, enhancing our employee assistance programme (EAP) services, revising and simplifying our master trust facilities and launching an innovative medical tele-underwriting service – all focused around making both the adviser and employer customer journey easier whilst providing more choice.

“In partnership with HHCB Group (MetLife’s specialist rehabilitation provider), we have recently launched ‘Returning with you’ a new service which offers employers the opportunity to proactively support their staff in returning to work after a period of absence and ‘Connected at Home’ that is aimed at supporting individuals who are working from home.”

TB: “COVID-19 has been a challenging time for all of us. It’s been a period where we’ve needed to demonstrate the value of our services, particularly in periods where access to private treatment has been impacted by surging NHS demand and where the private sector stepping in to support NHS patients.

“AXA Health mobilised quickly, launching our Clinical Support Centre to allow virtual consultations with specialists whatever your location. This service is accessible via a call to our personal advisors for all members.   

“We’ve accelerated the growth of our remote offerings; health assessments, digital coaching and health surveillance assessments seeing remote provision accompanied by positive client feedback. 

“Furthermore, we’ve been supporting members, clients and intermediaries. We’ve developed support and education webinars and content around the key health challenges these times present – home working, mental health, nutrition and managerial support to name a few. 

“Throughout, the business has been truly supportive, adaptive and innovative – supporting us to work remotely and support our intermediary partners almost instantaneously. We’ve kept this a focus with regular updates around claims, hospital, and proposition developments. This helps them support both AXA Health and non-AXA Health clients. The feedback has been excellent with regard to our transparency and willingness to share information. AXA has been incredibly supportive to our people, and I honestly can say I am proud to work and be part of AXA Health.”

Thanks both. It’s been a busy time for everyone and clearly no different at MetLife UK and AXA Health. Do you think the pandemic has caused new trends to come to light or simply sped up trends that we were already aware of?

NP: “There’s no doubt that the global pandemic has created new trends and accelerated existing ones within our industry. Ways of working have, by necessity, rapidly changed and for many, now home-based employees, the world has become a smaller place and is likely to remain so as working practices continue to evolve as a result of COVID-19. The daily commute and face to face meetings have been replaced with virtual meetings.

“Wellbeing was already working its way up the agenda with many employers connecting productivity and profitability with workplace engagement and the underlying health and resilience of their workforce. These themes have become increasingly relevant in the current environment with employers leaning into their insurer wellbeing offerings and claims management services to create a greater awareness of the support available to staff 24/7 and how to access it, ultimately helping to mitigate potential increases in claims incidence.

“The pandemic has also accelerated the general trend towards hardening rates, especially in the disability market and, with the longer-term health and economic impacts of COVID-19 still unknown, we are seeing an increasing number of employers beginning to review their benefits strategy and financing of risk.”

TB: “As I mentioned before, the demand for digital and remote services has accelerated. Many of the developments we’ve successfully implemented had been part of our digital strategy, but COVID-19 bought a focus and urgency we were able to meet.

“One thing we have seen is the impact to mental health, which is not surprising with the myriad of personal challenges we all face – economic uncertainty, home schooling, caring for vulnerable adults, isolation, loneliness, bereavement, anxiety and general uncertainty. Never has there been such a need to be transparent, listen and adapt for our customers and our own people. As a healthcare partner, employers and employees need us more than ever and AXA’s resilience and robustness has enabled us to do this swiftly and keep our customers’ needs at the top of our agenda.”

Thanks for the great insight into the market. We’re proud to be working in partnership with two such strong partners in the UK.