Mike Benton, chief executive of Medicals Direct, shares his future of care provision with Paul Robertson.
Medicals Direct might not be a household name, but in the protection industry it is a major – if behind the scenes – player. The company has recently reached its 15th year and can boast a huge market share in several areas of the underwriting and medical evidence arenas.
According to Mike Benton, chief executive of Medicals Direct: “In terms of tele-interviewing, I would say between us and MorganAsh, we’ve probably got 60% or 65% of that market. In terms of outsourced underwriting, the company is certainly 80%-85% of the market. In terms of doctor medicals, much less – probably 45%, 50% of the market. For outsourced GP reports, 60% of the market, but that’s all for underwriting.”
Medicals Direct also works in the claims arena, but has no figures as the market is small and unquantified, and has recently begun offering medical services to the health industry. Holding so much of the market, Benton is perhaps uniquely positioned to divine underwriting’s future.
He said: “I don’t think it’s ‘job done’ for the -underwriters. The insurers are trying still to issue policies quicker without the cost of medical evidence. One of the ways they can do that is using the telephone. But I think there’s an awful lot to come in terms of people providing their own medical evidence.”
At this point, we take a detour as Benton shows how to turn an iPhone into a stethoscope that then emails the results in chart form to a medical centre. Amazingly, the demonstration is successful – and it seems smartphones can also test blood pressure.
“As systems get more sophisticated, and as the next generation of life assurance buyers becomes more familiar with technology, I think there’ll be a lot of evidence given by smart systems and hand-held computers, which will help,” said Benton.
“The thing that’s really embedded us into the insurance industry is our use of technology – and not charging for technology. Everything is web front-ended, designed to communicate with the insurers’ systems, to integrate and to enable decisions to be made quicker.
“I think, in terms of underwriting, the whole range of questions and information insurers want will change and they’ll move towards obesity and life styles – even towards diabetes. It’s systems-driven, smartphone-driven and telephone-driven. And now you’ve got the revolution in claims to come.”
Future concepts are also likely to be imported from Europe. Medicals Direct International has started up a tele-interviewing service in Spain and conducted its first ever mobile nurse medical in Germany.
Asked if there is anything that he’d seen in Europe that seemed a good idea to import into the UK market, Benton explained that cultural and legal differences represented a real barrier to cross-fertilisation, but added: “Rehabilitation and claims. Germany and Holland are superb at income protection, rehabilitation and looking after people, psychologically and physically. We could certainly learn from the German market in offering rehabilitation services.''
“I think employers in Germany are more aware of the need to rehabilitate staff than employers over here. So yes, I think rehabilitation definitely comes the other way.”
Having mentioned claims twice without prompting it is clear where Benton’s interest in the future lies – claims. His firm carries out an annual survey of claims department managers, canvassing views on how they would like to see the industry progress. In past surveys, many have said that the lack of investment from within was holding them back.
Does this lack of interest from senior management continue? Benton said: “No, management is now very open to change. They’re open to change because they need the systems. They’re open to change because they need to be seen to be providing nice friendly claims services to the claimants.
“We’ve spent the last seven or eight months visiting a huge number of insurance companies with the new claims system we’re developing. One of the reasons that insurers haven’t had claims systems in the past is because the ones that have been available have either been too expensive to implement, or not flexible enough to cover the needs.
“What we’re offering is a flexible system on a transactional basis. So I can actually go to an insurance company and say ‘Do you want a claims system? Have it. All your claims in one place’.”
Advisers looking for noticeable change in terms of their own interactions with insurers are likely to soon notice an increasing efficiency in friendly societies. Medicals Direct is finally, after a few years of trying, making inroads with the smaller insurers.
Visibly energised by the subject, Benton begins reeling off of a list of friendly societies it has recently signed up, only to be reminded by his PR minder that he did not have -permission to name names yet.
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