Instead of moving to a certain country for a number of years then returning home, many expats now find themselves routinely on the move around the world.
Meanwhile, international health insurance has become more complicated. Costs can be high and the options available greater than ever.
Insurance for local needs
James Cooper, co-founder of William Russell, has described today’s health insurance as “quite unrecognisable” compared to the market when the company started.
“We have moved from a time, 28 years ago, when we could provide a simple, global policy,” he says. “Now, we are focused on products that are country specific and licensed locally.”
“The traditional expat is disappearing,” says Neil Raymond, CEO at leading brokerage Pacific Prime, which offers local insurance advice at popular expat destinations including Hong Kong and Dubai. “A lot of expats that would have gone home are not going home. We are also seeing continued growth of a high-net-worth population around Asia who want access to the best medical services into their own country, in their region, or globally.”
A changing industry to keeping insurance relevant to expats
This is part of a key trend in health insurance. Additional benefits are now standard in international health cover plans, for example dental treatment, maternity and wellbeing. At the same time, medical inflation has increased at a fast rate, and the global population is aging. Help Age International says that by 2050, one in five people around the world will be over 60.
As a result, international healthcare costs have never been higher, and insurers need to be as flexible as the expats they cover.
One solution, alongside the more comprehensive plans, is to offer simple, no-frills polices. Inez Cooper, co-founder of William Russell, feels these policies have a valuable place in the market.
She says: “We offer these policies for those expats who don’t want to pay for complimentary and extensive benefits that are becoming ubiquitous in global healthcare insurance products.
“A no frills policy would allow people to reflect upon the cover they actually need.”
This is particularly important at a time when the market is changing – customers now want greater flexibility and local tailoring, as well as the feeling that their insurer understands them.
Flexibility for expats
For long-standing William Russell customer and Hong Kong resident Michael Haynes, the most important factor in insurance is flexibility, portability and being able to discuss his circumstances with a real person.
With two sons playing rugby at international level who have had injuries, Michael wanted to avoid a claim later in life being treated as a pre-existing condition that wouldn’t be covered. Michael says:
William Russell customer
His policy is also flexible enough to keep him covered should he wish to relocate from Hong Kong.
Reliable service for nomadic professionals
As an independent insurer with 25 years of experience under their belt, William Russell is able to offer value and stability.
For Michael, “the continuity of people” in the organisation has been also important.
If you have been renewing your policy with William Russell for the last 25 years, then you will most likely have spoken to the same person each time. Most customers deal with the same claims handler throughout their treatment, giving them support through major life events.
It is likely that the next quarter-century will present as many challenges as the last, if not more.
Financial institutions are now investing hundreds of millions of dollars in customer technology, as well as internal systems and data security. The digital revolution is expected to greatly affect all financial industries, including insurance.
For William Russell, the future is about effectively combining technology with a personal service. It’s about getting the balance between those clients who are happy to self-serve, and those clients who don’t want to self-serve.”
“We may not be the biggest provider in the marketplace”, says Inez, “but we certainly work hardest to be the best”. That is a real statement of intent to the industry for the next 25 years.