The COVID-19 crisis will accelerate the trend toward more online health

By Claudio Gienal, CEO of AXA UK & Ireland

Claudio Gienal

CEO, AXA UK & Ireland

While most insurance is largely bought as a legal requirement, health insurance is more of a considered purchase. The relationship between customer and insurer in the health market has more longevity and will only be strengthened by the experiences of the COVID-19 pandemic. Trends in the healthcare market have accelerated by necessity during lockdown, with customers taking advantage of remote services and insurers reacting to rapidly shifting socio-economic dynamics.

The first of these trends is more online. People were already using online services but the current crisis has accelerated this in an astounding way, especially in the age groups that are considered less digitally savvy. For instance, AXA’s general practitioner service, Doctor@Hand, allows patients to speak to doctors online or on the phone. We had around 7,000 monthly consultations before lockdown and now have nearly 18,000 – many over the age of 65. The fact is that, during the pandemic, Doctor@Hand has been one of the best and safest ways to get in front of a GP. Online will definitely stay. Once you’ve used online services, there is no going back. We have been working on this for a long time, so competitively that puts us in a strong position to support our customers in these trying times.

“The relationship between customer and insurer in the health market has more longevity and will only be strengthened by the experiences of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The second trend is affordability, particularly as it is predicted that we are heading towards a recession. According to its Gini coefficient, the UK is already one of the least equal countries in Western Europe. With this crisis, it could be argued that inequality will deepen. I strongly believe that we must find ways to make basic health cover affordable to people on a wider range of incomes – affordable, simple to understand and based on the customer’s individual needs. This is part of what our role as a responsible insurer - to make sure our services are accessible to a wider range of customers.

Third is mental wellbeing. For many people, COVID-19 has been traumatic and stressful. People are struggling – they are worried about their jobs, about getting ill, about the uncertainty around us. We have been focusing on mental health and wellbeing services for a long time and are committed to further strengthening our services in this area. For corporates too, it makes sense to invest in mental wellbeing – having a healthy workforce means you have a better, more productive business.

The crisis has also affected the way people work. At AXA, like many other companies, our employees have been working remotely. We were able to get 10,000 employees connected without any loss of function and we have done our best to maintain customer service. It does not seem realistic that we shall return to our former ways of working. We want to take the best of our previous practices and combine it with the flexibility we have experienced during lockdown. As restrictions ease, it is about striking a balance between employee preferences and what is necessary for business efficiency. This pandemic has shown us that we can think and organise ourselves differently, while being more flexible in the way we work. Perhaps, in the future, where you work won’t matter so much as how you work, allowing us to attract different talents.

This COVID crisis is a reminder to us all that we need to live up to our promise in society, that we have a positive role to play and that we are here for our customers when they need us. The primary goal of insurance, is to help customers get back on their feet after a risk event – and do what AXA does best, protecting our customers and their assets.


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