CLEAR PURPOSE

Thailand 2017 | FINANCE | VIP INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Ben Assanasen, Managing Director of Bupa Health Insurance, on the development of the business in Thailand, trends in healthcare, and expectations for 2016.

Around the world, Bupa is renowned for offering a wide range of medical healthcare products and services. How is the company developing in the local Thai market?

Bupa's purpose is longer, healthier, happier lives, which is what we focus on in our DNA both locally and globally. We focus on healthcare itself primarily in Thailand, and we have been here for 30 years. Our purpose is represented through our health insurance products and has catered toward a variety of services across Thailand. We want our clients to have the convenience to regularly utilize medical services wherever they are. Not only do we want to help treat our customers when they are sick, but we are also providing information for the public about eating more healthily, improving their lifestyle, and preventative approaches to healthcare. Nonetheless, Bupa is focused primarily on health insurance—90% of our business accounts for health plans for individuals, corporations, and families. We also have different types of products like travel insurance, accident insurance, and cancer insurance. In the past, many of our clients were expatriates from the UK and elsewhere in Europe. Now, our clientele is very much Thai based, and we have focused on the major corporations known both locally and internationally. We service, on the corporate side of the business, companies from a range of 5-50 employees or even up to 50,000 employees. We also have a really strong individual policy business with 17 branches around the country.

Globally, Bupa employs 84,000 staff. What role does Thailand play in the company's overall strategy?

Asia is a core area of focus for Bupa long term in regard to growth. We are in many countries in Europe and Latin America as well as Australia and New Zealand where we are also growing, but Asia is the main focus. We have offices in Thailand, Hong Kong, India, Saudi Arabia, and all over China. Thailand is a core part of Bupa's future growth in the Asia region. Bupa has operated in Thailand for over 30 years, creating a very successful business that is now the leading specialist health insurer in the market, with a 38-40% market share of the health insurance segment, which is under miscellaneous insurance business and significant for the non-life industry. We are proud of the position we have in the market and our reputation for excellent customer service. We see a strong future for Bupa in Thailand alongside the continued economic growth and development in the country. The role of health insurance is to offer people with a high quality and affordable choice over the speed and convenience of their healthcare. We therefore see a growing demand for health insurance cover in Thailand, helping to complement and supplement the existing universal healthcare coverage that Thai people already enjoy. With the ongoing development of the ASEAN political and economic framework, the success of Bupa's business in Thailand will also present future opportunities to develop our presence and business across the region.

What are some of the most noticeable trends you are witnessing in Thailand's health sector, particularly since the country adopted its Universal Coverage Scheme?

Universal healthcare is a great thing for the country, and I would consider it one of society's basics. With the aging population there is a role for insurers like us to supplement that, however. We are working toward supplementing private healthcare as well. As an expert of health, Bupa provides a suite of health insurance products tailored to fit our customers in different stages of life. We also offer value-adding services to fulfill different customers' needs. To cope with an increase in the need for healthcare services due to an aging population, we are expanding our hospital network to provide utmost convenience for all customers in Thailand. In addition, we are one of the only insurers to guarantee lifetime renewal if you apply your health insurance before 60 years of age. Another growing trend across Asia is the digital one. We will rely on digital solutions to improve our customers' journey, through enhanced online channels and servicing. We are trying to make our digital platform and business even more interactive to make the experience more convenient and accessible for our clients. The digital trend is coming across Asia, and there are about 91 million cellphone subscribers in Thailand. The population is only 66 million, which shows that a lot of people have more than one phone. This is a trend we are following closely also in our approach to marketing, which is rapidly shifting online.

What does the opening up of the AEC have for Bupa's expansion?

It is a great opportunity for us with the AEC. If you look at the surrounding countries, we see a lot of people crossing the border and getting their medical treatments here due to the higher standards. We are working with hospital providers throughout the country to work on servicing these people coming in and create partnerships with them. In addition, we have a strong health network of over 400 hospitals, and thus the expansion of these hospitals will also be beneficial to our expansion to other ASEAN member states. As the AEC opens up gradually, we will closely monitor the opportunity for expansion throughout ASEAN. We are doing some analysis to see how Bupa Thailand can service its customers and sell Bupa products traveling across neighboring countries, with the focus on Cambodia, Lao, Myanmar, and Vietnam (CLMV).

What are your expectations for 2016?

Our overall expectation for 2016 is sustainable growth. But I go back to our goals that are long term for 2020. We want to have 1 million customers in Thailand and THB7 billion in premiums. As we reach more customers, we want to have all ages and double across the board in growth percentages. We can do this through enhancing and expanding our distribution through branches, agents, and other partners. We are looking at understanding the customer, what they want, how they interact, and segmentation. We are developing products and services on the digital side that add value to them, so we are not just an insurance provider, we are providing content for their healthy lifestyles tailored to their needs. The excellence in the clinical work is crucial to Bupa globally because it is an area we understand.