Alison Esson – Added Value Services

Hi everyone, this week I am chatting to Alison Esson, Propositions Manager from AIG.

Alison is the added value services guru within the protection industry, leading much of the developments that have happened in this area. Added value services are the extras that help policyholders and their immediate family, throughout their policy. It’s not just about the claim anymore!

Alison is talking about her journey working at Bright Grey and now being a part of AIG, shouting the benefits of these long-term support services.

The 3 key takeaways:

  1. The reasons why insurers offer support services to clients.
  2. How things like remote 24/7 GP appointments, second medical opinions services, nutrition and fitness advice, have been so essential during the coronavirus pandemic.
  3. Stats and clear examples of how these value added services can be life changing for policyholders and their children.

Next week I will be chatting with Paul Moore from Winstons Wish, a childhood bereavement charity. We are going to be talking about their services and how it’s so important to make sure that children are properly supported, when they experience a significant loss.

Kathryn:       Hi everyone, today I have Alison Esson with me, the protection propositions manager from AIG.  Hi Alison!

Alison:         Hi Kathryn!

Kathryn:       Alison is joining me to give us an in-depth view of what value-added services actually mean, the practical benefits that are there for the client and why you should be shouting about these from the rooftops.  This is the Practical Protection podcast.  Alison, how are you doing?  What is the latest with you?

Alison:         Hi Kathryn, I am doing really well thank you.  Pretty much B.A.U. in the Esson household.  I’m a homeworker anyway, yeah, so no travel to London has actually been a benefit or a positive for me so all good, working hard and my husband usually works away as well so he’s been at home with me all this time so I’m probably one of the few people who’s probably quite enjoyed this whole lockdown restriction thing.

Kathryn:       Yeah, I was going to say, that’s really nice actually isn’t it?  I know we found it like especially – ‘cos I used to generally work at home – like I’d work in the office when the kids were at school then I’d be at home and doing maybe little bits of work but generally trying not to work obviously when I’m with them but Alan would usually be doing quite late nights and so since March he’s seen them more than he’s seen them in such a long time and, you know, it just – he just keeps saying now, he’s just like, “Right, you know, that’s it,” and we’re actually changing it around in regards to the way that everybody’s working hours are just so that we can really plan it.

Alison:         Yeah.

Kathryn:       I think even more so than before, we were always really family-orientated all of us but I think even more so it’s just like, “Yeah, you know what, we really, really want to make sure we’re all at home with our families.”  It’s been nice in that way for that but obviously it’s difficult in different ways.

Alison:         Has its challenges.

Kathryn:       Yes.

Alison:         Yes I’m sure but – no but I’m sure actually a lot of people have just thought it’s an opportunity just to reset in many ways I think.

Kathryn:       Yeah, absolutely, absolutely.  So I’m sure you’re quite familiar with the way that the podcast works and one of the things we do is the truth or lie feature at the end of each episode.  So last time, Ross Linnet said that his favourite Halloween film is Beetlejuice and I said that mine is Interview With A Vampire.  So who do you think was lying?

Alison:         Well Kathryn, I did follow your world cup of Halloween films and if I recall I think Ross might be lying?

Kathryn:       Ooh, actually Ross is telling the truth!

Alison:         No, I thought that – oh my word, it was so difficult Kathryn!  I thought you just like – all of them – aw – I thought you really liked the vampires.

Kathryn:       I know, I did absolutely – I do really, really love Interview With A Vampire and I was very annoyed.  I don’t understand how the sexy vampires did not get further through in that world cup of Halloween films.  But I have to say my ultimate is actually The Rocky Horror – it has to be Rocky Horror Picture Show.  I love that one.

Alison:         Yeah, okay.

Kathryn:       A bit light-hearted there to start everything off before we start getting into the nitty gritty side of things.  So obviously I think that there’s many, many people who are going to be listening to this who know that AIG obviously offer the Smart Health services and you are the go-to guru absolute fountain of all knowledge in regards to this.  So I think what would be really, really good is to just sort of like – if we sort of like take each part in some ways and just explain and obviously this is part of AIG’s but other insurers as well also have maybe some kind of similar offerings and we’ve discussed RedArc before, we’ve discussed Square Health a little bit before so it would be really good to just see how it all comes together.  So can you start off please by sort of like telling us what a value-added service is and why it’s now kind of – well I see it as kind of now the biggest area of competition between insurers?

Alison:         Yeah, well it’s quite interesting.  I think I have to go back a few years, Kathryn, just to build up a picture of how we got there.  So they did start as added extras.  So the intention was that customers were given something that they could relate to or they could use with their insurance because as you know, obviously, the terms on a protection plan can be 20, 25 years.  We all know the challenges when customers buy them, you know, that whole phrase of, “Put it in the drawer and forget about it.”  So these services were added on as a way of helping customers remember that they had them but give them a little bit extra that they could use, maybe not day-to-day but something that they could give, you know, that tangible value to their protection policy.

So things like legal helplines that you could use if you had a problem, I don’t know, with a neighbour’s hedge or you might want to speak to an employment lawyer if you’re having a couple of issues at work and also I’ve seen some tax helplines as well so not really relevant to the insurance itself and I’m not sure that many people would want to speak to an accountant every day but nonetheless, you know, they were added on for free and then they could use them but they weren’t well-communicated to the customer and therefore they weren’t used very often but they’ve been around for years.

But I think the turning point was when Bright Grey added on Helping Hands, so the RedArc service and I think from a proposition point of view that was quite a, you know, that was a turning point in the value-added service market I would call it now.  So these services were obviously more health-orientated but they were used really only at the point of claim so again you kind of had that same issue where, you know, it can do so much but quite late down in the policy’s life time maybe, when people were claiming and also, you know, not everybody claims on their policy.

So that’s when they really started to evolve so insurers I think took a look at what people were going through when they claims on their policies so they looked more at how they could really respond to that from a customer point of view.  So I think what’s become apparent about these so-called value-added services is that they’re now changing the insurance that people are buying.  Their service is providing value every day so we talk about GP service that can be used, you know, literally every day for the family.  I know you’ve got three boys, Kathryn, I’m sure, you know, they present their own challenges ‘cos they just get sick when, you know –

Kathryn:       Absolutely.

Alison:         Whenever so we see them now as really integrated to the insurance or integrated services that they are more aligned to peoples’ everyday health and wellbeing needs and they are so much more valuable in that sense.  So that’s why I think so many more providers are looking at that but there’s always that baseline that people have to respond to and I think it really was back in the day that Bright Grey really set the mark for us to up our game.

Kathryn:       I think it’s one of those things, like you say, you know, obviously I’ve got three kids, three young boys and especially during lockdown when you’ve not been able to sort of – I think, you know, it’s one of those things as an adviser, it’s always something obviously, you know, that you’ve been there, you’ve been advising on, you’ve been making people aware of it but lockdown itself has just absolutely thrown it to the absolute forefront of why it’s so, so important and the amount of people when I’m advising them and obviously I know we were chatting a little bit beforehand and, you know, there are times that, you know, depending on different clients’ situations sometimes AIG is a good option for my clients, sometimes others can be, you know, good options as well but, you know, when you have that option to potentially say to people, you know, like, “You could have this and –” you know, it’s sometimes obviously AIG are the cheapest and sometimes AIG aren’t the cheapest but when you say to people, “Look at how, you know, potentially sort of like it’s maybe just the slightest – hardly anything –”  The main example that always sticks out for me is somebody where it ended up being an extra £3.60 per year for them to have AIG over –

Alison:         A year?

Kathryn:       Yeah, over the cheapest provider so I was just like –

Alison:         Wow.

Kathryn:       “Okay, so an extra 30p – an extra 30p a month, you’re going to get all this for you, your partner and your kids,” and immediately – there wasn’t even – there wasn’t even a second’s thought by the person.  They were just like, “I’ll have it,” you know, and I think that’s a massive thing and I think when we’re chatting, especially during lockdown to people, it really stands out to me when I turn around and say to them, “You could have access to a remote GP with this and, you know, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”  It’s – again, people are just – you can hear that people are kind of like, at first – I suppose sometimes people may be a little bit dubious like, “Well hang on a minute, how does that work, you know, because this is an insurance policy,” you know, but you’re trying to explain it and everything but people are liking it, they really, really are liking it.

Alison:         Yeah.  I mean, I know we’ll go on and talk a bit more about the services but, you know, the GP service – and we did do some research before, you know, we launched our own service and, you know, it came out loud and clear the challenges that people have, you know, pre-lockdown of getting hold of a GP so being able to use the GP services during lockdown when they were still a bit worried about going to the surgery and not all surgeries are the same, you know.  Some have probably responded better than others, you know, with remote appointments but yeah, just that ability to just get on the phone when you need to and we’ll talk about it more but people getting used I think to using them so if anything I think remote services have really been a winner in the lockdown situation which means it’s a winner for customers as well.

Kathryn:       Absolutely, I was going to say – going back to sort of like ourselves as well so we’re in Filey in North Yorkshire.  We have an absolutely incredible GP and, you know, the GPs here are absolutely lovely but there is one GP for the entire town which – we’re not a big town but it’s still, you know, and just from sheer workloads and resources and everything, it’s before – especially before lockdown, you were lucky if you could get a doctor’s appointment within three or four weeks.  So having something like this – just – I mean, absolutely for us, really, really does stand out and I think – as I say, you know, when I advise clients, it’s something that kind of leads a lot of the way actually, you know, this kind of a discussion and when we did it a few years ago abroad, we were in Malta and I was worried about one of my children.  There was just something I’d never noticed, nothing urgent or anything but something I noticed and we just went, “Well why don’t we use our, you know, use this service?” and it was amazing because obviously we were there, 12 o’clock, by the poolside, video consultation with a UK GP.  We didn’t have to worry about language barriers.

Alison:         No.

Kathryn:       It was – straightaway we, you know, it was the night time, we booked it for the next day for our lunchtime, we knew we had that appointment and it was absolutely incredible.  How does – I suppose a good thing to know would be, how does the GP service work alongside like the NHS GP services?  How does that mix?

Alison:         Fundamentally, you know, a GP service will give customers options so it’s a complement to the NHS service. So it’s a way of scheduling a chat with a GP if you’ve got a concern and if you book a remote appointment it means that you can take the time to ask the GP questions that you wouldn’t ordinarily get the time to with an NHS GP because, you know, they’re constrained, you know, you’ve got 10 minutes to get in there, you know, they’re just trying to get through all the appointments that they have on the day so it’s supplementary to the NHS service I would say.  So it’s a real luxury to be able to arrange a dedicated time for yourself to discuss your health concerns.  So, you know, in the industry most appointments are 20 to 30 minutes long for a GP service so that’s already much longer than the time that you can get with an NHS GP.  So this means customers can discuss options and next steps if they want to talk about a referral for example.

So GPs also get the customer’s agreement to send the notes across to their own NHS GP so this means that there’s continuity of care.  They do complement each other so – but our customers are loving the service.  Requests for the GP appointments, you know, they’ve doubled since the first lockdown in March and they’ve remained at that level since.  Yeah, so people are really used to using this service and they’re happy to come back.  So almost 40% of appointments are repeats so users are – customers are willing to use the remote service and are getting – I think they’re gaining trust in them as well and just one final point on that, so in terms of, you know, how it works with the NHS, about 30% of our requests for a GP appointment are outside working hours, so after eight o’clock and before nine o’clock in the morning so, you know, the remote GP services are supporting clients when a traditional surgery appointment just isn’t possible for them.

Kathryn:       I think that’s – yeah, that’s really, really incredibly important because, you know, I think many of us, you know, there’s obviously quite a lot of people at the moment who have been obviously unfortunately furloughed or have lost their jobs, you know, so in a sense being able to go to those appointments during the days are not as hard for them possibly because, you know, they do obviously – I’m not assuming that’s okay, it’s just, you know, that is the unfortunate situation that they’re in but there are many, many of us who are actually – our workloads have probably increased far more and, you know, even though we’re working at home, possibly even that divide between, you know, that home and then work balance, you know, we’re probably working even longer hours.  I know I have been doing recently and –

Alison:         Yeah, yeah.

Kathryn:       It can be pretty intense and then to even – even when you’re doing that to be able to step away because you’re then – because obviously everything’s changed so much and so much inter­connectivity -–well if that person’s unable to work then your workload increases.  You know, I think that’s obviously incredibly important to know that it is available but like you say, at any point, and it really is that thing of, at a time that suits you and I don’t think I’ve ever – I mean, I’ve got the AIG option through my – the group insurance that we have at Cura.  I do also on my personal insurance have access to Square Health and their GP appointment booking system and I have to say, both of those facilities I’ve used at different times and I’ve never – I’ve never had it where there’s not been an appointment available.  There’s always been at least an appointment for me to choose from –

Alison:         Yeah.

Kathryn:       Which I think is actually absolutely phenomenal, that there’s that much of it available but what you were saying there as well about, what was it, 40% of people are coming back and reusing it?  I mean, that’s brilliant.

Alison:         It is and I think it just shows that, you know, as I say, people are willing to try something or they’re willing – they understand that they need to do something about, you know, something that’s wrong with them.  I’ll use myself as an example, that’s always easy isn’t it?  So I’ll find any excuse not to go to the doctor.  I’m really, really bad for not going.  I’m one of these people that’ll just go, “Oh do you know what, I’ll just – it will go away, whatever it is.  It’ll go away.”

Kathryn:       You sound like my husband.

Alison:         But actually using this service – I’ve used it three times myself – I’ve used it three times myself now and that’s something I probably wouldn’t have done with my own GP so it allows people to, you know, step in earlier.  It can only be a good thing for their longer-term health can’t it?  You know, you get things seen to earlier.

Kathryn:       ‘Cos I was going to say, there’s meant to be – obviously I’m hearing quite a few things, not sort of like – I’m not saying that I’m completely in the know medically and all that kind of stuff but, you know, we are hearing these reports of the amount of cancer diagnoses that – the amount that happened this year obviously statistically have dropped dramatically and the fact of the matter is that cancer hasn’t disappeared, it’s just that people haven’t had access to go and get those appointments which is incredibly scary to think of the long-term knock-on effect and obviously having these kinds of appointments –

Alison:         That’s right.

Kathryn:       Even though, you know, we’re not saying that we’re going to be able to catch all of everything, you know, even – it’s just – even if it’s that initial – like you were saying, the referral service so you can speak to somebody and they can say, “Right, okay, you know,” if someone speaks to them in that kind of situation where there’s a concern, it’s not going to be a case of, “Ooh well I’ll just wait until lockdown –” it’s going to be a case of, “No, you’re getting referred,” and then it’s still going to be accessed which is incredible.

Another thing that’s on offer as well is the second medical opinion services.  As I said, I’ve spoken to Steve Casey before and Sue Kinsella on here from the different services their organisations can provide but I haven’t had a chance yet to have a good chat about Best Doctors.  I know a bit about Best Doctors.  I’ve heard a few – obviously there’s an incredibly powerful case study with Best Doctors that I do actually use to describe the benefit of it to the team when I’m training our new advisers and also sometimes to clients as well. Can you tell us more about Best Doctors please?

Alison:         I certainly will.  So yeah, Best Doctors is an absolutely amazing service so it gives people the opportunity to get a second opinion if they’ve had a diagnosis.  They also get the opportunity to discuss their treatment plan just to make sure, you know, that it’s, you know, just a peace of mind thing really so they can have it that they’ve got the right diagnosis or sometimes they’ve been struggling to get a diagnosis.  So it’s provided by Teledoc Health and really what it does is it opens the door to clinics all over the world.  So you get access to, you know, world-leading specialists in clinics in maybe California, you know, it could be Australia, could even be in the UK and what it does, it gives you access to I think it’s over 50,000 specialists in over 450 areas of medicine, you can get a second opinion.  So, you know, the expert will review your case.  So they get your medical records, managed by a GP in the UK.  They’ll review your diagnosis and your treatment plan and they’ll come back with a report.  So in most cases, you know, the consultant will say, “Yeah, you’ve got the right diagnosis.”  They might make a recommendation that the treatment plan could be slightly different for you in your case or they’ll say, “Yeah, actually the treatment plan is good.”  But the real benefit is when you get one of those cases where, you know, the diagnosis is changed or the treatment plan is changed and I know, Kathryn, you’ve spoken to Vicky Churcher.  She is probably – I don’t think there is any better way of highlighting the real impact of Best Doctors when you look at Vicky’s case really.

Kathryn:       Absolutely.

Alison:         You know, I can sit and talk about the report and the specialist but for anybody listening who’s maybe heard the Vicky story or those who haven’t heard Vicky’s story, I would recommend that they go and listen to your podcast where Vicky herself tells her story.

Kathryn:       Yeah.

Alison:         Just briefly, you know, she was – she’d had a heart attack and what she said was, what Best Doctors did for her was to understand why she was having the heart attack and it transpired, you know, it was hereditary and had an impact on her daughters and the diagnosis so it was more than just, “You’ve had a heart attack, patch you up, you know, get you back.”  You know, the Best Doctors just took it that one step further to understand, you know, why is this happening and when they found out it was hereditary, you know, they could act on it for the family too.

Every insurer is different.  AIG gives Best Doctors to all our CI claimants for three years after that, even when their plan comes to an end so when you think about it, they’ve had their diagnosis, they’re into the treatment phase, so this is really where Best Doctors comes into play as it were.  Obviously, you know, it’s a service to be used any time you want to get a diagnosis checked but from a protection insurance point of view, it’s that point after claim that it really can give support and get people, you know, if the treatment’s – they just feel it’s not working for them, you can get that second opinion or if they’re worried about the surgery that’s been recommended, they can get that opinion so as I say, it just opens those clinic doors that you wouldn’t ordinarily ever be able to access.

Even in the first year, you know, this year with Smart Health shall we say, we’ve already had people benefitting from a change of diagnosis.  So yeah – so the volumes aren’t high ‘cos, you know, it is high, you know, impact stuff and all the rest but yeah, 30% of people who used it got a second – a new diagnosis and there have also been cases for children.

Kathryn:       Wow.

Alison:         Yeah, yeah.  It’s, you know, it does actually happen, you know, all insurers – well most insurers do offer the service so, you know, we can say, you know, people do actually get a different diagnosis and they do get treatment recommendations as well so it’s not a service that delivers nothing other more than just a peace of mind, you know, there is an impact to it and for children as well we’ve had four child cases as well.  Yeah.

Kathryn:       Right, yeah, that absolutely gets to, you know, that straight away for me is, you know, obviously mum of three young kids, it’s – I don’t think there’s sort of like many parents that would sort of like hear that and not think, “Right, yeah, okay, yeah I absolutely want to make sure that I’ve got access to something like that,” because it’s – obviously it’s really scary as well that – I mean, obviously – not saying that it’s going to happen all the time but it is scary how a diagnosis could be wrong in the first place ‘cos you – obviously we do trust – obviously and the NHS is a fantastic, absolutely phenomenal service that we have here in the UK but very, very worryingly if that’s what’s happening and then potentially I suppose it’s – sorry, I’m kind of like – my head’s spiralling into the knock-on effects of, you know, sort of that diagnosis.  If that’s wrong then could the treatment plans be completely wrong?  Could treatment be missed that needs to be done or could it be treatment be given that’s actually not needed and then causes harm in a different way that’s – there’s so many aspects to that.  So that’s incredible.

Alison:         Yeah and as I say, you know, low volume stuff but again referring back to Vicky’s story, you know, if you ever were to hesitate about using that service then just listen to her story.

Kathryn:       Yeah.

Alison:         Because you just don’t know, you know, the impact and the benefit it could have to you or somebody else in your family for sure.

Kathryn:       Absolutely.  I think as well with Vicky’s case, I think she was saying obviously with some of her children – I think even extended family members, the ones who are of a young age are now on medication that will prevent them having a heart attack.

Alison:         Yes, yeah.

Kathryn:       And I mean that’s, you know, for one – before I obviously heard Vicky’s story, I didn’t even know you could take medication to prevent a heart attack.  I knew obviously about the things post-heart attack.  I didn’t realise – I’m kind of there thinking, “Well should everybody have this medication?”  You know?  It’s kind of well – I’m one of those people that – I’ll be vaccinated against everything, I will take it all, sort of like – nth degree, you know, kind of protecting yourself but it’s absolutely – it is really, really powerful stories like this where they stand out.

Another key area is mental health which is obviously something that I am very, very keen on and like to hear about what’s happening, what different people have to offer.  It’s something I’m really passionate about.  I know that insurers can sometimes offer mental health support to the policyholders across all the different kinds of protection, so we’re talking personal, business and group.  I wonder if – like employees, dependent – either in big or small organisations, you know, I think it doesn’t really matter, you know, for sort of like the companies who do offer this kind of service to their employees, I do sometimes wonder if employees are maybe worried that if they access something like that, that the boss will find out, that there’ll suddenly be a – like an annual review or something.  There’ll be a little marker on there saying, “Well someone’s been accessing the mental health services,” and then the teams all start kind of like going in and thinking, “Right, who’s been doing this?” you know, maybe wondering if it ups the premiums and stuff if they’ve accessed it.  How does it work when it comes to the mental health side of things?  I do believe that there’s a lot of confidentiality in place isn’t there?

Alison:         There very much is and it’s a really good question and I’m really glad you’ve asked it to be honest because I think there is a worry if you work for a company and you have the services and it’s – there’s always that thing about the mental health service isn’t there and people are always a bit wary and, you know, it can take time to think, “Oh god, you know, do I need a bit of help?”  So I’m glad you’ve asked that question.  So I think the best way to frame it is, you know, an employer’s taken that first important step, you know, they’ve gone and sourced the services to make available so, you know, the employer is recognising that people will need some help.  We all know the stats.  One in four will suffer a mental health problem at some time so they’ve taken that first step and they told their employees what’s available and of course how to access them.  So to me that is, you know, the employer’s done that, “They’re available, please go and use them.”

Kathryn:       Yeah.

Alison:         But that’s that worry that, you know, you don’t need to go and ask the employer to use them, you know, you can go and use them on demand so effectively they’ve – I use the word ‘empowered’ but, you know, they’ve effectively given them the tools to – when they’re ready, if they’re ready, if they need to, that’s the thing.  So they’ve taken that first step and they’ve already been paid for as well so there’s no cost, they don’t need to go and ask to use them, they don’t need to worry about, “Oh is this going to cost them money?  You know, am I going to be a drain, you know?”  It’s just all this negativity that can build up in using them so generally I think how the services all work is that the person can just get straight in contact with the provider.

It could be an EAP, as you know, or it could be something like Smart Health or the other services available on the market as well.  They’ll all speak to a counsellor or in some cases a GP first so they can understand, you know, what’s affecting them, what’s the best way to help them and then from that the way forward they’ll work with their psychologist or their counsellor to understand the root causes, what’s causing the issue but more importantly obviously how they can work together to make things better, depending on the frequency, depending on who’s helping them, is it a psychologist or a counsellor?  But going back to your original point, the employer has made these available, you know, they want people to go and use them.  Effectively, “We’ve put it in place and if you need to, please go and use them.”

You mentioned confidentiality.  Obviously all companies will get some form of information about who’s using the service but only in terms of volume.  So they’ll understand – so if they’re running like a health and wellness week or program and then they’ll talk about the services, then they’re going to go and look to see how effective those internal campaigns have been and whether their employees have engaged with the service but never down to the level of who, you know, male or female or age.  Nothing like that.  It’s a purely sort of transactional thing from an employer point of view.

Kathryn:       That’s really good to know and I think there’s a couple of things there that kind of stand out for me as well – sort of like thinking about the benefits of them.  I think a big thing obviously, as an employer myself I think it’s really, really important employers remember to kind of periodically send out that information to people so employees don’t feel they need to ask someone, “Oh where’s that number?”  You know, so it’s very – again keep the confidentiality aspect, make sure it’s available, maybe employee handbooks which should be obviously always accessible.  What is quite a good thing every now and then is sort of like just a little email shot around the company just to say, “Just remember that these are available,” because like you say, they are there and we’re wanting to make sure that staff are fine but going back to things that you said earlier as well, accessing the GP 24 hours a day, like you say and possibly speak to a GP first and maybe, you know, it’s giving people as well if they are experiencing maybe some kind of a mental health event, they’re getting access.

So instead of it being restricted to NHS availability times, it’s being opened up to even more people and also at times where they don’t need to feel that – I know we’re in lockdown at the moment obviously but, you know, they’re not having to like hide around the corner at work on their lunchbreak and try to speak to somebody and hope that colleagues don’t overhear.  They’re just at home and – or in the car whatever, you know, it’s in their own space at their own time which – that in itself, having that kind of sort of like flexibility to kind of own how the journey is going to start, for someone with mental health, that can be incredibly – that in itself can be incredibly empowering.

Alison:         Yeah, and it’s just removing all possible barriers from people accessing the services.  The other thing that we found is that people are speaking to the GP so, you know, we – there are a lot of GP appointments under our service but I think you’ll be interested to know, Kathryn, that once they’ve spoken to the GP, that same GP has actually referred the customer to the mental health service so they’ve not made that step to think they have a mental health problem but that they know something in themselves isn’t right.

Kathryn:       Yeah.

Alison:         They’ve gone and used a GP and then the benefit of being able to be referred on to a mental health service within the – say the Smart Health, sorry, but yeah – you know, again it’s not being passed on somewhere else where they need to start again.

Kathryn:       Yeah.

Alison:         You know, there’s that continuity so just removing the barriers and as you say, telling employees frequently about what’s available because in and out, people are tuned into these things or they’re, you know, just whatever – how they’re feeling.  I know at AIG, our HR team are really, really good at – every time we talk to our employees, they just remind them that they’ve got this service available to them.  So you’re right, just need to know just when the time’s right and you can just pick up the phone when you need to.

Kathryn:       Yeah absolutely.  I think as well, we were talking about – again it kind of like evolves on from what we’ve just been saying but with a lot of these extra value-added services it’s a lot of promotion of obviously self-care; physical and mental and emotional.  It’s kind of like – it’s not just for mental health, it’s also for all the other aspects as well which I think especially during lockdown where I think sometimes some of us are quite in tune with ourselves and know if we maybe need to access help.  Sometimes we’re not as in tune with ourselves and then suddenly have a moment where we’re just like, “Wow, I need support,” and with lockdown that can – the isolation of that can be felt even more so.

But there’s quite a few options with insurers to do things like, you know, kind of health checks when it comes to like protection insurance policies.  So I can probably very much guess probably the reasons for that but from your point of view as propositions manager, why do insurers think maybe like annual health checks or even if it – whether or not it’s something in person or whether or not it’s like an online kind of like questionnaire thing, what’s the sort of like thought basis behind that for insurers offering it?

Alison:         Yeah, so you’re right.  So there are various ways that people can get a health check but fundamentally it is another tool to encourage people to take action, take care of their health.  So it’s another example of empowering people to engage with their health but fundamentally taking action to improve it.  So for many people, it could be the first step in finding in what shape they’re in, you know, and some, you know, if you can just assume not everybody knows their numbers, you know, I couldn’t tell you what my blood pressure is right now but – so getting a health check makes you look at yourself, understand, “Oh my goodness, what is my blood pressure?  What’s my cholesterol?”

So getting your numbers, yeah, in our case it is an online questionnaire so know your numbers and it will churn out a report for you based on, you know, what your circumstances are and then it will signpost you to say, “Right, your BMI is too high or your cholesterol levels are too high.  Hmm, your blood pressure could be a bit lower,” and so the key thing is it will then tell you the next steps to take to mitigate that and that’s why it’s so important to – in a way it’s the sort of central point of feeding out to, “Well I might need to get fitter. Right, okay, I can go use the fitness service to go and do that or I need to lose weight.  Okay, how am I going to do that?  My blood pressure’s low – high – low, you know, speak to a GP.”  So you refer to the, you know, these services ‘cos in a way it’s the first step to understanding what shape you’re in and what you need to do and engage and take the steps to fix things basically.

Kathryn:       Absolutely.  I think the good point of that as well is that sort of, you know, some people obviously, they may be – I think I’m one of those people where I do generally eat quite well but I’m one of those people where I’m like, I’m slim but I’ve got like a really high body fat percentage so I know I need to do certain things –

Alison:         I don’t believe it!

Kathryn:       I do – what was it?  I used to do like a buggy fit camp after I had my third child and I think it was – the name was – what was it?  The sort of skinny fat person, in a sense really slim but inside there’s lots and lots of – yeah, and my children at the moment do enjoy coming up to me and going, “Mummy, you’re squishy!”  And it’s just like, “Yes, love you too.  Go away,” snarling at them.  But, you know, I think it’s a good thing because, you know, maybe to somebody – maybe like myself who is in a sense quite slim – if those numbers aren’t what you’d expect, you know, is maybe that realisation hitting home to say, “Well actually, okay, well, you may be slim but that’s not the end of it.”  Or maybe if somebody is eating really well and they are fit and healthy and those numbers aren’t what’s expected, maybe that’s – not all obviously, probably not the majority of times but there will be sometimes where that’s going to be a red flag for something else that absolutely needs some kind of more – like a GP intervention and starting to look further.

Alison:         Yeah.

Kathryn:       So I think, you know, anything like that that brings people’s – like if they’re concentrating their health to the front is absolutely essential so just moving on to another thing you were saying in some of the other bits, so like the nutrition –

Alison:         Yeah.

Kathryn:       Consultants, you know, that seems to be a really popular thing at the moment that’s being offered and I think it’s one of those things where, you know, clients maybe turn around and say, “Nutrition?” you know, kind of thing and I’ll – wondering why that is there and it’s the kind of thing where, well there’s two sides of it in some ways, you know, it’s – for one it’s – I say in a couple of ways – it’s like if someone’s focusing on their nutrition, is eating healthier then that’s obviously incredibly much better for them, it does mean that they’re obviously hopefully going to live longer because they’ve really been in tune with their body.  It’s also benefitting obviously to the insurer in many ways because, you know, if someone is fitter and healthier and in tune with their body, again, the likelihood of a claim does reduce.  So I think, you know, it’s mutually beneficial to everybody but I don’t think it should be seen as sort of like a tactic of, you know, sort of like insurers are doing something else to try and, you know, I think this – ‘cos people are asking sort of, you know, “So hang on a minute.  So they’re doing this so I’m less likely to make a claim?”  And you’re just like, “Yes, ‘cos that’s a very, very good thing.”  You know, it’s – we don’t want there to be a claim.  But in regards to the nutrition side of things –

Alison:         Yeah.

Kathryn:       What happens when somebody engages with that?  Can you take us kind of like through the steps?  I know it sounds daft but I know for me, I absolutely – I’ve gone off the bandwagon a little bit but also because I’ve not been feeling particularly well at the moment, I’m probably going to need to engage with some kind of nutritional service soon because I just – I know my body’s not in balance at the moment.  So what would happen if I were to contact, you know, what service should I go through?

Alison:         Right, well get in touch and you would obviously have concerns so you’re just feeling, “Hmm, something’s not quite right about me.”  So that really highlights that the nutrition service is more than just about losing weight, it’s more than just eating your five a day and I think, you know, that’s a really – I’m really glad you’ve asked the question about it too because it’s – it is – it does seem a little bit random doesn’t it to have it included as a part of a package but they know the science of your body and what food it does.  So, you know, you’ve heard the expression that food is medicine and that’s really what the nutritionists will help you with.  If you wanted to engage, you know, speak to a nutritionist and she’ll want to understand, “Well what is it you’re trying to achieve, Kathryn?”

Kathryn:       Yeah.

Alison:         So she’ll go through a bit of background as to, you know, why that might be, you know, obviously your general health, you know, ‘cos she’ll need to understand is it a health issue or is it just purely a food issue for example?  Is it you just want to lose weight for example?  So she’ll try to understand what your eating habits are, foods that you don’t like – you might have allergies or intolerances to food as well so she’ll try to build up a picture of, you know, your situation, what you like to eat, what you don’t like to eat and up until lockdown I guess we’ve all been – we were challenged basically with busy lives and cheating maybe?  So we weren’t eating as well as we could do but now we’re at home and we’re perhaps eating more than we should do or we’ve now got more time to look at our food, look at what we’re actually eating on a daily basis.

So she’ll want to understand what your goals are and I like to make sure that people think about the nutrition and the health thing as well so to give you some examples, it can be weight loss.  So you might have had that health check and they said, “Well you really need to lose weight ‘cos your BMI’s too high.”  So you might be eating in pregnancy so you need to eat healthily or you’re trying to conceive.  How can the nutritionist help with that around the vitamins that sort of thing?  It could be recuperation.  What should you be eating in your recuperation, you know, what portion sizes should you be eating?  That sort of thing.  Child nutrition?  I know you’ve got three boys, Kathryn.  I have no idea what mealtimes are like but –

Kathryn:       Manic.  Manic and you can always guarantee that one of them refuses to eat whatever’s in front of them and I will put my hands up and say that bribery with chocolate during lockdown, especially with home schooling, it happened.  I’m not going to lie.

Alison:         We’ve had our nutritionist run webinars about eating for your mood so things that can help you, that sort of thing.

Kathryn:       Yes.

Alison:         But really they’re there to respond to what you want to achieve.  So think about it as well in terms of like a family option as well so you talk about your three boys and one will refuse to eat or one – what have you, you know, it can really just help you work together as a family with the meal plans that they’ll give you, recipe suggestions and advice and we’ve even had one of the nutritionists diagnose somebody with a gluten intolerance that the customer just didn’t even know so that’s why it’s important I think just to really just try and showcase what we can actually do for people ‘cos it is more than just, “I want to lose weight.”  So we’ve seen all the fad diets, you know, they can cut right through that.

Kathryn:       Yeah.

Alison:         You know, they can help you about how much protein you should be eating.  You know, I’ve tried Weight Watchers, you know, and it kind of skews the way you eat because you think you can eat too much of one thing but actually that could be a bad thing.

Kathryn:       Yes.

Alison:         So getting a nutritionist’s view, I think, is something that we could all probably benefit from because we’ve all built up views on what’s good and what’s bad.  I think the other thing as well, bringing it back say to protection insurance, if somebody’s been diagnosed with cancer and they’re going through chemotherapy, you know, they’re maybe not eating, lost their sense of taste and smell and having access to a nutritionist could I think really help some people and really quite, you know, struggling with their health or a diagnosis and struggling to eat properly to be honest.

Kathryn:       Absolutely and I mean that absolutely hits home for me as well because my Dad has Parkinson’s so he lost his sense of taste and smell I think it was probably seven or eight years ago so he’s not been able to –

Alison:         Ah okay.

Kathryn:       It’s – I think that, out of everything, I think it’s what gets to him, bless him.  He can appreciate the textures but I just – every now and then, you know, you just think, “Oh can you imagine never being able – you literally are just eating for the necessity of eating not for the enjoyment?”  And actually that’s a big shock and I think as well there’s lots of other things in regards to Parkinson’s in regards to the transit of the food and everything through the digestive tract and stuff like that so it is – I do think it’s incredibly important.  I’ve done like that whole thing of, you know, when I was trying to be paleo for a while so I just wanted to eat all natural.  A few years ago I’d been vegan but then I struggled with energy levels quite a bit when I was vegan.

Alison:         Ah right, okay.

Kathryn:       So I had to stop and I became more pescatarian so that was better but then – I was going to say, it’s going to sound so daft but Alan – Alan was ridiculously ill in August with a stomach bug to the point –

Alison:         Oh gosh.

Kathryn:       It was one – we have no idea how he got it but it was one where they actually – it was like notifiable to the health agencies in England –

Alison:         Oh wow.

Kathryn:       Because they were just like –

Alison:         Oh my goodness.

Kathryn:       “Where have you been eating?  Where’s the food come from?  This is serious.”  No idea what he ate but it really has made me paranoid about food again so I’m completely off eating meat, fish at the moment, you know.  At the moment, because I’ve been really tired, someone said, “Cut out gluten, cut out dairy,” so I’m just like, “Okay but what can I eat?”

Alison:         Sounds like you need to speak to a nutritionist, Kathryn!

Kathryn:       I need to speak to the nutritionist, don’t I?

Alison:         Yeah.

Kathryn:       I absolutely need to because yeah, it’s been a bit intense actually but no, I really do need to speak to somebody.  I think sometimes, you know, in any case, just, you know, we hear all these diets, you know, I tried, what was it, the keto diet for a bit.  I think Alan was doing that and ‘cos we were doing so much fitness stuff, it was like, “Protein, yay, I can eat like bacon all day, brilliant, this is amazing.”  And we were doing stuff like that and then it’s – I kind of even feel myself that I’ve kind of at times – and it’s not something that I jump from one to one in a sense like quickly, but you do seem to get kind of drawn into one way and then it doesn’t seem completely right so you move away back to your normal and so you think, “Oh, I’ll try this one over here,” and it easy I think to get really drawn into those things.

Alison:         I think we’ve all been there and yeah, sometimes even when you do love food, I mean I love food, you know, anything that allows you to eat lots of the things you really like, you’re always going to be drawn to it, aren’t you, rather than the cutting out things and I think that’s where the nutritionists really just sort of like draw the line to say, “You can’t cut out whole food groups,” you know, that sort of thing.

Kathryn:       Yes.

Alison:         It gives you a balanced view.

Kathryn:       And then obviously we were chatting as well – I know you mentioned about the fitness side of things as well and it’s – I know that has obviously – fitness has had a massive focus during lockdown.  Something that really stands out in my mind, completely irrelevant to insurance but my sister lives in Italy and I remember obviously when Italy really went into lockdown even earlier than ourselves, seeing the videos of – there was an Italian fitness trainer just on top of his building doing like fitness classes and everyone was on their balconies in the cities like trying to follow him and stuff and I just remember seeing especially at that time in Italy, just the unity that they had actually was just absolutely incredible.  To me, I’ve sort of seen a few things about that which has been really interesting.  So Alan does like loads and loads of bootcamps.  He’s that person that’s throwing a tyre around on the beach and burpees and things like that and –

Alison:         Yeah.

Kathryn:       He’s always done stuff like that, massively so and then obviously all of a sudden his support groups, his fitness support groups have gone.  Alan especially, you know, fitness is his way of keeping on top of everything, you know, his fitness, any kind of stress that he may have and I know – I mean I absolutely credit Zumba and dancing with helping me with my mental health and it was really weird for Alan because he’d had ankle surgery last November/December time, so he really wasn’t still back up to doing his running again.  So he kind of lost, as I say, his main kind of outlets health-wise so I think we did what a lot of people did.  We did Joe Wicks every morning with the kids obsessively, absolutely stuck to that for about a month and then I became absolutely knackered doing them, “I’ll just stay out of that one.”  My body actually really isn’t designed for high intensity training and I’m really glad in some ways that I have a medical condition which means I can say, “That’s not designed for me, I don’t have to do it.”

Alison:         “I’m not doing it.”  Yeah.

Kathryn:       But, you know, it was really, really good and we were doing stuff like Cosmic Kids yoga and I’ve moved to doing – I found some incredible teachers on Zoom for Zumba and I am doing Zoom Pilates now as well and really, really good people and people that, especially like with the Pilates person with me because of my health, I was worried because there’s certain things I can’t do because of my health conditions even when it comes to Pilates and it was really lovely to speak to someone and who was like, “Well actually I’ve got the same health condition as you and I’ve been able to do this, this, this to help,” and even though we’re not the same, you know, and I could see them and see how they were doing stuff and it gave me more confidence in their ability and also sort of like different ways we had to adapt the exercises ‘cos like there’s certain things that I can do, I bend into a certain way potentially and my muscles won’t feel it whereas a regular person would do it, they’d either not be able to move that much or their muscles would be screaming and I would lucky in the Zoom call and just like be shaking my head and she’d know if I was shaking my head and then she would just immediately say, “Right,” just casually – just going, “If you can’t feel this, do it this way.”  And I was going to the next one thinking – and then I’d be like, “Oh wow!  That’s certainly something I haven’t felt before.”  It was really, really incredible.  But I think, you know, it’s hard and, you know, when I was asked to do sort of like a bit of a video about it – is how you’re balancing everything on top – it’s incredibly hard, really, really hard.

And there’s a thing I say, “Grandmas are an absolute godsend.”  So, you know, there are times that, you know, at the moment, now we’re back into the second lockdown, there is a childcare bubble, you know, so obviously my Mum is able to be here and help with the kids and I may be able to have a quick dance in another room or something or do some stretching.  It is that complete balance of, “Right, you know, if Alan’s doing exercise, I can’t,” and vice versa, you know, we’re having to really try and keep it balanced between the two of us.  If the schools weren’t open still then it would just absolutely go – like it did last time, it just had to completely stop.

But I think, you know, as I say, for me I know that the physical exercise side of things – I’m seeing loads of people on social media as well, the amount of us that are saying, “I need to do this, this is so important for my mental health,” and even people saying, “I didn’t realise how much this was actually helping with my mental health when I’ve not been able to do it.  It’s really – it’s showing me this.”

Again, you know, if I were to turn around and go, “Right, well I’m doing Zumba and Pilates, is there something else I should be trying in a sense?” and I wanted to engage with the fitness side of things, and I know there’s some options where, you know, you can potentially engage with specific gyms or potentially access specific apps on your phone where there’s like – again, kind of like high intensity sessions downloaded to your phone, you know, there’s that but how does it work in like the AIG side of this?  I know yours works slightly differently I think.

Alison:         It does, so that whole picture you painted there around flexibility and the gyms are closing down again, you know, you may not be able to get to a gym even under normal circumstances.  The fitness thing – it’s like all – it’s a bit like the nutrition service, you probably have a goal in mind about what you want to maybe achieve so even people who are maybe just, again maybe they’ve had their health check and said, “You need to do some more exercise or even just do some exercise.”  The fact that we’re sitting probably at desks longer even than the normal, you know, if you were commuting or working, so effectively you have a goal in mind and you contact the service to say, “Well, I’m sitting at my desk too long.  I really need to get fit.  Can you recommend an approach for me to get fit?”  Or you’re maybe somebody who’s at a moderate level of exercise and again maybe it was gym-based but they can’t do that anymore so ask for a program that will kind of tide them through that period to keep them exercising and maintaining fitness.  So it can also work for somebody like Alan who’s obviously very, very fit, make recommendations on a program that will allow him to keep that fitness going and alternatives while, you know, he can’t get to bootcamp or what have you.

So it’s really – like everything else around our service, it’s really what that individual wants to achieve, so how much time in the day do you really have to do exercise but trying to stretch you into doing something?  So we’ll recommend – it’s four or eight weeks so, you know, you can choose, “I want to focus on it for four weeks as it’s achievable,” or eight weeks if you think you’re really, you know, ready to make that commitment into getting fit.  And so they’ll give you exercises, stretches as well ‘cos some people are new to exercise or they’re just used to walking, you know, and it also kind of links in with the nutritionist as well.  So it’s not just about doing one, they’re trying to balance between your fitness and making sure that you don’t undermine for example with the eating.

Kathryn:       Yes.

Alison:         So it kind of joins them up and just talking, you know, health conditions as well, so as part of that assessment, if the fitness expert thinks, “Hmm, I’d probably like you to speak to a GP first before we embark on this,” so they will refer them to speak to the GP service and then come back into the fitness.  So I think the key thing is that it’s goal-orientated and it is tailored and they will provide information and programs and check in with you on how you’re going and if things aren’t working for you, go back and speak to them and say, “Nah, that just isn’t working,” or you found it’s too easy maybe, I don’t know, you know, just go in and get it changed to accommodate where you are in your fitness journey really.

Kathryn:       I really like the sound of that as well about the whole fact that, you know, if need be they’ll say you need to speak to a GP first because I think, you know, obviously all I do is speak to people with health conditions.  I speak with so, so many people with health conditions and I think it’s easy sometimes to start doing something like this and then, you know, you sort of like – you maybe do have something and then you can get demotivated quite quickly so like for myself, you know, like I know for me having the hypermobility syndrome, I know I can do things like HIIT sessions but I also know that one, they’re not actually particularly good for me the way that my body is set up.  Some people with hypermobility may be fine but they’re not particularly good for me and also I know that I’m not going to be able to do it as well as I want to be able to do it because I’m kind of – I’m already kind of physically limited to some things which then kind of reminds me that I’m not – I’m going to do bunny quote ears, “I’m not normal,” and, you know, then that kind of puts a negativity on it and it kind of all kind of just spirals and that.

So I think having something like that is really useful and also, you know, if people are maybe, you know, they’ve had this where they’re saying, you know, “You’ve got high blood pressure, you’ve got this and that,” but maybe things that are tallying up – like you were saying, in some circumstances, it could be that someone hasn’t been particularly unhealthy eating or particularly unfit but then they’re going to suddenly start and embark on something but their actual body chemistry is completely out of what it should be in the normal ranges.  Having that person there to say, “Well actually, before you start just running into this, can we just check everything over and make sure that we’re going in this from the right mindset straight away and make sure there’s nothing else kind of underlying that’s possibly been missed?”

Alison:         Yeah, and it’s also good, you know, again just, you know, thinking – like you say, we’re in the protection industry and that sort of thing.  You know, it can also help with people who’ve come out of hospital for example and just help again with just discussing options about coming out of hospital or recuperating, that sort of thing.  All in conjunction with the nutritionist as well, you know, it really does sort of tally up to be a really supportive package for people.

Kathryn:       We were saying, you know, how you don’t go to the GP generally and I’m sort of like thinking about Alan and – anyway, he’s the same and I’m just thinking how I would be saying to him, “Contact,” and, you know, he’d probably be saying to me, “No.”  And I’d be like, “What would you be saying to the kids?  If it was the kids, would you be contacting them for checking?”  That’s how I do it, I guilt-trip it that way.  It’s a trick I learned from my Mum.  You know, I think that, you know, again though, you know, even if you’re not sure about it for yourself, just having that in mind as well to remember for your family – your immediate family, just how important something like that can be.

And I know obviously with the value-added services, as I say I’ve used it, I’ve used it for all of my children now.  With my eldest, he had sort of like a bit of a – he just had something going on with his skin and everyone kept saying it was eczema and I was convinced it wasn’t eczema ‘cos it had been going on so long.  He would scream when the medicine went on and something, as I say we were on holiday that time, something happened and his skin had just changed ever so slightly and I just did – I did the thing, you know, I googled and I spoke to them and just said – I was like – I said, “I’m not a medical doctor but obviously I am his Mum, I’ve seen all this.  It’s sounding – I’ve done a bit of research and it sounds a bit like this.  Is it within the realms of possibility?”  And they were just like, “Yeah.”  So we went from him having, what was it, five or six years’ worth of treatment for eczema to trying a slightly different cream to it being cleared up within two weeks and –

Alison:         Wow.

Kathryn:       Three or four years down the line and obviously I completely understand that eczema is the initial go-to that people are going to think of ‘cos it’s the most common but, you know, it just didn’t seem quite right and it was nice to just have that kind of opportunity, you know, like more than the 10 minutes to sit there and just kind of – and I suppose sometimes you feel a little bit intimidated as well when you’re actually sat in an office with a doctor to sort of like go, “Well, I’m kind of disagreeing with you.”  That kind of thing.

Alison:         Yeah, yeah.

Kathryn:       Or on the phone it’s obviously – when you’re able to write out all that message as well because another thing with these is that you can send pictures beforehand, you can write messages –

Alison:         That’s right, yeah.

Kathryn:       To say, “This is what’s happening.”  So that GP can really prepare.  I’m not saying obviously to challenge GPs, you know, constantly or anything but sometimes when you know things just don’t feel right, to just have that ability, you know, maybe using the full second medical opinion service or –

Alison:         Yeah, I was going to say.

Kathryn:       Using the GP just to contact and say, “Is this actually okay?”  Another child, you know, lots of issues with the ear and they thought there had been a perforated eardrum but we’ve continued to have some issues throughout this year and I think as well, because where we are, it’s not easy getting GP appointments and you can only tend to get them if it’s kind of like on the day if it’s a bit of what’s known as an emergency and they’re – even those are limited and there are times, you know, sort of like I have maybe been at some point and they’d said, “Oh possibly come back if you need to,” but with the lockdown, you don’t want to bother people, you don’t want to waste their resources, their protective equipment.  You don’t want to take it away from someone who’s possibly really, really ill then using this kind of service, you can contact and just say, “Look, I have a child.  This is the history, this is what’s happening.  Am I being daft?”  And then, you know, if they turn around and say to you, “Get them in for an emergency appointment because even if it isn’t an emergency, it’s their ear, it’s their hearing.  Yes, it’s not sort of like – they’re not having a heart attack or something but they need to be seen.”

Alison:         Yeah, absolutely.

Kathryn:       And it gives you that confidence then when you ring the GP and the receptionist says to me, “Is it an emergency?” that you can turn around and just go, “Yes,” and you don’t feel bad because you just say, “Yes, I’ve spoken with a private GP,” like I say private GP ‘cos I know it’s not technically a private GP but you know, it’s the way that I –

Alison:         Well, it is.

Kathryn:       Yes, it is.  I always feel I have to be a little bit careful when I say private medical insurance, try not to sort of like cross the line or anything and I’ll say, “I’ve spoken to a private GP and they said that this child needs to be seen today.”  And, you know, you just feel so much better and then when you actually see the medical professional in person, they’re just like, “Yeah, of course, it’s absolutely fine, don’t worry,” and stuff but, you know, it’s – you do kind of feel at the moment sometimes as if you are – as if you – I sometimes feel as if I shouldn’t be contacting the NHS GP and I think this is kind of giving me that option to feel a bit more confident.

Alison:         Yeah, I mean I agree with you, Kathryn.  I – actually something similar happened last week to me.  So I used the GP and I thought, “Aah.”  It was my ear and the same sort of thing as like, yeah, you’re right – hearing, you don’t mess around with hearing do you?  Because it’s quite fundamental to everyday life basically.  So similar thing, she said, “No.  I think, you know, you’ve sent me pictures but I think you really need to be seen face to face,” so phone one of the surgeries and say something similar, you know, blah blah blah, you know, it’s advisable that I do see someone and then you’re right, you’ve been – I use the word ‘empower’ a lot but you’re right, it’s the confidence to know that you’ve had that advice and you are there for a very good reason, to be seen and take action.  So you’re right, it’s just being able to look after themselves and not worry that they’re using up resources, you know, worrying about going to your local GP if you don’t really need to but at the same time, you’re still looking after yourself and making sure that things get, you know, seen to when they should do.

Kathryn:       Absolutely.  So would you like to – I know obviously we’ve spoken generally about the lots of different aspects of value-added services but is there anything that you’d like to say in regards to what AIG are offering in regards to the Smart Health?

Alison:         Yeah, I know, thanks Kathryn.  Yeah, we’ve talked through all those six services that are available under Smart Health and the theme that we’ve been talking through is just that there’s no – we don’t put any limitations on people using any of the services, you know, with, you know, you’ve talked about your boys and GP appointments, you know, just having that peace of mind knowing that you can just use them when you need to and be it out of hours or just to get some advice as well.  You talked there about the second medical opinion and just gave an excellent example about, you know, something wrong with the skin and you just feel that it just wasn’t right, there’s another tool there for you just to get, you know, as a Mum, a parent, get some peace of mind.

But fundamentally, you know, Smart Health is – it’s all constructed for people to get the support they need for, you know, body and mind, just when they absolutely need it and, you know, the expression is, “Please use it, it’s there to be used,” and we’re seeing some great stats – GP usage through lockdown has just doubled and stayed that way so people are really happy to use it.  As I said, you know, about 40% of people are repeat users so, you know, that means to me that just signifies that they’re really happy with the service and they do tell us they are happy to use the remote services when they need to.  Another really important aspect again as a kind of a reference is that being able to refer on to other services, so mental health for example or even getting a referral letter into your NHS or PMI as well.  So it’s just making sure that people are able to seek the expert opinion they need day to day when we’re still in this crazy world of lockdown.

Kathryn:       I think, yeah, as I say, all of this is incredible and, you know, lockdown – I think we’d all want to not have lockdown showing us how good it is.  We shouldn’t need a lockdown to show us how good it is but it really is at this moment – it shows just, you know, how important these aspects are and how these insurances aren’t, you know, we’ve always, you know, it’s a very key thing to say and it’s been said a lot in our industry that the claim is the absolute – that is the promise that insurers give is the payment of that claim.  But I think the promise is evolving now, it’s not just the claim, it’s the continued support of your health and your family as well and I think that’s incredible.

I was going to say as well, I know we’re sort of like coming towards the end of the time now but I did want to just say that I’m really, really pleased to see AIG’s new critical illness offering and the way it’s been designed.  I think it’s an absolute gamechanger and it’s something that I think, you know, advisers and insurers I think have all spoken about for a long, long time and I know as advisers we’ve been saying, you know, “This would be absolutely amazing if we could have something like this,” and obviously to see AIG really leading the way with that is lovely to see and I was very excited to see that when it came out the other week.

Alison:         Yeah, that’s great feedback, thanks Kathryn.  We all appreciate that.

Kathryn:       I – well we even are on to the truth or lie feature.

Alison:         Ah, yes.

Kathryn:       So we’re at that stage where we’re going to be saying a truth or lie so I shall go first.  So what I am going to be saying is – and we’re going to go with a Christmas theme ‘cos I have seen some people on social media already putting up Christmas trees.  I am going to be putting up my Christmas tree two weeks before Christmas.  And Alison, what are you going to be doing?

Alison:         I’m going to put my Christmas tree up on Christmas Eve.

Kathryn:       Okay, well let’s see what people think.  Thank you everybody for listening to Alison and me and thank you Alison so much for joining me.

Alison:         Thank you Kathryn.

Kathryn:       It’s been lovely having you on.  Next time I’m going to be speaking with Paul Moore from Winston’s Wish.  It’s a childhood bereavement charity and we’ll be chatting about how they offer their services to policyholders for some insurance policies and just where they stand out.  I think that, you know, we can just hear from the fact that what kind of a charity, you know, the focus is.  You can immediately tell that it’s an absolutely essential service.  If you’d like a reminder of the next episode, please do drop me a message on social media or visit the website www.practical-protection.co.uk.  And don’t forget that if you are listening to this as part of your work, you can claim a CPD certificate on the website too.  Thank you Alison.

Alison:         Thank you Kathryn, bye.

Kathryn:       Bye.

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Alison Esson - Added Value Services

Hi everyone, this week I am chatting to Alison Esson, Propositions Manager from AIG.

Alison is the added value services guru within the protection industry, leading much of the developments that have happened in this area. Added value services are the extras that help policyholders and their immediate family, throughout their policy. It's not just about the claim anymore!

Alison is talking about her journey working at Bright Grey and now being a part of AIG, shouting the benefits of these long-term support services.

The 3 key takeaways:

  1. The reasons why insurers offer support services to clients.
  2. How things like remote 24/7 GP appointments, second medical opinions services, nutrition and fitness advice, have been so essential during the coronavirus pandemic.
  3. Stats and clear examples of how these value added services can be life changing for policyholders and their children.

Next week I will be chatting with Paul Moore from Winstons Wish, a childhood bereavement charity. We are going to be talking about their services and how it's so important to make sure that children are properly supported, when they experience a significant loss.

Kathryn:       Hi everyone, today I have Alison Esson with me, the protection propositions manager from AIG.  Hi Alison!

Alison:         Hi Kathryn!

Kathryn:       Alison is joining me to give us an in-depth view of what value-added services actually mean, the practical benefits that are there for the client and why you should be shouting about these from the rooftops.  This is the Practical Protection podcast.  Alison, how are you doing?  What is the latest with you?

Alison:         Hi Kathryn, I am doing really well thank you.  Pretty much B.A.U. in the Esson household.  I’m a homeworker anyway, yeah, so no travel to London has actually been a benefit or a positive for me so all good, working hard and my husband usually works away as well so he’s been at home with me all this time so I’m probably one of the few people who’s probably quite enjoyed this whole lockdown restriction thing.

Kathryn:       Yeah, I was going to say, that’s really nice actually isn’t it?  I know we found it like especially – ‘cos I used to generally work at home – like I’d work in the office when the kids were at school then I’d be at home and doing maybe little bits of work but generally trying not to work obviously when I’m with them but Alan would usually be doing quite late nights and so since March he’s seen them more than he’s seen them in such a long time and, you know, it just – he just keeps saying now, he’s just like, “Right, you know, that’s it,” and we’re actually changing it around in regards to the way that everybody’s working hours are just so that we can really plan it.

Alison:         Yeah.

Kathryn:       I think even more so than before, we were always really family-orientated all of us but I think even more so it’s just like, “Yeah, you know what, we really, really want to make sure we’re all at home with our families.”  It’s been nice in that way for that but obviously it’s difficult in different ways.

Alison:         Has its challenges.

Kathryn:       Yes.

Alison:         Yes I’m sure but – no but I’m sure actually a lot of people have just thought it’s an opportunity just to reset in many ways I think.

Kathryn:       Yeah, absolutely, absolutely.  So I’m sure you’re quite familiar with the way that the podcast works and one of the things we do is the truth or lie feature at the end of each episode.  So last time, Ross Linnet said that his favourite Halloween film is Beetlejuice and I said that mine is Interview With A Vampire.  So who do you think was lying?

Alison:         Well Kathryn, I did follow your world cup of Halloween films and if I recall I think Ross might be lying?

Kathryn:       Ooh, actually Ross is telling the truth!

Alison:         No, I thought that – oh my word, it was so difficult Kathryn!  I thought you just like – all of them – aw – I thought you really liked the vampires.

Kathryn:       I know, I did absolutely – I do really, really love Interview With A Vampire and I was very annoyed.  I don’t understand how the sexy vampires did not get further through in that world cup of Halloween films.  But I have to say my ultimate is actually The Rocky Horror – it has to be Rocky Horror Picture Show.  I love that one.

Alison:         Yeah, okay.

Kathryn:       A bit light-hearted there to start everything off before we start getting into the nitty gritty side of things.  So obviously I think that there’s many, many people who are going to be listening to this who know that AIG obviously offer the Smart Health services and you are the go-to guru absolute fountain of all knowledge in regards to this.  So I think what would be really, really good is to just sort of like – if we sort of like take each part in some ways and just explain and obviously this is part of AIG’s but other insurers as well also have maybe some kind of similar offerings and we’ve discussed RedArc before, we’ve discussed Square Health a little bit before so it would be really good to just see how it all comes together.  So can you start off please by sort of like telling us what a value-added service is and why it’s now kind of – well I see it as kind of now the biggest area of competition between insurers?

Alison:         Yeah, well it’s quite interesting.  I think I have to go back a few years, Kathryn, just to build up a picture of how we got there.  So they did start as added extras.  So the intention was that customers were given something that they could relate to or they could use with their insurance because as you know, obviously, the terms on a protection plan can be 20, 25 years.  We all know the challenges when customers buy them, you know, that whole phrase of, “Put it in the drawer and forget about it.”  So these services were added on as a way of helping customers remember that they had them but give them a little bit extra that they could use, maybe not day-to-day but something that they could give, you know, that tangible value to their protection policy.

So things like legal helplines that you could use if you had a problem, I don’t know, with a neighbour’s hedge or you might want to speak to an employment lawyer if you’re having a couple of issues at work and also I’ve seen some tax helplines as well so not really relevant to the insurance itself and I’m not sure that many people would want to speak to an accountant every day but nonetheless, you know, they were added on for free and then they could use them but they weren’t well-communicated to the customer and therefore they weren’t used very often but they’ve been around for years.

But I think the turning point was when Bright Grey added on Helping Hands, so the RedArc service and I think from a proposition point of view that was quite a, you know, that was a turning point in the value-added service market I would call it now.  So these services were obviously more health-orientated but they were used really only at the point of claim so again you kind of had that same issue where, you know, it can do so much but quite late down in the policy’s life time maybe, when people were claiming and also, you know, not everybody claims on their policy.

So that’s when they really started to evolve so insurers I think took a look at what people were going through when they claims on their policies so they looked more at how they could really respond to that from a customer point of view.  So I think what’s become apparent about these so-called value-added services is that they’re now changing the insurance that people are buying.  Their service is providing value every day so we talk about GP service that can be used, you know, literally every day for the family.  I know you’ve got three boys, Kathryn, I’m sure, you know, they present their own challenges ‘cos they just get sick when, you know –

Kathryn:       Absolutely.

Alison:         Whenever so we see them now as really integrated to the insurance or integrated services that they are more aligned to peoples’ everyday health and wellbeing needs and they are so much more valuable in that sense.  So that’s why I think so many more providers are looking at that but there’s always that baseline that people have to respond to and I think it really was back in the day that Bright Grey really set the mark for us to up our game.

Kathryn:       I think it’s one of those things, like you say, you know, obviously I’ve got three kids, three young boys and especially during lockdown when you’ve not been able to sort of – I think, you know, it’s one of those things as an adviser, it’s always something obviously, you know, that you’ve been there, you’ve been advising on, you’ve been making people aware of it but lockdown itself has just absolutely thrown it to the absolute forefront of why it’s so, so important and the amount of people when I’m advising them and obviously I know we were chatting a little bit beforehand and, you know, there are times that, you know, depending on different clients’ situations sometimes AIG is a good option for my clients, sometimes others can be, you know, good options as well but, you know, when you have that option to potentially say to people, you know, like, “You could have this and –” you know, it’s sometimes obviously AIG are the cheapest and sometimes AIG aren’t the cheapest but when you say to people, “Look at how, you know, potentially sort of like it’s maybe just the slightest – hardly anything –”  The main example that always sticks out for me is somebody where it ended up being an extra £3.60 per year for them to have AIG over –

Alison:         A year?

Kathryn:       Yeah, over the cheapest provider so I was just like –

Alison:         Wow.

Kathryn:       “Okay, so an extra 30p – an extra 30p a month, you’re going to get all this for you, your partner and your kids,” and immediately – there wasn’t even – there wasn’t even a second’s thought by the person.  They were just like, “I’ll have it,” you know, and I think that’s a massive thing and I think when we’re chatting, especially during lockdown to people, it really stands out to me when I turn around and say to them, “You could have access to a remote GP with this and, you know, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”  It’s – again, people are just – you can hear that people are kind of like, at first – I suppose sometimes people may be a little bit dubious like, “Well hang on a minute, how does that work, you know, because this is an insurance policy,” you know, but you’re trying to explain it and everything but people are liking it, they really, really are liking it.

Alison:         Yeah.  I mean, I know we’ll go on and talk a bit more about the services but, you know, the GP service – and we did do some research before, you know, we launched our own service and, you know, it came out loud and clear the challenges that people have, you know, pre-lockdown of getting hold of a GP so being able to use the GP services during lockdown when they were still a bit worried about going to the surgery and not all surgeries are the same, you know.  Some have probably responded better than others, you know, with remote appointments but yeah, just that ability to just get on the phone when you need to and we’ll talk about it more but people getting used I think to using them so if anything I think remote services have really been a winner in the lockdown situation which means it’s a winner for customers as well.

Kathryn:       Absolutely, I was going to say – going back to sort of like ourselves as well so we’re in Filey in North Yorkshire.  We have an absolutely incredible GP and, you know, the GPs here are absolutely lovely but there is one GP for the entire town which – we’re not a big town but it’s still, you know, and just from sheer workloads and resources and everything, it’s before – especially before lockdown, you were lucky if you could get a doctor’s appointment within three or four weeks.  So having something like this – just – I mean, absolutely for us, really, really does stand out and I think – as I say, you know, when I advise clients, it’s something that kind of leads a lot of the way actually, you know, this kind of a discussion and when we did it a few years ago abroad, we were in Malta and I was worried about one of my children.  There was just something I’d never noticed, nothing urgent or anything but something I noticed and we just went, “Well why don’t we use our, you know, use this service?” and it was amazing because obviously we were there, 12 o’clock, by the poolside, video consultation with a UK GP.  We didn’t have to worry about language barriers.

Alison:         No.

Kathryn:       It was – straightaway we, you know, it was the night time, we booked it for the next day for our lunchtime, we knew we had that appointment and it was absolutely incredible.  How does – I suppose a good thing to know would be, how does the GP service work alongside like the NHS GP services?  How does that mix?

Alison:         Fundamentally, you know, a GP service will give customers options so it’s a complement to the NHS service. So it’s a way of scheduling a chat with a GP if you’ve got a concern and if you book a remote appointment it means that you can take the time to ask the GP questions that you wouldn’t ordinarily get the time to with an NHS GP because, you know, they’re constrained, you know, you’ve got 10 minutes to get in there, you know, they’re just trying to get through all the appointments that they have on the day so it’s supplementary to the NHS service I would say.  So it’s a real luxury to be able to arrange a dedicated time for yourself to discuss your health concerns.  So, you know, in the industry most appointments are 20 to 30 minutes long for a GP service so that’s already much longer than the time that you can get with an NHS GP.  So this means customers can discuss options and next steps if they want to talk about a referral for example.

So GPs also get the customer’s agreement to send the notes across to their own NHS GP so this means that there’s continuity of care.  They do complement each other so – but our customers are loving the service.  Requests for the GP appointments, you know, they’ve doubled since the first lockdown in March and they’ve remained at that level since.  Yeah, so people are really used to using this service and they’re happy to come back.  So almost 40% of appointments are repeats so users are – customers are willing to use the remote service and are getting – I think they’re gaining trust in them as well and just one final point on that, so in terms of, you know, how it works with the NHS, about 30% of our requests for a GP appointment are outside working hours, so after eight o’clock and before nine o’clock in the morning so, you know, the remote GP services are supporting clients when a traditional surgery appointment just isn’t possible for them.

Kathryn:       I think that’s – yeah, that’s really, really incredibly important because, you know, I think many of us, you know, there’s obviously quite a lot of people at the moment who have been obviously unfortunately furloughed or have lost their jobs, you know, so in a sense being able to go to those appointments during the days are not as hard for them possibly because, you know, they do obviously – I’m not assuming that’s okay, it’s just, you know, that is the unfortunate situation that they’re in but there are many, many of us who are actually – our workloads have probably increased far more and, you know, even though we’re working at home, possibly even that divide between, you know, that home and then work balance, you know, we’re probably working even longer hours.  I know I have been doing recently and –

Alison:         Yeah, yeah.

Kathryn:       It can be pretty intense and then to even – even when you’re doing that to be able to step away because you’re then – because obviously everything’s changed so much and so much inter­connectivity -–well if that person’s unable to work then your workload increases.  You know, I think that’s obviously incredibly important to know that it is available but like you say, at any point, and it really is that thing of, at a time that suits you and I don’t think I’ve ever – I mean, I’ve got the AIG option through my – the group insurance that we have at Cura.  I do also on my personal insurance have access to Square Health and their GP appointment booking system and I have to say, both of those facilities I’ve used at different times and I’ve never – I’ve never had it where there’s not been an appointment available.  There’s always been at least an appointment for me to choose from –

Alison:         Yeah.

Kathryn:       Which I think is actually absolutely phenomenal, that there’s that much of it available but what you were saying there as well about, what was it, 40% of people are coming back and reusing it?  I mean, that’s brilliant.

Alison:         It is and I think it just shows that, you know, as I say, people are willing to try something or they’re willing – they understand that they need to do something about, you know, something that’s wrong with them.  I’ll use myself as an example, that’s always easy isn’t it?  So I’ll find any excuse not to go to the doctor.  I’m really, really bad for not going.  I’m one of these people that’ll just go, “Oh do you know what, I’ll just – it will go away, whatever it is.  It’ll go away.”

Kathryn:       You sound like my husband.

Alison:         But actually using this service – I’ve used it three times myself – I’ve used it three times myself now and that’s something I probably wouldn’t have done with my own GP so it allows people to, you know, step in earlier.  It can only be a good thing for their longer-term health can’t it?  You know, you get things seen to earlier.

Kathryn:       ‘Cos I was going to say, there’s meant to be – obviously I’m hearing quite a few things, not sort of like – I’m not saying that I’m completely in the know medically and all that kind of stuff but, you know, we are hearing these reports of the amount of cancer diagnoses that – the amount that happened this year obviously statistically have dropped dramatically and the fact of the matter is that cancer hasn’t disappeared, it’s just that people haven’t had access to go and get those appointments which is incredibly scary to think of the long-term knock-on effect and obviously having these kinds of appointments –

Alison:         That’s right.

Kathryn:       Even though, you know, we’re not saying that we’re going to be able to catch all of everything, you know, even – it’s just – even if it’s that initial – like you were saying, the referral service so you can speak to somebody and they can say, “Right, okay, you know,” if someone speaks to them in that kind of situation where there’s a concern, it’s not going to be a case of, “Ooh well I’ll just wait until lockdown –” it’s going to be a case of, “No, you’re getting referred,” and then it’s still going to be accessed which is incredible.

Another thing that’s on offer as well is the second medical opinion services.  As I said, I’ve spoken to Steve Casey before and Sue Kinsella on here from the different services their organisations can provide but I haven’t had a chance yet to have a good chat about Best Doctors.  I know a bit about Best Doctors.  I’ve heard a few – obviously there’s an incredibly powerful case study with Best Doctors that I do actually use to describe the benefit of it to the team when I’m training our new advisers and also sometimes to clients as well. Can you tell us more about Best Doctors please?

Alison:         I certainly will.  So yeah, Best Doctors is an absolutely amazing service so it gives people the opportunity to get a second opinion if they’ve had a diagnosis.  They also get the opportunity to discuss their treatment plan just to make sure, you know, that it’s, you know, just a peace of mind thing really so they can have it that they’ve got the right diagnosis or sometimes they’ve been struggling to get a diagnosis.  So it’s provided by Teledoc Health and really what it does is it opens the door to clinics all over the world.  So you get access to, you know, world-leading specialists in clinics in maybe California, you know, it could be Australia, could even be in the UK and what it does, it gives you access to I think it’s over 50,000 specialists in over 450 areas of medicine, you can get a second opinion.  So, you know, the expert will review your case.  So they get your medical records, managed by a GP in the UK.  They’ll review your diagnosis and your treatment plan and they’ll come back with a report.  So in most cases, you know, the consultant will say, “Yeah, you’ve got the right diagnosis.”  They might make a recommendation that the treatment plan could be slightly different for you in your case or they’ll say, “Yeah, actually the treatment plan is good.”  But the real benefit is when you get one of those cases where, you know, the diagnosis is changed or the treatment plan is changed and I know, Kathryn, you’ve spoken to Vicky Churcher.  She is probably – I don’t think there is any better way of highlighting the real impact of Best Doctors when you look at Vicky’s case really.

Kathryn:       Absolutely.

Alison:         You know, I can sit and talk about the report and the specialist but for anybody listening who’s maybe heard the Vicky story or those who haven’t heard Vicky’s story, I would recommend that they go and listen to your podcast where Vicky herself tells her story.

Kathryn:       Yeah.

Alison:         Just briefly, you know, she was – she’d had a heart attack and what she said was, what Best Doctors did for her was to understand why she was having the heart attack and it transpired, you know, it was hereditary and had an impact on her daughters and the diagnosis so it was more than just, “You’ve had a heart attack, patch you up, you know, get you back.”  You know, the Best Doctors just took it that one step further to understand, you know, why is this happening and when they found out it was hereditary, you know, they could act on it for the family too.

Every insurer is different.  AIG gives Best Doctors to all our CI claimants for three years after that, even when their plan comes to an end so when you think about it, they’ve had their diagnosis, they’re into the treatment phase, so this is really where Best Doctors comes into play as it were.  Obviously, you know, it’s a service to be used any time you want to get a diagnosis checked but from a protection insurance point of view, it’s that point after claim that it really can give support and get people, you know, if the treatment’s – they just feel it’s not working for them, you can get that second opinion or if they’re worried about the surgery that’s been recommended, they can get that opinion so as I say, it just opens those clinic doors that you wouldn’t ordinarily ever be able to access.

Even in the first year, you know, this year with Smart Health shall we say, we’ve already had people benefitting from a change of diagnosis.  So yeah – so the volumes aren’t high ‘cos, you know, it is high, you know, impact stuff and all the rest but yeah, 30% of people who used it got a second – a new diagnosis and there have also been cases for children.

Kathryn:       Wow.

Alison:         Yeah, yeah.  It’s, you know, it does actually happen, you know, all insurers – well most insurers do offer the service so, you know, we can say, you know, people do actually get a different diagnosis and they do get treatment recommendations as well so it’s not a service that delivers nothing other more than just a peace of mind, you know, there is an impact to it and for children as well we’ve had four child cases as well.  Yeah.

Kathryn:       Right, yeah, that absolutely gets to, you know, that straight away for me is, you know, obviously mum of three young kids, it’s – I don’t think there’s sort of like many parents that would sort of like hear that and not think, “Right, yeah, okay, yeah I absolutely want to make sure that I’ve got access to something like that,” because it’s – obviously it’s really scary as well that – I mean, obviously – not saying that it’s going to happen all the time but it is scary how a diagnosis could be wrong in the first place ‘cos you – obviously we do trust – obviously and the NHS is a fantastic, absolutely phenomenal service that we have here in the UK but very, very worryingly if that’s what’s happening and then potentially I suppose it’s – sorry, I’m kind of like – my head’s spiralling into the knock-on effects of, you know, sort of that diagnosis.  If that’s wrong then could the treatment plans be completely wrong?  Could treatment be missed that needs to be done or could it be treatment be given that’s actually not needed and then causes harm in a different way that’s – there’s so many aspects to that.  So that’s incredible.

Alison:         Yeah and as I say, you know, low volume stuff but again referring back to Vicky’s story, you know, if you ever were to hesitate about using that service then just listen to her story.

Kathryn:       Yeah.

Alison:         Because you just don’t know, you know, the impact and the benefit it could have to you or somebody else in your family for sure.

Kathryn:       Absolutely.  I think as well with Vicky’s case, I think she was saying obviously with some of her children – I think even extended family members, the ones who are of a young age are now on medication that will prevent them having a heart attack.

Alison:         Yes, yeah.

Kathryn:       And I mean that’s, you know, for one – before I obviously heard Vicky’s story, I didn’t even know you could take medication to prevent a heart attack.  I knew obviously about the things post-heart attack.  I didn’t realise – I’m kind of there thinking, “Well should everybody have this medication?”  You know?  It’s kind of well – I’m one of those people that – I’ll be vaccinated against everything, I will take it all, sort of like – nth degree, you know, kind of protecting yourself but it’s absolutely – it is really, really powerful stories like this where they stand out.

Another key area is mental health which is obviously something that I am very, very keen on and like to hear about what’s happening, what different people have to offer.  It’s something I’m really passionate about.  I know that insurers can sometimes offer mental health support to the policyholders across all the different kinds of protection, so we’re talking personal, business and group.  I wonder if – like employees, dependent – either in big or small organisations, you know, I think it doesn’t really matter, you know, for sort of like the companies who do offer this kind of service to their employees, I do sometimes wonder if employees are maybe worried that if they access something like that, that the boss will find out, that there’ll suddenly be a – like an annual review or something.  There’ll be a little marker on there saying, “Well someone’s been accessing the mental health services,” and then the teams all start kind of like going in and thinking, “Right, who’s been doing this?” you know, maybe wondering if it ups the premiums and stuff if they’ve accessed it.  How does it work when it comes to the mental health side of things?  I do believe that there’s a lot of confidentiality in place isn’t there?

Alison:         There very much is and it’s a really good question and I’m really glad you’ve asked it to be honest because I think there is a worry if you work for a company and you have the services and it’s – there’s always that thing about the mental health service isn’t there and people are always a bit wary and, you know, it can take time to think, “Oh god, you know, do I need a bit of help?”  So I’m glad you’ve asked that question.  So I think the best way to frame it is, you know, an employer’s taken that first important step, you know, they’ve gone and sourced the services to make available so, you know, the employer is recognising that people will need some help.  We all know the stats.  One in four will suffer a mental health problem at some time so they’ve taken that first step and they told their employees what’s available and of course how to access them.  So to me that is, you know, the employer’s done that, “They’re available, please go and use them.”

Kathryn:       Yeah.

Alison:         But that’s that worry that, you know, you don’t need to go and ask the employer to use them, you know, you can go and use them on demand so effectively they’ve – I use the word ‘empowered’ but, you know, they’ve effectively given them the tools to – when they’re ready, if they’re ready, if they need to, that’s the thing.  So they’ve taken that first step and they’ve already been paid for as well so there’s no cost, they don’t need to go and ask to use them, they don’t need to worry about, “Oh is this going to cost them money?  You know, am I going to be a drain, you know?”  It’s just all this negativity that can build up in using them so generally I think how the services all work is that the person can just get straight in contact with the provider.

It could be an EAP, as you know, or it could be something like Smart Health or the other services available on the market as well.  They’ll all speak to a counsellor or in some cases a GP first so they can understand, you know, what’s affecting them, what’s the best way to help them and then from that the way forward they’ll work with their psychologist or their counsellor to understand the root causes, what’s causing the issue but more importantly obviously how they can work together to make things better, depending on the frequency, depending on who’s helping them, is it a psychologist or a counsellor?  But going back to your original point, the employer has made these available, you know, they want people to go and use them.  Effectively, “We’ve put it in place and if you need to, please go and use them.”

You mentioned confidentiality.  Obviously all companies will get some form of information about who’s using the service but only in terms of volume.  So they’ll understand – so if they’re running like a health and wellness week or program and then they’ll talk about the services, then they’re going to go and look to see how effective those internal campaigns have been and whether their employees have engaged with the service but never down to the level of who, you know, male or female or age.  Nothing like that.  It’s a purely sort of transactional thing from an employer point of view.

Kathryn:       That’s really good to know and I think there’s a couple of things there that kind of stand out for me as well – sort of like thinking about the benefits of them.  I think a big thing obviously, as an employer myself I think it’s really, really important employers remember to kind of periodically send out that information to people so employees don’t feel they need to ask someone, “Oh where’s that number?”  You know, so it’s very – again keep the confidentiality aspect, make sure it’s available, maybe employee handbooks which should be obviously always accessible.  What is quite a good thing every now and then is sort of like just a little email shot around the company just to say, “Just remember that these are available,” because like you say, they are there and we’re wanting to make sure that staff are fine but going back to things that you said earlier as well, accessing the GP 24 hours a day, like you say and possibly speak to a GP first and maybe, you know, it’s giving people as well if they are experiencing maybe some kind of a mental health event, they’re getting access.

So instead of it being restricted to NHS availability times, it’s being opened up to even more people and also at times where they don’t need to feel that – I know we’re in lockdown at the moment obviously but, you know, they’re not having to like hide around the corner at work on their lunchbreak and try to speak to somebody and hope that colleagues don’t overhear.  They’re just at home and – or in the car whatever, you know, it’s in their own space at their own time which – that in itself, having that kind of sort of like flexibility to kind of own how the journey is going to start, for someone with mental health, that can be incredibly – that in itself can be incredibly empowering.

Alison:         Yeah, and it’s just removing all possible barriers from people accessing the services.  The other thing that we found is that people are speaking to the GP so, you know, we – there are a lot of GP appointments under our service but I think you’ll be interested to know, Kathryn, that once they’ve spoken to the GP, that same GP has actually referred the customer to the mental health service so they’ve not made that step to think they have a mental health problem but that they know something in themselves isn’t right.

Kathryn:       Yeah.

Alison:         They’ve gone and used a GP and then the benefit of being able to be referred on to a mental health service within the – say the Smart Health, sorry, but yeah – you know, again it’s not being passed on somewhere else where they need to start again.

Kathryn:       Yeah.

Alison:         You know, there’s that continuity so just removing the barriers and as you say, telling employees frequently about what’s available because in and out, people are tuned into these things or they’re, you know, just whatever – how they’re feeling.  I know at AIG, our HR team are really, really good at – every time we talk to our employees, they just remind them that they’ve got this service available to them.  So you’re right, just need to know just when the time’s right and you can just pick up the phone when you need to.

Kathryn:       Yeah absolutely.  I think as well, we were talking about – again it kind of like evolves on from what we’ve just been saying but with a lot of these extra value-added services it’s a lot of promotion of obviously self-care; physical and mental and emotional.  It’s kind of like – it’s not just for mental health, it’s also for all the other aspects as well which I think especially during lockdown where I think sometimes some of us are quite in tune with ourselves and know if we maybe need to access help.  Sometimes we’re not as in tune with ourselves and then suddenly have a moment where we’re just like, “Wow, I need support,” and with lockdown that can – the isolation of that can be felt even more so.

But there’s quite a few options with insurers to do things like, you know, kind of health checks when it comes to like protection insurance policies.  So I can probably very much guess probably the reasons for that but from your point of view as propositions manager, why do insurers think maybe like annual health checks or even if it – whether or not it’s something in person or whether or not it’s like an online kind of like questionnaire thing, what’s the sort of like thought basis behind that for insurers offering it?

Alison:         Yeah, so you’re right.  So there are various ways that people can get a health check but fundamentally it is another tool to encourage people to take action, take care of their health.  So it’s another example of empowering people to engage with their health but fundamentally taking action to improve it.  So for many people, it could be the first step in finding in what shape they’re in, you know, and some, you know, if you can just assume not everybody knows their numbers, you know, I couldn’t tell you what my blood pressure is right now but – so getting a health check makes you look at yourself, understand, “Oh my goodness, what is my blood pressure?  What’s my cholesterol?”

So getting your numbers, yeah, in our case it is an online questionnaire so know your numbers and it will churn out a report for you based on, you know, what your circumstances are and then it will signpost you to say, “Right, your BMI is too high or your cholesterol levels are too high.  Hmm, your blood pressure could be a bit lower,” and so the key thing is it will then tell you the next steps to take to mitigate that and that’s why it’s so important to – in a way it’s the sort of central point of feeding out to, “Well I might need to get fitter. Right, okay, I can go use the fitness service to go and do that or I need to lose weight.  Okay, how am I going to do that?  My blood pressure’s low – high – low, you know, speak to a GP.”  So you refer to the, you know, these services ‘cos in a way it’s the first step to understanding what shape you’re in and what you need to do and engage and take the steps to fix things basically.

Kathryn:       Absolutely.  I think the good point of that as well is that sort of, you know, some people obviously, they may be – I think I’m one of those people where I do generally eat quite well but I’m one of those people where I’m like, I’m slim but I’ve got like a really high body fat percentage so I know I need to do certain things –

Alison:         I don’t believe it!

Kathryn:       I do – what was it?  I used to do like a buggy fit camp after I had my third child and I think it was – the name was – what was it?  The sort of skinny fat person, in a sense really slim but inside there’s lots and lots of – yeah, and my children at the moment do enjoy coming up to me and going, “Mummy, you’re squishy!”  And it’s just like, “Yes, love you too.  Go away,” snarling at them.  But, you know, I think it’s a good thing because, you know, maybe to somebody – maybe like myself who is in a sense quite slim – if those numbers aren’t what you’d expect, you know, is maybe that realisation hitting home to say, “Well actually, okay, well, you may be slim but that’s not the end of it.”  Or maybe if somebody is eating really well and they are fit and healthy and those numbers aren’t what’s expected, maybe that’s – not all obviously, probably not the majority of times but there will be sometimes where that’s going to be a red flag for something else that absolutely needs some kind of more – like a GP intervention and starting to look further.

Alison:         Yeah.

Kathryn:       So I think, you know, anything like that that brings people’s – like if they’re concentrating their health to the front is absolutely essential so just moving on to another thing you were saying in some of the other bits, so like the nutrition –

Alison:         Yeah.

Kathryn:       Consultants, you know, that seems to be a really popular thing at the moment that’s being offered and I think it’s one of those things where, you know, clients maybe turn around and say, “Nutrition?” you know, kind of thing and I’ll – wondering why that is there and it’s the kind of thing where, well there’s two sides of it in some ways, you know, it’s – for one it’s – I say in a couple of ways – it’s like if someone’s focusing on their nutrition, is eating healthier then that’s obviously incredibly much better for them, it does mean that they’re obviously hopefully going to live longer because they’ve really been in tune with their body.  It’s also benefitting obviously to the insurer in many ways because, you know, if someone is fitter and healthier and in tune with their body, again, the likelihood of a claim does reduce.  So I think, you know, it’s mutually beneficial to everybody but I don’t think it should be seen as sort of like a tactic of, you know, sort of like insurers are doing something else to try and, you know, I think this – ‘cos people are asking sort of, you know, “So hang on a minute.  So they’re doing this so I’m less likely to make a claim?”  And you’re just like, “Yes, ‘cos that’s a very, very good thing.”  You know, it’s – we don’t want there to be a claim.  But in regards to the nutrition side of things –

Alison:         Yeah.

Kathryn:       What happens when somebody engages with that?  Can you take us kind of like through the steps?  I know it sounds daft but I know for me, I absolutely – I’ve gone off the bandwagon a little bit but also because I’ve not been feeling particularly well at the moment, I’m probably going to need to engage with some kind of nutritional service soon because I just – I know my body’s not in balance at the moment.  So what would happen if I were to contact, you know, what service should I go through?

Alison:         Right, well get in touch and you would obviously have concerns so you’re just feeling, “Hmm, something’s not quite right about me.”  So that really highlights that the nutrition service is more than just about losing weight, it’s more than just eating your five a day and I think, you know, that’s a really – I’m really glad you’ve asked the question about it too because it’s – it is – it does seem a little bit random doesn’t it to have it included as a part of a package but they know the science of your body and what food it does.  So, you know, you’ve heard the expression that food is medicine and that’s really what the nutritionists will help you with.  If you wanted to engage, you know, speak to a nutritionist and she’ll want to understand, “Well what is it you’re trying to achieve, Kathryn?”

Kathryn:       Yeah.

Alison:         So she’ll go through a bit of background as to, you know, why that might be, you know, obviously your general health, you know, ‘cos she’ll need to understand is it a health issue or is it just purely a food issue for example?  Is it you just want to lose weight for example?  So she’ll try to understand what your eating habits are, foods that you don’t like – you might have allergies or intolerances to food as well so she’ll try to build up a picture of, you know, your situation, what you like to eat, what you don’t like to eat and up until lockdown I guess we’ve all been – we were challenged basically with busy lives and cheating maybe?  So we weren’t eating as well as we could do but now we’re at home and we’re perhaps eating more than we should do or we’ve now got more time to look at our food, look at what we’re actually eating on a daily basis.

So she’ll want to understand what your goals are and I like to make sure that people think about the nutrition and the health thing as well so to give you some examples, it can be weight loss.  So you might have had that health check and they said, “Well you really need to lose weight ‘cos your BMI’s too high.”  So you might be eating in pregnancy so you need to eat healthily or you’re trying to conceive.  How can the nutritionist help with that around the vitamins that sort of thing?  It could be recuperation.  What should you be eating in your recuperation, you know, what portion sizes should you be eating?  That sort of thing.  Child nutrition?  I know you’ve got three boys, Kathryn.  I have no idea what mealtimes are like but –

Kathryn:       Manic.  Manic and you can always guarantee that one of them refuses to eat whatever’s in front of them and I will put my hands up and say that bribery with chocolate during lockdown, especially with home schooling, it happened.  I’m not going to lie.

Alison:         We’ve had our nutritionist run webinars about eating for your mood so things that can help you, that sort of thing.

Kathryn:       Yes.

Alison:         But really they’re there to respond to what you want to achieve.  So think about it as well in terms of like a family option as well so you talk about your three boys and one will refuse to eat or one – what have you, you know, it can really just help you work together as a family with the meal plans that they’ll give you, recipe suggestions and advice and we’ve even had one of the nutritionists diagnose somebody with a gluten intolerance that the customer just didn’t even know so that’s why it’s important I think just to really just try and showcase what we can actually do for people ‘cos it is more than just, “I want to lose weight.”  So we’ve seen all the fad diets, you know, they can cut right through that.

Kathryn:       Yeah.

Alison:         You know, they can help you about how much protein you should be eating.  You know, I’ve tried Weight Watchers, you know, and it kind of skews the way you eat because you think you can eat too much of one thing but actually that could be a bad thing.

Kathryn:       Yes.

Alison:         So getting a nutritionist’s view, I think, is something that we could all probably benefit from because we’ve all built up views on what’s good and what’s bad.  I think the other thing as well, bringing it back say to protection insurance, if somebody’s been diagnosed with cancer and they’re going through chemotherapy, you know, they’re maybe not eating, lost their sense of taste and smell and having access to a nutritionist could I think really help some people and really quite, you know, struggling with their health or a diagnosis and struggling to eat properly to be honest.

Kathryn:       Absolutely and I mean that absolutely hits home for me as well because my Dad has Parkinson’s so he lost his sense of taste and smell I think it was probably seven or eight years ago so he’s not been able to –

Alison:         Ah okay.

Kathryn:       It’s – I think that, out of everything, I think it’s what gets to him, bless him.  He can appreciate the textures but I just – every now and then, you know, you just think, “Oh can you imagine never being able – you literally are just eating for the necessity of eating not for the enjoyment?”  And actually that’s a big shock and I think as well there’s lots of other things in regards to Parkinson’s in regards to the transit of the food and everything through the digestive tract and stuff like that so it is – I do think it’s incredibly important.  I’ve done like that whole thing of, you know, when I was trying to be paleo for a while so I just wanted to eat all natural.  A few years ago I’d been vegan but then I struggled with energy levels quite a bit when I was vegan.

Alison:         Ah right, okay.

Kathryn:       So I had to stop and I became more pescatarian so that was better but then – I was going to say, it’s going to sound so daft but Alan – Alan was ridiculously ill in August with a stomach bug to the point –

Alison:         Oh gosh.

Kathryn:       It was one – we have no idea how he got it but it was one where they actually – it was like notifiable to the health agencies in England –

Alison:         Oh wow.

Kathryn:       Because they were just like –

Alison:         Oh my goodness.

Kathryn:       “Where have you been eating?  Where’s the food come from?  This is serious.”  No idea what he ate but it really has made me paranoid about food again so I’m completely off eating meat, fish at the moment, you know.  At the moment, because I’ve been really tired, someone said, “Cut out gluten, cut out dairy,” so I’m just like, “Okay but what can I eat?”

Alison:         Sounds like you need to speak to a nutritionist, Kathryn!

Kathryn:       I need to speak to the nutritionist, don’t I?

Alison:         Yeah.

Kathryn:       I absolutely need to because yeah, it’s been a bit intense actually but no, I really do need to speak to somebody.  I think sometimes, you know, in any case, just, you know, we hear all these diets, you know, I tried, what was it, the keto diet for a bit.  I think Alan was doing that and ‘cos we were doing so much fitness stuff, it was like, “Protein, yay, I can eat like bacon all day, brilliant, this is amazing.”  And we were doing stuff like that and then it’s – I kind of even feel myself that I’ve kind of at times – and it’s not something that I jump from one to one in a sense like quickly, but you do seem to get kind of drawn into one way and then it doesn’t seem completely right so you move away back to your normal and so you think, “Oh, I’ll try this one over here,” and it easy I think to get really drawn into those things.

Alison:         I think we’ve all been there and yeah, sometimes even when you do love food, I mean I love food, you know, anything that allows you to eat lots of the things you really like, you’re always going to be drawn to it, aren’t you, rather than the cutting out things and I think that’s where the nutritionists really just sort of like draw the line to say, “You can’t cut out whole food groups,” you know, that sort of thing.

Kathryn:       Yes.

Alison:         It gives you a balanced view.

Kathryn:       And then obviously we were chatting as well – I know you mentioned about the fitness side of things as well and it’s – I know that has obviously – fitness has had a massive focus during lockdown.  Something that really stands out in my mind, completely irrelevant to insurance but my sister lives in Italy and I remember obviously when Italy really went into lockdown even earlier than ourselves, seeing the videos of – there was an Italian fitness trainer just on top of his building doing like fitness classes and everyone was on their balconies in the cities like trying to follow him and stuff and I just remember seeing especially at that time in Italy, just the unity that they had actually was just absolutely incredible.  To me, I’ve sort of seen a few things about that which has been really interesting.  So Alan does like loads and loads of bootcamps.  He’s that person that’s throwing a tyre around on the beach and burpees and things like that and –

Alison:         Yeah.

Kathryn:       He’s always done stuff like that, massively so and then obviously all of a sudden his support groups, his fitness support groups have gone.  Alan especially, you know, fitness is his way of keeping on top of everything, you know, his fitness, any kind of stress that he may have and I know – I mean I absolutely credit Zumba and dancing with helping me with my mental health and it was really weird for Alan because he’d had ankle surgery last November/December time, so he really wasn’t still back up to doing his running again.  So he kind of lost, as I say, his main kind of outlets health-wise so I think we did what a lot of people did.  We did Joe Wicks every morning with the kids obsessively, absolutely stuck to that for about a month and then I became absolutely knackered doing them, “I’ll just stay out of that one.”  My body actually really isn’t designed for high intensity training and I’m really glad in some ways that I have a medical condition which means I can say, “That’s not designed for me, I don’t have to do it.”

Alison:         “I’m not doing it.”  Yeah.

Kathryn:       But, you know, it was really, really good and we were doing stuff like Cosmic Kids yoga and I’ve moved to doing – I found some incredible teachers on Zoom for Zumba and I am doing Zoom Pilates now as well and really, really good people and people that, especially like with the Pilates person with me because of my health, I was worried because there’s certain things I can’t do because of my health conditions even when it comes to Pilates and it was really lovely to speak to someone and who was like, “Well actually I’ve got the same health condition as you and I’ve been able to do this, this, this to help,” and even though we’re not the same, you know, and I could see them and see how they were doing stuff and it gave me more confidence in their ability and also sort of like different ways we had to adapt the exercises ‘cos like there’s certain things that I can do, I bend into a certain way potentially and my muscles won’t feel it whereas a regular person would do it, they’d either not be able to move that much or their muscles would be screaming and I would lucky in the Zoom call and just like be shaking my head and she’d know if I was shaking my head and then she would just immediately say, “Right,” just casually – just going, “If you can’t feel this, do it this way.”  And I was going to the next one thinking – and then I’d be like, “Oh wow!  That’s certainly something I haven’t felt before.”  It was really, really incredible.  But I think, you know, it’s hard and, you know, when I was asked to do sort of like a bit of a video about it – is how you’re balancing everything on top – it’s incredibly hard, really, really hard.

And there’s a thing I say, “Grandmas are an absolute godsend.”  So, you know, there are times that, you know, at the moment, now we’re back into the second lockdown, there is a childcare bubble, you know, so obviously my Mum is able to be here and help with the kids and I may be able to have a quick dance in another room or something or do some stretching.  It is that complete balance of, “Right, you know, if Alan’s doing exercise, I can’t,” and vice versa, you know, we’re having to really try and keep it balanced between the two of us.  If the schools weren’t open still then it would just absolutely go – like it did last time, it just had to completely stop.

But I think, you know, as I say, for me I know that the physical exercise side of things – I’m seeing loads of people on social media as well, the amount of us that are saying, “I need to do this, this is so important for my mental health,” and even people saying, “I didn’t realise how much this was actually helping with my mental health when I’ve not been able to do it.  It’s really – it’s showing me this.”

Again, you know, if I were to turn around and go, “Right, well I’m doing Zumba and Pilates, is there something else I should be trying in a sense?” and I wanted to engage with the fitness side of things, and I know there’s some options where, you know, you can potentially engage with specific gyms or potentially access specific apps on your phone where there’s like – again, kind of like high intensity sessions downloaded to your phone, you know, there’s that but how does it work in like the AIG side of this?  I know yours works slightly differently I think.

Alison:         It does, so that whole picture you painted there around flexibility and the gyms are closing down again, you know, you may not be able to get to a gym even under normal circumstances.  The fitness thing – it’s like all – it’s a bit like the nutrition service, you probably have a goal in mind about what you want to maybe achieve so even people who are maybe just, again maybe they’ve had their health check and said, “You need to do some more exercise or even just do some exercise.”  The fact that we’re sitting probably at desks longer even than the normal, you know, if you were commuting or working, so effectively you have a goal in mind and you contact the service to say, “Well, I’m sitting at my desk too long.  I really need to get fit.  Can you recommend an approach for me to get fit?”  Or you’re maybe somebody who’s at a moderate level of exercise and again maybe it was gym-based but they can’t do that anymore so ask for a program that will kind of tide them through that period to keep them exercising and maintaining fitness.  So it can also work for somebody like Alan who’s obviously very, very fit, make recommendations on a program that will allow him to keep that fitness going and alternatives while, you know, he can’t get to bootcamp or what have you.

So it’s really – like everything else around our service, it’s really what that individual wants to achieve, so how much time in the day do you really have to do exercise but trying to stretch you into doing something?  So we’ll recommend – it’s four or eight weeks so, you know, you can choose, “I want to focus on it for four weeks as it’s achievable,” or eight weeks if you think you’re really, you know, ready to make that commitment into getting fit.  And so they’ll give you exercises, stretches as well ‘cos some people are new to exercise or they’re just used to walking, you know, and it also kind of links in with the nutritionist as well.  So it’s not just about doing one, they’re trying to balance between your fitness and making sure that you don’t undermine for example with the eating.

Kathryn:       Yes.

Alison:         So it kind of joins them up and just talking, you know, health conditions as well, so as part of that assessment, if the fitness expert thinks, “Hmm, I’d probably like you to speak to a GP first before we embark on this,” so they will refer them to speak to the GP service and then come back into the fitness.  So I think the key thing is that it’s goal-orientated and it is tailored and they will provide information and programs and check in with you on how you’re going and if things aren’t working for you, go back and speak to them and say, “Nah, that just isn’t working,” or you found it’s too easy maybe, I don’t know, you know, just go in and get it changed to accommodate where you are in your fitness journey really.

Kathryn:       I really like the sound of that as well about the whole fact that, you know, if need be they’ll say you need to speak to a GP first because I think, you know, obviously all I do is speak to people with health conditions.  I speak with so, so many people with health conditions and I think it’s easy sometimes to start doing something like this and then, you know, you sort of like – you maybe do have something and then you can get demotivated quite quickly so like for myself, you know, like I know for me having the hypermobility syndrome, I know I can do things like HIIT sessions but I also know that one, they’re not actually particularly good for me the way that my body is set up.  Some people with hypermobility may be fine but they’re not particularly good for me and also I know that I’m not going to be able to do it as well as I want to be able to do it because I’m kind of – I’m already kind of physically limited to some things which then kind of reminds me that I’m not – I’m going to do bunny quote ears, “I’m not normal,” and, you know, then that kind of puts a negativity on it and it kind of all kind of just spirals and that.

So I think having something like that is really useful and also, you know, if people are maybe, you know, they’ve had this where they’re saying, you know, “You’ve got high blood pressure, you’ve got this and that,” but maybe things that are tallying up – like you were saying, in some circumstances, it could be that someone hasn’t been particularly unhealthy eating or particularly unfit but then they’re going to suddenly start and embark on something but their actual body chemistry is completely out of what it should be in the normal ranges.  Having that person there to say, “Well actually, before you start just running into this, can we just check everything over and make sure that we’re going in this from the right mindset straight away and make sure there’s nothing else kind of underlying that’s possibly been missed?”

Alison:         Yeah, and it’s also good, you know, again just, you know, thinking – like you say, we’re in the protection industry and that sort of thing.  You know, it can also help with people who’ve come out of hospital for example and just help again with just discussing options about coming out of hospital or recuperating, that sort of thing.  All in conjunction with the nutritionist as well, you know, it really does sort of tally up to be a really supportive package for people.

Kathryn:       We were saying, you know, how you don’t go to the GP generally and I’m sort of like thinking about Alan and – anyway, he’s the same and I’m just thinking how I would be saying to him, “Contact,” and, you know, he’d probably be saying to me, “No.”  And I’d be like, “What would you be saying to the kids?  If it was the kids, would you be contacting them for checking?”  That’s how I do it, I guilt-trip it that way.  It’s a trick I learned from my Mum.  You know, I think that, you know, again though, you know, even if you’re not sure about it for yourself, just having that in mind as well to remember for your family – your immediate family, just how important something like that can be.

And I know obviously with the value-added services, as I say I’ve used it, I’ve used it for all of my children now.  With my eldest, he had sort of like a bit of a – he just had something going on with his skin and everyone kept saying it was eczema and I was convinced it wasn’t eczema ‘cos it had been going on so long.  He would scream when the medicine went on and something, as I say we were on holiday that time, something happened and his skin had just changed ever so slightly and I just did – I did the thing, you know, I googled and I spoke to them and just said – I was like – I said, “I’m not a medical doctor but obviously I am his Mum, I’ve seen all this.  It’s sounding – I’ve done a bit of research and it sounds a bit like this.  Is it within the realms of possibility?”  And they were just like, “Yeah.”  So we went from him having, what was it, five or six years’ worth of treatment for eczema to trying a slightly different cream to it being cleared up within two weeks and –

Alison:         Wow.

Kathryn:       Three or four years down the line and obviously I completely understand that eczema is the initial go-to that people are going to think of ‘cos it’s the most common but, you know, it just didn’t seem quite right and it was nice to just have that kind of opportunity, you know, like more than the 10 minutes to sit there and just kind of – and I suppose sometimes you feel a little bit intimidated as well when you’re actually sat in an office with a doctor to sort of like go, “Well, I’m kind of disagreeing with you.”  That kind of thing.

Alison:         Yeah, yeah.

Kathryn:       Or on the phone it’s obviously – when you’re able to write out all that message as well because another thing with these is that you can send pictures beforehand, you can write messages –

Alison:         That’s right, yeah.

Kathryn:       To say, “This is what’s happening.”  So that GP can really prepare.  I’m not saying obviously to challenge GPs, you know, constantly or anything but sometimes when you know things just don’t feel right, to just have that ability, you know, maybe using the full second medical opinion service or –

Alison:         Yeah, I was going to say.

Kathryn:       Using the GP just to contact and say, “Is this actually okay?”  Another child, you know, lots of issues with the ear and they thought there had been a perforated eardrum but we’ve continued to have some issues throughout this year and I think as well, because where we are, it’s not easy getting GP appointments and you can only tend to get them if it’s kind of like on the day if it’s a bit of what’s known as an emergency and they’re – even those are limited and there are times, you know, sort of like I have maybe been at some point and they’d said, “Oh possibly come back if you need to,” but with the lockdown, you don’t want to bother people, you don’t want to waste their resources, their protective equipment.  You don’t want to take it away from someone who’s possibly really, really ill then using this kind of service, you can contact and just say, “Look, I have a child.  This is the history, this is what’s happening.  Am I being daft?”  And then, you know, if they turn around and say to you, “Get them in for an emergency appointment because even if it isn’t an emergency, it’s their ear, it’s their hearing.  Yes, it’s not sort of like – they’re not having a heart attack or something but they need to be seen.”

Alison:         Yeah, absolutely.

Kathryn:       And it gives you that confidence then when you ring the GP and the receptionist says to me, “Is it an emergency?” that you can turn around and just go, “Yes,” and you don’t feel bad because you just say, “Yes, I’ve spoken with a private GP,” like I say private GP ‘cos I know it’s not technically a private GP but you know, it’s the way that I –

Alison:         Well, it is.

Kathryn:       Yes, it is.  I always feel I have to be a little bit careful when I say private medical insurance, try not to sort of like cross the line or anything and I’ll say, “I’ve spoken to a private GP and they said that this child needs to be seen today.”  And, you know, you just feel so much better and then when you actually see the medical professional in person, they’re just like, “Yeah, of course, it’s absolutely fine, don’t worry,” and stuff but, you know, it’s – you do kind of feel at the moment sometimes as if you are – as if you – I sometimes feel as if I shouldn’t be contacting the NHS GP and I think this is kind of giving me that option to feel a bit more confident.

Alison:         Yeah, I mean I agree with you, Kathryn.  I – actually something similar happened last week to me.  So I used the GP and I thought, “Aah.”  It was my ear and the same sort of thing as like, yeah, you’re right – hearing, you don’t mess around with hearing do you?  Because it’s quite fundamental to everyday life basically.  So similar thing, she said, “No.  I think, you know, you’ve sent me pictures but I think you really need to be seen face to face,” so phone one of the surgeries and say something similar, you know, blah blah blah, you know, it’s advisable that I do see someone and then you’re right, you’ve been – I use the word ‘empower’ a lot but you’re right, it’s the confidence to know that you’ve had that advice and you are there for a very good reason, to be seen and take action.  So you’re right, it’s just being able to look after themselves and not worry that they’re using up resources, you know, worrying about going to your local GP if you don’t really need to but at the same time, you’re still looking after yourself and making sure that things get, you know, seen to when they should do.

Kathryn:       Absolutely.  So would you like to – I know obviously we’ve spoken generally about the lots of different aspects of value-added services but is there anything that you’d like to say in regards to what AIG are offering in regards to the Smart Health?

Alison:         Yeah, I know, thanks Kathryn.  Yeah, we’ve talked through all those six services that are available under Smart Health and the theme that we’ve been talking through is just that there’s no – we don’t put any limitations on people using any of the services, you know, with, you know, you’ve talked about your boys and GP appointments, you know, just having that peace of mind knowing that you can just use them when you need to and be it out of hours or just to get some advice as well.  You talked there about the second medical opinion and just gave an excellent example about, you know, something wrong with the skin and you just feel that it just wasn’t right, there’s another tool there for you just to get, you know, as a Mum, a parent, get some peace of mind.

But fundamentally, you know, Smart Health is – it’s all constructed for people to get the support they need for, you know, body and mind, just when they absolutely need it and, you know, the expression is, “Please use it, it’s there to be used,” and we’re seeing some great stats – GP usage through lockdown has just doubled and stayed that way so people are really happy to use it.  As I said, you know, about 40% of people are repeat users so, you know, that means to me that just signifies that they’re really happy with the service and they do tell us they are happy to use the remote services when they need to.  Another really important aspect again as a kind of a reference is that being able to refer on to other services, so mental health for example or even getting a referral letter into your NHS or PMI as well.  So it’s just making sure that people are able to seek the expert opinion they need day to day when we’re still in this crazy world of lockdown.

Kathryn:       I think, yeah, as I say, all of this is incredible and, you know, lockdown – I think we’d all want to not have lockdown showing us how good it is.  We shouldn’t need a lockdown to show us how good it is but it really is at this moment – it shows just, you know, how important these aspects are and how these insurances aren’t, you know, we’ve always, you know, it’s a very key thing to say and it’s been said a lot in our industry that the claim is the absolute – that is the promise that insurers give is the payment of that claim.  But I think the promise is evolving now, it’s not just the claim, it’s the continued support of your health and your family as well and I think that’s incredible.

I was going to say as well, I know we’re sort of like coming towards the end of the time now but I did want to just say that I’m really, really pleased to see AIG’s new critical illness offering and the way it’s been designed.  I think it’s an absolute gamechanger and it’s something that I think, you know, advisers and insurers I think have all spoken about for a long, long time and I know as advisers we’ve been saying, you know, “This would be absolutely amazing if we could have something like this,” and obviously to see AIG really leading the way with that is lovely to see and I was very excited to see that when it came out the other week.

Alison:         Yeah, that’s great feedback, thanks Kathryn.  We all appreciate that.

Kathryn:       I – well we even are on to the truth or lie feature.

Alison:         Ah, yes.

Kathryn:       So we’re at that stage where we’re going to be saying a truth or lie so I shall go first.  So what I am going to be saying is – and we’re going to go with a Christmas theme ‘cos I have seen some people on social media already putting up Christmas trees.  I am going to be putting up my Christmas tree two weeks before Christmas.  And Alison, what are you going to be doing?

Alison:         I’m going to put my Christmas tree up on Christmas Eve.

Kathryn:       Okay, well let’s see what people think.  Thank you everybody for listening to Alison and me and thank you Alison so much for joining me.

Alison:         Thank you Kathryn.

Kathryn:       It’s been lovely having you on.  Next time I’m going to be speaking with Paul Moore from Winston’s Wish.  It’s a childhood bereavement charity and we’ll be chatting about how they offer their services to policyholders for some insurance policies and just where they stand out.  I think that, you know, we can just hear from the fact that what kind of a charity, you know, the focus is.  You can immediately tell that it’s an absolutely essential service.  If you’d like a reminder of the next episode, please do drop me a message on social media or visit the website www.practical-protection.co.uk.  And don’t forget that if you are listening to this as part of your work, you can claim a CPD certificate on the website too.  Thank you Alison.

Alison:         Thank you Kathryn, bye.

Kathryn:       Bye.

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