As AMII welcomes new Chairman Wayne Pontin, Vice-Chair Brian Walters outlines what the Association's future holds
The Private medical Insurance (PMI) broking sector is surprisingly buoyant despite Association of Medical Insurance Intermediaries (AMII) members advising on what many perceive as a luxury product during a recession.
Although Laing & Buisson has reported a contraction in the market, demand for advice is high as consumers and businesses are more focused than ever on cost control and getting best value for money.
Continued uncertainty over the NHS has also stimulated demand for PMI, particularly in the individual market.
AMII members will be grateful for this relative stability in a market that is otherwise in a state of flux. A spate of provider consolidation and withdrawal over the past few years has narrowed the field, with no new insurers to fill the breach.
Bupa's 'Open Referral' initiative and its public spat with the BMI hospital group at the turn of the year signify that the insurer is serious about getting costs under control, and, where the market leader goes, other insurers invariably follow.
The regulatory outlook is uncertain with the possibility of new-style regulation under the FCA and the concern that the RDR will eventually extend to insurance mediation in some form.
And amid continued wrangling over NHS reforms, the private healthcare market has been referred to the Competition Commission by the OFT.
This is the backdrop against which Wayne Pontin has taken the reins of AMII.
Pontin has a strong vision for the Association and has hit the ground running. He believes that AMII must become 'the accepted voice of the health insurance industry', and that it should have more of an influencing function than it does currently.
Central to this objective is for AMII to strengthen by inviting providers to join as associate members and encouraging larger brokers and EBCs to make the membership more representative of intermediaries involved in broking PMI.
Wayne also believes that AMII should not shy away from taking principled positions on contentious issues such as level commission in the SME market. Such problems may be potentially divisive, but they can only be addressed by an industry-wide initiative and AMII is the only organisation with the potential to bring the industry together.
Part of AMII's strategy will be to forge a strong alliance with the British Insurance brokers association (BIBA), whilst remaining completely independent of the larger organisation.
There is already a working relationship between the two trade bodies, out of which the Customer Authorisation Form for SME business arose (to make explicit to clients the distinction between authority to review and full appointment).
One of AMII's core objectives is the promotion of independent advice when arranging private medical insurance and this will be the main focus of the Association's PR activities.
IFAs and general insurance brokers, too, will be encouraged to use the expertise of AMII members for advice on PMI, rather than take the compliance risk of dabbling in a complex and unfamiliar market.
Standards underpin all of AMII's activities and the widespread take-up of the IF7 exam from the Chartered Insurance Institute (CII) is a highlight of the Association's work over the past few years. The new 'Cert CII (Health and Protection)' qualification builds on the success of IF7, providing PMI brokers with the opportunity to distinguish themselves by gaining a full qualification.
It is envisaged that IF7 will eventually become a pre-requisite for AMII membership, possibly supplemented by some form of quality mark that consumers can use as a quality benchmark. Although it is thought unlikely that the commission ban aspect of RDR will extend to insurance mediation, it is possible that the regulator may eventually impose a qualification requirement on those undertaking advised sales.
AMII's vision is for a community of qualified advisers that can claim professional parity with IFAs. This would lend credence to the Association's claim that its members are the authority on private medical insurance and would encourage consumers to take advice. It would also leave the AMII membership well prepared in the event that a mandatory qualification requirement was introduced by the regulator.
AMII has historically been viewed as a mouthpiece for small brokers. The Association will continue to represent the interests of its smaller members but will also represent the full spectrum of intermediary firms in its aim to become a forum for the health insurance industry and the reference organisation for private medical insurance.
The industry needs a strong trade body and AMII has renewed impetus under its new Chairman and executive committee.
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