Putting the customer first in life insurance matters

The approach of BT Financial Group goes beyond just handling life insurance claims; the company aims to improve the lives of its customers’ by prioritising wellness and health support

The focus of BT Financial Group is on helping customers regain their health as quickly as possible, so they can get back to enjoying their lives following an injury or disability
The focus of BT Financial Group is on helping customers regain their health as quickly as possible, so they can get back to enjoying their lives following an injury or disability 

Here at BT Financial Group, we have taken an innovative approach to life insurance by concentrating on helping customers with their recovery during claim time; a difficult and stressful period. Our focus is on helping customers regain their health as soon as possible, so they can once again enjoy their lives with their families after suffering from an injury or disability.

We see insurance as providing a pathway back to health, not just a way to fund a disability. We find that customers perceive insurance to be significantly better value when the goal is recovery

Just over two years ago, the life insurance team at BT made the conscious decision to strengthen its health support for customers. As a market leader in claims service and management, we are constantly seeking ways to deliver better value to customers during the claims process. The journey began after independent surveys indicated that our customers particularly appreciate the level of service they receive when they make a claim. After considering this, we asked ourselves: “How can we provide a better experience for customers when it matters most?”

The result was a greater emphasis on offering tailored health support programmes and the launch of our own Health Outcome Measure (HOM). BT’s health support programmes and HOM are grounded on compelling medical evidence surrounding the health benefits of returning to work and the negative impact of long-term work absence.

At BT, our approach to innovation goes beyond incremental changes to life insurance products. Our aim is to deliver what customers value. Developing market-leading products, such as our recently updated terminal illness offering, is important.

Customer service first
Our health support programme and the HOM came about because of a genuine desire to help our customers get back on their feet, start leading normal lives again and return to work where possible. Philosophically, we see insurance as providing a pathway back to health, not just a way to fund a disability. We find that customers perceive insurance to be significantly better value when the overarching goal is recovery.

Around two years ago, our claims team developed the HOM as part of our broader health support programme. They consulted clinical psychologists, occupational therapists and health support experts. The measure itself is based on research from the Australasian Faculty of Occupational and Environmental Medicine at the Royal Australasian College of Physicians.

BT offers health support to customers with indicated claims – where BT has identified a possibility that health support may be helpful, or where the customer has requested support. The health support team will then make a more formal assessment, and if they determine that a formal programme is required, they will utilise the HOM.

It is important to point out that health support is not relevant to all customers. For instance, customers with short-term injuries often have their claims paid and finalised over the telephone, and health support would not add value to their experience.

BT’s HOM assesses a person on a number of health aspects, including cognition, self care, participation, mobility and capacity to undertake everyday activities. The assessment takes a holistic approach and looks beyond the reason for the claim. The insights from the HOM assessment allow BT to gain a better understanding of the customer’s health and wellbeing, and how to assist them with their recovery so they can get back to enjoying their lives with their loved ones.

Scores are created at three points in time: first, for pre-disability health, then at the time of claim, and finally when the referral to health support ends. The end score is compared to the pre-disability score to determine how successfully the customer has been returned to wellness.

The HOM measures a customer’s recovery. For example, say we have a customer whose score was at 85 percent pre-disability, but, following their disability, the score fell to 40 percent. With assistance from BT’s health support team, the customer had a final score of 80 percent (see Fig 1). This customer’s HOM is the difference between their post-disability score of 80 percent and their disability score of 40 percent, which equals 40 percent. This is divided by the difference between their pre-disability score of 85 percent and their disability score of 40 percent, which comes to 45 percent. Therefore, this equates to an 89 percent improvement in health.

BT’s claims management team utilises the HOM to understand the best way to assist customers who are on the path to recovery. It is a useful indicator of the success of health support, along with customer feedback and return-to-work rates.

We are very pleased with the results so far. Among those who have completed a health support programme with a HOM, the average improvement to health outcome has been 81 percent. The majority of customers who have completed their programme (89 percent) have successfully returned to work or have been cleared to return to work by their treating practitioner.

Evan’s story
The HOM can have a tremendous impact on a person’s life. BT customer Evan, whose name has been changed to protect his privacy, was employed as a wood machinist. He has a wife and two young children, who are financially dependent on him. Two years ago, he started to experience serious pain in his lower back and eventually had to stop working when the pain became too severe. Evan’s journey of exploring the best treatment options then began. When a cortisone injection and physiotherapy failed to result in any improvement, he was diagnosed with a herniated disc and was told he needed surgery to replace the disc if he wanted a pain-free future.

Without private health insurance, the waiting period for his surgery would have been well over 12 months. His income protection policy provided another way forward. When he lodged his claim with BT, it was quickly referred to the in-house health support team.

Fearful of making his condition worse, Evan was initially reluctant to participate in health support. His claims consultant assured him that the health support team would work closely with his doctors and not do anything to aggravate his condition. They offered to arrange vocational rehabilitation services, tailored to Evan’s needs, which were paid for by BT. The costs for these services are not part of the lump sum payments that a customer receives under their income protection policy.

Evan accepted the team’s assistance, and was referred to an external rehabilitation provider. Their initial focus was on supporting a graded return to non-manual duties at his workplace, of which his employer was supportive. Evan also undertook a hydrotherapy programme, with the aim of improving his overall strength to prevent deconditioning.

With the help of a tailored exercise physiology programme, Evan made a remarkable recovery and no longer required surgery at all. He had achieved the unthinkable; he was going to be able to get on with his life, manage his pain levels and avoid the need for any dangerous surgery.

“I just wanted to let you know what an absolutely wonderful job you do,” Evan said to the BT claims team. “Suffering from chronic back pain is something I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy.”

Tailored support
Being out of work for a long time is a serious health risk in itself. Medical evidence indicates that work is good for health and wellbeing. Therefore, it makes sense to focus our resources on helping customers get back on their feet and achieve maximum recovery.

Over the past 12 months, BT has spent around AUD 1.6m ($1.2m) on external rehabilitation support to help customers regain their health and return to meaningful and sustainable work.

Health support is tailored for customers and their specific needs. It can include physical recovery support, including exercise physiology sessions, fatigue management plans and ergonomic assessments. Where required, we also offer psychological recovery support and occupational rehabilitation help, such as return-to-work support, retraining and job-seeking assistance. Since July 2015, around 1,700 customers have benefitted from some form of health support.

We are gradually seeing the life insurance industry embrace health and wellbeing-related products and services. If our mission is to improve health outcomes for customers, we are heading in the right direction. Specifically at BT, through our health support programmes and the HOM, we are gaining some useful insights into how we can improve our support to certain customer groups, depending on their medical condition. We are excited about where these insights could lead in the future.

For instance, customers who have had cancer or cardiovascular diseases have achieved the highest HOM scores. This speaks to the quality of their treatment providers, the suitability of our tailored programmes and our customers’ resilience. Every day our team finds inspiration among the many customer cases we come across.

Meanwhile, our lowest scores are for neurological disorders. We would expect this as many of these diseases are progressive. But we continue to ask ourselves how we can best support these customers. The activities they find most difficult are standing, sitting and driving. We need to look at how we can support these customers and facilitate their independence with ergonomics, mobility and psychological support.

Our aspiration is to continue to enhance our tailored responses for customers, and our focus on health support is helping us achieve that.