Interview: Walking the intermediary line

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Claire Ginnelly, of Premier Choice Group, tells Paul Robertson about her role in successfully managing the jump between adviser and insurer.

It is worth getting the poacher turned gamekeeper cliché out of the way at the outset, although questionably it could be the other way around. But the fact remains that it was a surprise in the industry when Claire Ginnelly, having worked for private medical insurers for more than 21 years jumped ship and joined healthcare intermediary Premier Choice Group (PCG) as head of healthcare.

She had good reasons for doing so, explaining that the move was, in part, to meet the need for a career challenge, leaving Simplyhealth in 2012, after the acquisition of Groupama Healthcare. She joined PCG having known managing director and founder Mike Izzard for years. Very sadly, Mike passed away not long after she joined the company.

"I had known Mike before he started PCG and had always been close to him. As such, my relationship with the team at PCG was very strong. To me, it was a natural transition into the intermediary world," she said.

Insurance in her DNA

Ginnelly admitted that working at an insurer is in her DNA. "I have done it for so long that I am now wired a certain way. However, I thought I could use the skillset and knowledge I had developed over the years to work in the intermediary market place and hopefully bring a new dimension to an intermediary."

Undoubtedly, having that inside knowledge on the way insurers work is a bonus, but it doesn't mean she can't get frustrated as the next intermediary with the way in whichinsurers work.

At PCG, the strategy is to continue to grow in all the sectors it currently covers, and so far plans are on track. As a medium-sized broker, it is probably punching above its weight in offering the full range of protection advice, with specialist departments dealing with private medical insurance (PMI) and international PMI, health cash plans, critical illness, income protection, group risk, employee benefits, and health and wellbeing. 

Still, Ginnelly conceded: "We need to appreciate that the market is changing and we need to adapt to that change. We want to ensure we are a quality intermediary offering quality advice to the client. At the same time, working closely with the insurer is very important. We understand there are three people in the relationship: the customer, the intermediary and the insurer. Meeting the needs of all three is very important. It is a balancing act, but it can be done.

"With my insurer background, I am able to bring the insurer into the relationship more. However, it has to be said that insurers do not help themselves sometimes and, as much as we want to work together, we sometimes feel as though they are working against us."

Strain of spiralling premims

Ginnelly believes that there must be a fundamental change in the way the industry interacts and operates. A key problem is spiralling premiums putting a strain on the customer and, as a result, some are deciding to leave the market.

This is supported by recent statistics from Laing & Buisson, which show a rise of 37,000 policies on medical expenses schemes self-insured by large companies, against a 21,000 decline in company-paid insurance policies.

"For the vast majority of insurers in the SME PMI market, with the exception of WPA and April UK, claims influence the premiums," she said. "For the companies that are using their PMI, a lot of the premiums are sometimes hitting levels that make the benefit unaffordable: just at the time one could say they need it the most. Smaller companies see the impact of this the most."

Ginnelly added that if the market is not prepared to change to drive more sales for companies which are not currently insured, behaviours have got to change to make sure there is sustainability.

"We can't have insurers offering low premiums to obtain the business only to see sharp increases at future renewals thereby starting the whole cycle all over again," she said.

"Likewise, the intermediary has a role to play to educate the client about long-term sustainability, as opposed to just chasing the cheapest premium each year. The market is extremely competitive, but we all have a responsibility to make sure the market can flourish."

The small intermediary can sometimes find the market difficult, Ginnelly said. This is because a lot of insurers still focus on new business volume and she said the smaller intermediary is never going to compete on this level with the larger firms.

"However, the smaller intermediary sometimes has a more consultative approach with the client, which the insurer is looking for. Unfortunately, because they are not producing the numbers they are sometimes overlooked," she said.

"PCG is not a small intermediary, but I know from my insurer days the issues that face the smaller firms. There should be a place for all intermediaries in the market, and insurers need to recognise this. For some smaller intermediaries, linking into an intermediary such as PCG can help.

"They can sit under our umbrella, work within our framework and benefit from the relationships we enjoy as a larger intermediary."

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