Today, Expat Assure meets William Russell, a British international insurance provider founded in 1992. With headquarters near London and regional offices in Bangkok, Dubai, and Hong Kong, William Russell is a medium-sized company specialising in international health, life and income protection products for expatriates and international citizens, as well as providing employee benefit solutions for businesses.
Colin Kirkpatrick, who heads up International Business Development at William Russell, provides an insight into the company, and shares with us his vision of the international health insurance industry.
William Russell is a family business. How exactly does this affect the culture of your company and your way of doing insurance?
Our Founding Directors, Inez Cooper and James Cooper, are incredibly passionate about growing and building our business, and their passion has made its mark in the great range of insurance products offered by William Russell and the excellent customer service which we provide. Most importantly, however, the company is fully owned by Inez and James.
So what does this all mean for our business? Firstly, we are able to focus on our customers rather than external shareholders; secondly, we are very quick to adapt to changes in the international insurance industry. In summary, we are independent and agile. If you consider our corporate values, we very much pursue a noble purpose, which is to make the lives of our customers easier and better. Our business is delivering market-leading international insurance products and providing world-class customer service.
What makes you different from other international insurance companies?
What differentiates us are the people who make up our business in conjunction with the impetus and drive which the Directors bring to the company on a daily basis. The staff we have brought into the business over the last few years possess a strong sense of honour, integrity, loyalty and ethical practice. Our teams are very much composed of people who want to make a positive impact in the world. So each of the staff here at William Russell lives and breathes respect and care for our customers. Treating our customers fairly is very important for us. We want to build a lasting relationship with them.
Our method for achieving this objective is very simple. We ensure that our products evolve to meet the changing requirements of our customers. We price our products competitively and with long-term sustainability in mind. And when our customers make contact with us—in the event of a claim, for instance—we deliver the excellent levels of service which they expect.
We know full well how frustrating it is to navigate through the multiple options of an automated telephone-answering system, or to be kept on hold for 60-odd minutes. William Russell does not operate like this, and never will. As I mentioned before, ours is a business premised on relationships and people. Our customers get straight through to a well-trained member of staff. When a customer does make a claim, our goal is to make sure the same claims adviser who starts to process the claim will see the process through to the end. This means that each customer will deal with the same person at William Russell for each claim.
What makes a great health insurance product?
A great health insurance product has to provide comprehensive protection and peace of mind. It ensures that a person is fully protected should they become seriously ill or suffer a serious accident, wherever they happen to be in the world. So whether it is hospitalisation, international evacuation, or the more routine elements of healthcare, a great health insurance product ensures that customers have access to the very best medical care, and that they have the freedom to choose which hospitals, which doctors, and which consultants they see.
Finally, a truly great product ought to be truly international. There should be few if any restrictions on where the customer can seek treatment. This is the model on which we at William Russell have built our insurance products.
Inflating medical costs and their impact on insurance premiums is an ongoing concern for many people. How does William Russell deal with this issue?
It is an unfortunate fact that health insurance premiums do rise year on year, regardless of the provider. A key reason for this rise is, as you rightly point out, the increasing costs of medical care in various parts of the world. Customers should certainly bear this in mind when researching different insurance products. Customers should also note that if they are looking for coverage for a number of years, it is not just the first-year premiums which matter but also premiums for subsequent years.
So how does William Russell deal with the problem? First and foremost, we make sure that our products are priced sustainably. Our customers do not experience any vast price jumps between year-one premiums and years two, three and four etc. Any premium increases which result from inflating medical costs we strive to keep to an absolute minimum. Typically, our premiums increase in single or very low double digit percentages per annum.
In terms of the competitor landscape, some insurance companies have been known to move into geographical regions where they do not have a strong footprint or extensive experience. After operating there for a year or two, these companies may experience a high level of adverse claims which in turn impacts on their customers, as premiums can rise quite dramatically.
On the contrary, William Russell has a strong and highly-developed footprint in the Middle East and the Far East. Moreover, we are expanding into more developing markets. With our business experience over the last two decades, we have made sure that price sustainability, value and affordability are three key principles which are enshrined in our insurance products. We do everything we can to make sure that, when it comes to premium inflation, there are no unpleasant surprises for our customers at renewal. We want to make sure our plans remain affordable to our customers, not just for one year, but for ten, fifteen, twenty years.
How do you avoid the effects of inflating medical costs? Do you set a limit on your premium increases?
We run a sophisticated business model which is premised upon sustainable growth and fairness to our customers. We go through a rigorous underwriting process with all our customers which helps us to assess risk. Having built up a strong customer base over the last two decades, and with diligence at the application stage, William Russell has consistently been able to maintain low premium inflation.
What is your vision of the IPMI industry, Colin?
Well, I think that the primary consideration is that economic migration will only continue to increase. Nowadays, people are having to become increasingly mobile on a global scale in order to take care of the basics of life, i.e. to build better futures for themselves, to secure their families, and to grow their businesses. In terms of the IPMI industry, people require correspondingly mobile or portable health, life and income insurance products. So, in my view, the scope of the market is certainly increasingly. In that respect, there are tremendous opportunities for companies operating within that growing market to reach an increasing number of customers.
Another key consideration is that technology will play a far more important role in our lives. Making sure that William Russell can offer the digital proposition which our customers want and need is going to be of critical importance over the coming months and years, and we are currently investing heavily in our business operations technologies.
Does William Russell have a leading country or region?
Over the last two decades, our business has built up a strong and highly developed presence in the Far East, where we have opened regional offices in Thailand and Hong Kong. Equally so, however, in recent years we have built up a strong market presence in the Middle East.
But of course, the market does not stand still. The pace of change and development in the international insurance industry means that providers will have to adapt and expand into new regions. William Russell is investing heavily within the business so we can continue to strengthen our presence in our core regions, but we are also expanding our global reach into new territories which will see a significant increase in global migration.
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