Confessions of a benefits manager: Candid reviews health and mobility


Big Bad Boss invited them. World Healthcare Optimum (WHO) is not one of the usual international health insurers, yet they tell us they have been caring for expats for more than 25 years. They go on to boast that they are leaders in the market. Really? I’ve never heard of them.

They’ve invaded us with a team of three to present their pitch. Mike tells us he’s been in mobility insurance for more than 35 years. I’d keep quiet about that myself. The other two consultants are young enough to be his family: a spotty guy in overly short trousers and a woman with eyebrows made up so heavily she looks like Frida Kahlo without the flowers.

Expatriates and their needs

Mike starts by telling us that expatriates used to be much like himself: Americans sent overseas by US multinationals. He doesn’t say white, middle-aged, overweight guys with an attitude of superiority, but somehow that is the picture he paints. These days, he says, employees are being sent from all over the world, for all sorts of reasons. No longer just on traditional long-term assignments, employees may be moving on a rotation between roles, they may be a locally hired foreigner or even an international commuter. In all cases, healthcare has been shown to be the number one concern of people moving from one country to another.

To be honest, I am getting bored with the presentation already. We deal with all that perfectly fine through our current insurer. I don’t know if Mike notices the lack of attention, but he hands over to the younger man to cover the next part on compliance. Spotty is one of those presenters who cover their fear of public speaking by getting shouty and pointy. I have the sense he has watched too many episodes of The Apprentice. Still, to give him credit, he does manage to keep us awake through such soporific topics as General Data Protection Regulation and the Insurance Distribution Directive (yawn). He mainly achieves this by suggesting we are in danger of getting into deep legal trouble without their help. I know they won’t be doing anything different from other insurers, but Big Bad Boss is looking worried. Just as we are beginning to get overwhelmed by Spotty’s yelling, he hands over to Frida to do the next section. Waving her pen aggressively, she accuses us of not caring for our expats needs.  Yeah, she says inexplicably at the start of every sentence, it is not just about health; there are language issues, cultural requirements, expectation discrepancies, family problems and work pressure. Tell us something new. Even Big Bad Boss is looking at his phone now. Like most of our management team, employee wellbeing is not something he gets worked up about.

As many as three in five assignments fails to meet the organisation objectives, Frida tells us. Much as I dislike someone fresh out of university berating me about it, there is no doubt that sending someone to another country to work can cost three or four times the cost of a local hire, and they rarely contribute that much back. However, if I was purporting to be a market-leading provider, I’m not sure I’d call out the failure statistics to my prospective clients. Surely, failed assignments reflect on them too?

The latest technology

It is Mike’s turn to bring us home to a sale. Rather bravely given his, um, experienced status, he covers a section on technology. He informs us that while the old-school style expat may have been happy with a policy document, today’s expat will want to leverage the latest technology on offer. That last bit sounds dated, even to me. Mike describes a scenario using Spotty as an example trainee transferred to China. Obviously, Spotty’s needs would be very different from Mike’s own generation, he tells us. I see Spotty and Frida glance at each other and fractionally roll their eyes. For the first time I feel a bit sorry for them; I wouldn’t like being referred to as a typical millennial either.

Mike enthusiastically tells us about their app, which he says can save the world. Mike demonstrates how it tracks health metrics and he shows studies on how they have successfully reversed levels of illness with its use. I’d love to get excited about saving lives, I really would, but let’s be real: we don’t need to buy health-tracking gadgetry from a mobility health insurer. Everybody I know is already wearing one.  Furthermore, unless we can demonstrate a direct link to cost saving, the Higher Beings (our executive management team) are not going to spend money on mere employees. It is almost against their religion.

Making savings

Mike is a bit of a mind reader. He has a slide on projected cost savings using some very dubious assumptions. I sigh inside. Since we moved away from the market-leading Big Health, for once I’m actually quite happy with our current provider. And, after today, I wouldn’t fancy having to deal with these guys on a daily basis. However, I can see the light of excitement in Big Bad Boss’ eyes. This could be one of those opportunities for him to shine brightly with the Higher Beings; he knows there is nothing that goes down better with our management team than a cost-saving proposal, however false the projections.

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Back at my desk, I get in touch with my counterpart in the US. She can endorse the fact that our current supplier is part of a global mandate arranged from headquarters. I ask her to send an email reminding Big Bad Boss about that, just in case he’s forgotten. My ways are quiet but effective.

Next time… Candid gets psychologically profiled.