Saturday 21 October 2017

Irish Life's new kid on the health block aims to keep insurance simple in a complex market

Putting the customer first will be key to the growth of Irish Life Health, Liz Rowen explains to John McGee

Liz Rowen, head of marketing Irish Life Health, is overseeing a brand awareness campaign Picture: David Conachy
Liz Rowen, head of marketing Irish Life Health, is overseeing a brand awareness campaign Picture: David Conachy

John McGee

Launching a new brand into a very competitive market can be a daunting prospect for any marketer. Launching a new brand and effectively extinguishing two other well-known ones in the process is brave and ambitious.

This is just one of several challenges facing Liz Rowen, head of marketing of Irish Life Health, the new kid on the health insurance block which officially launched last month.

The new company, which employs 160 staff, was created following Irish Life's acquisition of Aviva Health and the 51pc of GloHealth it did not already own earlier this year. When both parvenu players entered the cut-throat health insurance market several years ago, they played a significant role in shaking it up by throwing down the gauntlet to the dominant and more established player, VHI.

Now that both companies have been merged under the Irish Life umbrella, both the Aviva and GloHealth brands will disappear over the coming months as customers renew their annual cover.

While the Irish Life Health brand may not trip off the tongues of consumers - just yet - the recently-merged entities give it a 21pc share of the health insurance market and a customer base of 425,000. Not bad for a new brand starting off.

"We see ourselves as a challenger brand and while we are the smallest in the market with a 21pc market share, we are a significant third player behind Laya and VHI and we have big ambitions to grow this over the next few years," says Rowen, who was previously head of marketing at Aviva.

The company is in the throes of a new brand awareness advertising campaign which was created by DDFH&B with media handled by Mediaworks,

"The campaign aims to remind people how precious their life is and no matter what stage of life they are at, we are a health insurer that they can trust and we can help them choose the health insurance they want, so that they can get on with living," says Rowen.

"We want customers to know that we understand them and they can trust us," she adds.

Choosing to operate under the Irish Life brand was a no-brainer, although the company did toy with other names for the newly created business.

"We did a lot of research into this and we tested other names but all the consumer and business research pointed to the recognition, reassurance and trust that the Irish Life brand stands for. Irish Life has over 75 years of brand equity built up and that counts for a lot," she says.

With 44pc of the population signed up for health insurance and now just three players operating in the market, she expects competition to ramp up significantly over the coming months as annual policies expire and customers weigh up their options.

"It's going to be good for consumers because in the case of Irish Life they will see a much stronger competitor with more experience, more resources and bargaining power and we are determined to make a serious inroad into the marketplace,"

With an aneurysm-inducing choice of over 350 different policies on the market, many with obscure names, one of the big challenges for all health insurers, including Irish Life Health, is to simplify and take the pain out of the selection process for customers.

"It's a huge challenge," she says. "However, if one thinks about the thousands of scenarios for people to be covered, at the level they want, the hospitals and consultants they want and at the price they want, it does produce so many different options and variations. While simplicity is very important to us, we do offer a really comprehensive review to customers and we try to take the complexity out of it so they don't have to deal with it. But customers are also good at telling us what they want too," she adds.

"But we have also spent a lot of time on research into understanding the needs of customers and what mattered most to them and as a result, we have been able to create products and services around these needs. One of the big things is that people want to get value from their health insurance, not just when they are sick but when they are well. So some of our plans have a range of different benefits and rewards that you won't get elsewhere."

Although it is still early days, being part of Irish Life may bring with it opportunities to cross-sell or at the very least tap into the group's expertise, particularly in areas like data analytics. With over 1m customers on its books, it could make for a compelling proposition.

"We are evaluating all the options at the moment but because we operate in a very complex regulatory environment in terms of what we can and can't do when it comes to accessing customer information and their permission to contact them. But anything that will benefit customers on either side will looked at including things loyalty initiatives and discounts," she says.

Surprisingly customer loyalty in the health insurance market is quite strong when compared to other industries largely because of the emotional connection people have with their own health, says Rowen.

"Retention levels in the market are generally quite strong. During the recession, people did shop around and switch but I think we have come full circle and people have realised they can cut costs but it means they lose benefits. But customer loyalty is important to us. and we are about to launch

"Anything we do is all customer-led and customer-focused and if we could have innovation stamped on our foreheads, we would," she concludes.

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