David Eline met with Peter Gibbons, Global Head of Individual and Small Group Business for International Health at Allianz Partners, to examine how the market is dealing with the COVID pandemic. Peter Gibbons discussed why he believes technology will change the way the international private medical insurance (IPMI) sector will operate.

Peter was recruited by Allianz Partners’ International health line of business to build its individual and small group operations to a scale which creates a market leading position.

After two and half years in the role he has seen first-hand where the sector stands and the way in which technology will shape the future market.

“The market has always been good at underwriting but has not been supported with the level of technology we have seen in other areas of the financial services industry or even other classes of insurance business,” he says. “It creates a real opportunity to use technology to drive greater efficiencies for insurers.”

Peter says any developments in the market need to be placed into the context of the ongoing COVID pandemic.

“I think the move to a world with more remote working had already begun before the pandemic,” he explains. “What COVID has done is advance and accelerate remote working, and it’s likely that shift will not be reversed to any great extent.”

The result has been a reduction in the movement of international and expatriate staff, and with it, the potential client base. However, it has opened up an opportunity to distribute products to domestic markets where a new generation of local staff have been forced to assume roles which would have traditionally been occupied by ex-pats. With this has also come greater affluence for those staff.

Peter believes the market is now having to contend with an increase in the level of big data and a requirement to source and utilise more enhanced levels of data.

“What this creates is a situation where our agents require access to more and more digital tools. As an industry, we need to offer solutions that allow agents to operate in a market which demands greater levels of technology with which to communicate and distribute products.”

However, he warned that the pandemic will have long lasting challenges for the IPMI sector. While it has increased client demand for cover, there could be a potential deluge of claims once pandemic restrictions begin to ease and the backlog of postponed treatments re-start.

“Latent claims will be an issue,” explains Peter. “We’re seeing treatments start to pick up, that were delayed due to COVID and limited medical capacity across the world.

“During the pandemic the average person has been reluctant to go for a scan or a check-up. These have traditionally been the source of the pre-emptive claims. The concern now is that those missed checks and scans will lead to a rise in major claims due to delayed diagnoses.”

Peter explained how the changing regulatory environment continues to have an impact on the IPMI market. He highlighted the changes in the UAE and China which have created a need for new data sets to create products that will meet the regulators’ new requirements.

“There’s a greater complexity and this is hard to separate from the impact of COVID but it will challenge the industry’s ability to use data as part of a new range of solutions,” he explains.

For agents, the move from offline to online was already gathering pace and technology has the potential to empower agents.

“With increased automation will come a move which sees agents empowered to manage the process,” explains Peter. “Greater automation and the use of subset questions will also allow agents to deliver more individual products to clients without the need to consult the underwriters before decisions can be made.

“Greater data and the clients’ desire to speed up the acquisition process increases the direct interaction between underwriter and client.”

While technology will provide underwriters with the opportunity to understand the client better, this will not be to the detriment of the broker. “At Allianz, we see ourselves as an agency-led business,” he explained, adding that the company’s aim is to strengthen and add value to the relationship with agency partners.