Identifying right health insurance product for customers
Alniz Popat, CEO of Lifecare International, in an exclusive conversation with The Edge, spoke about its corporate values, its Qatar business plan, and the factors that contribute to the company’s success.
Tell us about your professional background and what led to the establishment of Lifecare International.
After graduating from university with a finance and economics degree, I started my career as a management trainee in insurance. A personal family event in Kenya highlighted to me the need for credible health insurance in the region, and ignited my passion for helping people. This passion along with the knowledge and experience that I gained, led to me establishing Lifecare International. We were the first company to introduce Bupa, an internationally recognised, leading health insurance brand, into the region. Focusing on the local community and providing value added services such as a 24-hour emergency helpline, differentiated the company from the market and led to its subsequent success. Expansion into the Dubai and Qatar markets followed and contributed to the growth and success we have achieved over the last 15 years.
What are the corporate values of Lifecare?
Our business is built upon five core values, three of which stem from my own family values. These values are embedded into our culture and are reflected in everything we do. Caring is not only a value, but the reason the business exists. I want our customers to be shown empathy for what could be a very difficult time for them. In order to become trusted advisors, we need to be open and transparent and conduct business with the upmost integrity. We deal with people, whether that is customers or providers, which means building and maintaining strong relationships.
We strive to build a world-class sustainable business. Being adaptable, embracing change and always looking to improve will ensure we are successful, evolving into the business our customers deserve, providing unparalleled excellence.
We recognise that just creating fancy buzzwords for corporate values serves no purpose. What is essential is that we live these values. Our recruitment process seeks to identify individuals who would be a great fit within the team and who reflect the values we live by. We also share stories internally about times when members of the team have demonstrated the company values. This ensures the values remain vibrant and active within our culture.
Health insurance in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) is a very competitive business. What factors ensure that you are ahead of the rest?
We have established a successful business in the GCC based upon putting the customer first. There tends to be a perception by customers that we work for the health insurance companies. Of course, it is important to have good working relationships with the insurance providers to facilitate price negotiations or resolve claims issues, but we are beholden to no one provider. This allows us to give objective, unbiased advice. There are 40 plus health insurance providers in the region with various product ranges, which makes it extremely difficult for a customer to identify the right product with the right provider that suits their needs. That is our place in the market. We take the time to not only explain the options available, but also help identify a solution that matches the customer’s needs. Times have changed, and trying to push products on people is no longer the way to do business. To build a long-term sustainable business, you need to listen to your customers. That is why we have a retention rate of over 90 percent.
Tell us about your pricing model.
Pricing can be quite complex, and varies on a customer-by-customer basis. Factors such as benefits required, claims history and chosen network of health providers, contribute when calculating price. We negotiate on behalf of our customers to get the best possible outcome, given these factors. Another way in which we differentiate ourselves against the market is that we partner with our customers in reducing the number of claims, which effectively reduces costs upon renewal. We use strategic cost management skills to help customers cleanse their claims data. We help them identify where utilisation is either misused or abused and put barriers in place to ensure that it is protected for next year’s premium renewal.
What is your exposure to the Qatar market? How many companies and individuals do you cover?
We are relatively new to the Qatar market, and have spent time building a strong team and establishing a foothold. This foundation is now in place and we expect significant growth over the next two years. We are looking to insure 5000 lives during this period. The Qatar market predominantly contains oil and gas companies. In the past, these companies were benefit-driven when arranging health insurance for their employees. However, the fall in the price of oil has seen these companies become more price sensitive and they are now more cost-driven. Due to this shift in requirements, we have worked with one of our providers to produce a plan that fits the market’s needs. For the mining and energy sector, we now have a plan that provides the same level of benefits, with no dilution, at a reduction of premiums on average of 30 percent. The provider of this plan is Bupa. Bringing this plan to the Qatar market is a major part of our strategy.
Has your business experience in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) helped in your Qatar operations?
Our established relationships with providers, product knowledge and expertise in giving advice have certainly helped us to penetrate the Qatari market. However, the UAE and Qatar markets do differ. In the UAE, health insurance is compulsory and largely served by the private sector. In Qatar, the health service provided by the government plays a major part in meeting the people’s needs, and in some cases a need for good health insurance is not recognised.
What are your expansion plans in the region, in terms of countries like Oman, Bahrain or Kuwait?
We have no immediate plans to move into these regions, but are monitoring the regulations, investment and growth of the healthcare industry in each country. Our current strategy is to consolidate in the areas with which we do have a presence, grow and focus on sustainability. Our longer-term strategy involves expansion into other regions within the GCC and Africa.
Tell us about your corporate plans – business drivers, manpower planning, new markets – for 2016 and 2017.
Our main business driver is to increase the number of lives insured through us by 15,000 over the next two years. Reaching this goal will ensure we meet our revenue and profitability growth targets. As mentioned previously, we have no plans to enter other regions but have diversified our offering by providing wealth management services and general insurance for business protection and personal lines.