When Bupa Global was established as Bupa’s international health insurance offering in 1971, it was originally conceived as a provider to expatriates living abroad. But as with many industries, globalisation has prompted some unexpected changes for the brand.

In the past two years, Bupa Global has completely reframed the way it thinks about who its customers are, what they are looking for and how to communicate with them. Principally that has been driven by the discovery of new insights about their demographics and behaviour.

Firstly, it worked out 70% of individual sales are made to customers who live in London, and 50% of those are concentrated within an area of west London covering just five postcodes. Secondly, it realised they weren’t using their policies the way the brand thought.

“I remember sitting in a meeting and we literally posted [customers’ locations] on a map,” says Bupa Global marketing director Neil Kirby. “These are not traditional expats. They are people buying the product not for the international piece. We started to look at where they claimed, and actually in the UK and Dubai it’s domestic.”

Though there is still a significant expat segment, the insight that UK-based customers are more likely to claim against their policies at home than abroad made Bupa Global’s marketers realise the brand had, in effect, created a new category sitting between expat insurance and personal domestic cover.

Bupa Global’s insurance is no longer seen just as a product for those working abroad, but also as a premium offering for high net worth individuals to use domestically, while also accessing the best healthcare across the world. And the price they pay is relatively small in comparison to their other spending – on cars, property or school fees, for example.

The top UK claims are on dentistry and health checks while Bupa Global’s policies also cover maternity and private GPs in the UK, which most domestic policies do not. Children can also be included on a plan.

Kirby says: “If you look at our customer demographics, we really appeal to people aged 35 to 45, especially with children, who want to invest not in insurance but in their health – whereas domestic insurance is normally [used] to, in effect, bypass the domestic care system.”

Personal connection

One of the other key changes for Bupa Global, driven by the geographic concentration of customers, was to introduce face-to-face selling in London over the past year. As Kirby notes, the idea of selling a £5,000 or £6,000 policy to a high net worth customer over the phone simply feels wrong.

“There are 80 benefits in our plans so trying to explain those over the phone [is hard]. I always giggle with our sales teams that I can’t pronounce half the things we cover because I’m not a clinician,” he says.

As an insurance business we actually want you, oddly, to use the product, so at the point of renewal you think you actually got something from your policy.

Neil Kirby, Bupa Global

Indeed some customers value the face-to-face contact so much that they will call to request a two-hour meeting with a sales person. Word-of-mouth referrals have also been a significant benefit to the brand of introducing this approach, which is now being rolled out more widely.

“What we’re looking at going forward is to expand that into other metropolitan areas,” says Kirby. “When we launched in China, we didn’t launch in China – we didn’t even launch in Beijing – we launched in two square miles of Beijing.”

The customer retention journey has also been changed. Knowing how much customers value the domestic coverage, Bupa Global now contacts customers mid-way through their contracts to remind them that their policy includes an annual health check.

“As an insurance business we actually want you, oddly, to use the product, so at the point of renewal you think you actually got something from your policy,” says Kirby. “A happy customer renews.“

Sending a communication which included a photo of each customer’s account manager also had particularly high resonance, he adds.

The focus on face-to-face contact and overall wellness meant that there was a clear opportunity to reinforce both agendas via Bupa Global’s sponsorship of the Barbican Art Gallery’s ‘Modern Couples’ exhibition, which runs until the end of this month. It forms part of a wider focus on how the brand’s offering helps to support customers’ “emotional resilience”, Kirby says.

What for some businesses might have been just a small-scale badging exercise has been tightly integrated into the brand’s marketing strategy. Firstly, it has enabled it to invite customers – individuals, corporate clients and brokers – to events and get even more face-to-face contact with them. The conversations that have resulted have not only been a source of inspiration for the Bupa Global team, Kirby says, but have become a formal part of its insight gathering.

Researching its customer base is no mean feat, he adds. “For this type of segment, when we say we are going to go and interview some high net worth people, they’re quite difficult to get hold of.”

Secondly, the brand can extend its wellness agenda to employees. All Bupa staff were invited to the exhibition along with guests, for which Kirby says there was “really good internal take-up”. With further unsolicited sales enquiries also coming from exhibition guests, the value of the sponsorship has been recognised across the business.

“Even our finance director was happy, because we invited him,” Kirby quips.

In the coming year, the changes Bupa Global has seen recently will continue to shapes its marketing efforts. As well as increasing face-to-face sales in more cities, Kirby says the brand will be “trying more things” and raising its awareness as distinct from the wider Bupa brand – 2018 marked its first foray into outdoor advertising, for example, while a successor to the Barbican sponsorship could also be considered.

What may seem like very simple insights have been the catalyst for a lot of new thinking.

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