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Protecting The Client’s InvestmentJune 1, 2012 By: Susan Young Travel Agent
|There is an increased awareness today about insurance for lost luggage and other travel woes.|
Having worked in travel insurance for several decades, Beth Godlin, president and CEO, Allianz Global Assistance USA, formerly known as Access America, has seen a lot of changes. Overall, though, Godlin says: “The thing that jumps out at me is increased awareness on the part of travel agents. I dare you to find a travel agent today who isn’t selling travel insurance.”
That’s changed greatly from 10 or 15 years ago, due in great part to the world’s volatile events, both man-made and natural. Last year certainly presented challenges on the event side, she said, as did the Costa Concordia mishap early this year. For Godlin, 2010 was a standout year but certainly not in a good way for travelers. “It was very volatile with hurricanes, blizzards and snowstorms on the busiest travel days of the year. Volcanoes just kept on giving. There was a nuclear accident.”
Godlin says there is a direct relationship between the volatility of the travel landscape and people’s interest in buying travel insurance as a protector against travel mishaps. So, how many people actually buy insurance? That’s difficult to determine, as the industry isn’t able to really pin down the number of travelers who take international flights for leisure purposes. “The number we use to benchmark is about 30 percent overall,” Godlin said.
More travelers are purchasing more insurance, though. Why? People are more educated about the need for insurance, more insurance products are sold and more travel agents sell insurance, according to Godlin. Also, alternative distribution channels such as social networking and blogs have emerged.
|Beth Godlin, president and CE O, Allianz Global Assistance USA .|
In the past, the consumers just bought the product and really didn’t spend much time looking at what they were buying, according to Godlin. Now, she says many customers, or agents on behalf of their clients, call Allianz to go through “what if scenarios,” really trying to understand the benefits, whether a certain medical condition is covered, and whether a particular policy is the best.
Godlin also says clients are definitely buying more medical evacuation and medical transportation insurance than in the past. “People are going to more far-reaching places,” Godlin stresses. And, as a sign of the times, “we’ve seen an increase in travel delay claims,” she says. “That’s increased substantially.” When things go wrong at an airport, when flights are cancelled, when clients miss their cruise or when their luggage is suddenly gone, insurance can help.
Portal for Agent Purchases
Godlin says 80 percent of all travel agents book Allianz’s products online. Allianz has an agent portal for retailers to book insurance purchases. To handle the burgeoning sales of travel insurance and the servicing and claim process, more than 10,000 people are employed by Allianz Global Assistance globally. Godlin says 1,000 or so are based in the firm’s Richmond, VA, office.
Allianz Travel Insurance is the travel insurance brand of Allianz Global Assistance, which is a global provider of travel insurance and has offices in 28 countries. It’s owned by Allianz, the world’s largest insurance company as per Fortune magazine. Allianz is the 30th largest business in Richmond, says Godlin.
As a provider of travel insurance, corporate assistance and concierge services, Allianz’s partnerships number in the thousands and include travel agencies, airlines, resorts, websites, event ticket brokers, corporations, universities, and credit card companies. “We have thousands of agencies that are partners with us—a lot going back 10, 15 or 20 years—very long-standing relationships,” says Godlin. The average consortia relationship is 12 years.
She estimates that more than 20,000 agents sell the company’s insurance policies. Allianz offers a travel agent guide available for download on its website. Agents interested in becoming a partner can also go to the site to fill out a participation agreement. The company has an agent-training program—designed to help agents understand the company’s policies and what activities are licensable. The company’s sales force spends much time out face-to-face with retailers. It also has webinars, which consortia partners put on their own agent sites for 24/7 viewing.
Allianz offers custom marketing materials that feature an agency’s logo, agency contact information, and cover designs to match the specific type of client trip. The agent simply replaces Allianz’s contact information and then clients return to the agency to purchase—allowing the agent to control the order method and commission. Electronic orders pay the best agent commissions, Allianz says.
Allianz has online claim filing and permits online policy modification. But while the firm has a slew of agent-friendly technological resources, Godlin cites her firm’s friendly, multilingual employees who speak to agents or consumers on the phone as the best resources. Sometimes, she notes, the customers are trying to secure local resources if they’re stranded on an off-the-beaten path: “Sometimes it just means reimbursing costs you didn’t expect; sometimes it means saving a life.”
How can agents earn more revenue? The number one practice is to offer travel insurance product with every booking you make, according to Allianz officials, who note that the time it takes to book travel insurance is just 1 percent of the total booking process.
Brad Gray, Allianz’s director of retail channel management, says the best time to have the insurance talk is during the invoice process, not when the clients are excited and immersed in planning where to go. So when an agent is quoting the cost for airfare, cruise, hotel, and so on, just add the travel insurance as a separate item on the invoice and say, “I’ve taken the liberty of including travel insurance, which I strongly believe in to protect your vacation investment.”
If clients say they have medical insurance, ask them to call their insurer to be sure it is valid outside the U.S. Also important to ask is, if the insurance is international, does it cover emergency medical evacuation? Often it doesn’t.
Allianz has made enhancements to its policies recently. “We just revamped our Basic, Classic and Deluxe package plans based on what agents and consumers said they wanted,” said Godlin. In addition, previously, if a client cancelled, Allianz paid only 10 percent of the cost of the trip to protect the agent’s commission; now it pays up to 20 percent.
As for “cancel any time” policies, Allianz now has a new procedure. For example, clients who buy the Classic plan and pay 30 percent more get that coverage all bundled in one policy instead of having to buy an add-on. That assures they will get virtually 80 percent cash back.
In 2000, the company became part of Mondial. Access America remained as a brand, “but now that we’re more global it just made more sense to support one global brand” said Godlin. “Mondial has some 15 different brands throughout the world.” So now they’re Allianz Global Assistance USA. Visit the company website for more information.