Congratulations David on your appointment as CEO of EMEA for Aetna International. How are you settling into the new role?
So far so good. The first impression you get of Dubai, apart from the sunshine and high-rise buildings, is the energy of the place. It feels like the pace is fast; it’s an engaging and high-energy business environment across all sectors. And a great multi-cultural environment in which to work. You really get a sense of the many nationalities that are here and the different business challenges that arise because of that.
So I’m definitely excited to be based here. And I believe it’s a good opportunity for us to grow and develop a nice business.
How have your responsibilities changed since you moved from CEO of Europe to CEO of EMEA?
In the past I was focused on growing business in Europe, which has a strong centre around the U.K., with much of the broker community based out of London. Before I left we were looking to expand more into Europe, across Spain, France, the Benelux and other areas.
Now it’s about taking that growth agenda and applying it to the Middle East and Africa, seeing what we can learn from the more mature business in the UK, and what capabilities we can we leverage to different regions. We have strong corporate-level relationships with the big brokerage houses in the Middle East, as we do in the U.K., and we hope to leverage them to build global strategic partnerships.
So this is a much broader role for me, with the objective of taking advantage of the emerging opportunities in the Middle East and Africa. The breadth of what we have to do is bigger; it’s about taking the best learnings from each region and applying them here, using our global capabilities to make a big impact on the business.
Europe, the Middle East and Africa are very diverse and different territories with a multitude of cultures and languages. How do the challenges for IPMI providers vary across these regions?
IPMI is by nature and definition a global proposition. The corporate proposition that we sell today needs to deliver to a membership that is also global. Even if you are selling out of the U.K., you are supplying services to people based all around the world. So our proposition has to be global and comply with the regulations in all the countries into which we sell. That doesn’t change, whether you are based out of Dubai or London.
There are some subtle differences though, including culture. There is such a multi-national workforce in Dubai, and the broker community is also culturally diverse. So you need to consider how to develop a broker proposition and how to engage with that customer base.
Understanding the different regulatory environments is a fundamental part of our business. Some environments are more hands-on, some are less intrusive on the business. The pace of regulatory change in the UAE is fast, so we need to understand where the regulator is coming from and what impact they are trying to have. Aetna needs to be part of the discussion so we can react appropriately.
Staffing is also a consideration. We have more than 200 people in both our U.K. and Dubai offices, and our Dubai office is very culturally diverse. We need to cater to that, with both a staff and product proposition that allow us to attract and maintain the best talent. People tend to change employers more frequently in Dubai than in the U.K., for instance, so this is an important consideration for any business over here.
How different is healthcare pricing between Europe, the Middle East, and Africa?
The cost of health care in the Middle East is high and rising at a faster pace than many other parts of the world. Close provider-network management is important, more so than in parts of Europe, for example.
Certain lifestyle issues are well documented. The Middle East and the broader UAE have a higher incidence of diabetes than many other parts of the world. We must understand this dynamic and how we can have a more positive impact on wellness and preventative measures, rather than just addressing medical issues when they arise. That is a big push in terms of our differentiation in the region.
What issues face expatriate employers and employees who are active in remote regions with little or no medical infrastructure? How does Aetna International address them?
In many parts of Africa access to primary care is difficult, and even getting to specialist facilities can be more challenging for members. We need to play a role in solving this issue.
We’ve launched a truly global virtual health solution – called vHealth – that will roll-out in the Middle East over the next few months. It will go a long way toward solving the access problem by enabling members to connect with a primary-care doctor via their smart phone, tablet or computer. After a virtual consultation, follow-up care, drug prescriptions and other services all can be arranged by the vHealth doctor.
We see vHealth as a key tool in providing easy access to health care for all our members, in our drive to improve outcomes and control utilisation, and in how we differentiate our business in all our key markets.
Can you walk us through the suite of IPMI broker solutions on offer from Aetna International in EMEA?
IPMI started life addressing the need for global health coverage. Differentiation came from a globally compliant product proposition, and also a global network solution that combines better cost control with better outcomes.
However, we’ve recognised that the market is also regional. Most expats in Dubai, for example, only want access to the Dubai health care system. So we are looking to create products with a more regionalised slant to complement the global proposition, to provide access to medical facilities in Dubai at a lower cost point.
This links to our acquisition of BUPA in Thailand; that is a pure stand-alone domestic product.
The journey for Aetna is to expand our offerings to include a more regional product suite that plays at a relevant price point to the local market. The next step down is a pure- play domestic proposition that competes head-to-head in the local market.
In EMEA, what does Aetna International offer that your rivals do not?
We believe our virtual health facility, vHealth, will be a big differentiator. vHealth from Aetna is a truly global solution that will use our own doctors, which is something new in the market.
All our offices worldwide have strong in-house clinical teams. These teams are involved from the beginning of a member’s health-care journey in terms of pre-authorisation as well as member support, including advising members on the appropriate facility for their conditions, pre-trip and pre-operative planning, post-operative care and support, and so on. So there’s a real clinical underpinning to everything we do that we feel is superior to our competitors.
We’re also very active on the wellness side. We run wellness workshops for larger group clients to help members with smoking cessation, stress, disease management and so on.
Data and analytics are another key differentiator for us. One of the advantages of Aetna being 160 years old is that we have 160 years of data, and we really understand analytics, diagnostics and disease-management trends. That helps us build products that produce the right outcomes, and preventative methodologies that help curb medical issues like diabetes.
We’re developing a much more member-centric proposition, to deal with members in the way they want us to deal with them. This includes using existing online technology to give our members ease of access, clear documentation, online claims processing, 24/7 access to our people and so on.
What with Brexit, President Trump and developments in the Middle East, some say the traditional IPMI expat market is under threat. What do you think?
So we’re not exposed from a Brexit point of view.
We have multiple license solutions globally, including a U.K. and an Irish license. So even if there’s a hard Brexit, our U.K. members are still cared for under our U.K. license and our European-based members are cared for under our Irish license.
As I mentioned previously, Aetna International is looking to diversify its markets to include more regionalised propositions. That strategy is driven more to offer broader solutions rather than the fear of a slowdown in the globally mobile population. We still live in a global market and there are many people who will look for a global solution. And I’ve not seen evidence of this slowing down.
What can we expect from Aetna International IPMI across the EMEA region in the future?
We have ambitious growth targets and expectations. With the high-touch and quality of our proposition and the way we are looking to segment our markets, I feel there is a lot of opportunity for us to grow and build significant market share over the coming years.
We’ve made a strong commitment to the Middle East and African region and are looking to build our presence in these markets.
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