Bupa: the company’s journey and the challenges of COVID-19

Nick Wong, Director of Technology Delivery, Bupa Australia & New Zealand, discusses the company’s journey and the impact COVID-19 has had the industry

“Everything within the business strategy at Bupa is organised around its purpose to help people live longer, healthier, happier lives, and to ensure people can fund their health through insurance-and good quality, trusted healthcare services,” comments Nick Wong, Director of Technology Delivery, Bupa Australia & New Zealand.

“Bupa as an organisation operates within interesting market contexts. In the last five to seven years, a lot of the focus has been on developing as an organisation - not just commercially in terms of proposition - but realising the role that technology plays in our journey.

Bupa didn’t exist as a heritage brand in the same way that it does within the UK, so I would say over the last decade – particularly in the Australian market – Bupa has been building up our brand.

We have been expanding to provide a variety of services to our customers, and with that growth, digital transformation has provided a lot of opportunities for us. Across the Technology team, we manage various digital estates such as data platforms, and have worked with companies along the way including Cloudera to explore our options for continued development.”

When it comes to the future of Bupa, Wong explains that like many other organisations it is in an extraordinary time in history, “There's a lot of uncertainty for many organisations which could potentially create a completely new normal going forward. We are holding true to our purpose as best we can to help customers live longer, healthier, happier lives whilst also managing within our current conditions - both in the near term but also potentially for conditions that may last longer.

It is important for us to ensure that we can continue to provide value to our customers and potentially introduce new services that may help them through this period, even if it's a diversification from some of the stuff we've done classically.”

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Like many organisations at the moment, we are trying to hold true to our purpose, to help customers live longer, healthier, happier lives

Nick Wong | Director of Technology Delivery, Bupa Australia & New Zealand

Wong reflects on the challenges that Bupa has faced, and highlights its key to success,

“I think the major challenges have been around adapting to market conditions which are influenced by the broader financial and economic environment. I believe Bupa has also faced challenges in terms of how it continues to show meaningful value to customers.

But I think Bupa’s key success is that the organisation is very robust and it is looking at ways it can continue to help customers get the best out of their healthcare. I think that's going to be one of the most important things going forward, as well as the value that it has to hold in terms of the relationships it has with customers,” says Wong, who is very proud of the organisation's respect for its large customer base.

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“I believe that this is one of Bupa’s biggest strengths, the fact that Bupa respects that it has one of the largest customer bases and it doesn’t take it for granted. It really does pay attention to those things amidst all the challenges that it faces, working hard to maintain its position as a premier brand in the health insurance space and continuing to support customers via its propositions and services to add value to their lives.”

The impact of COVID-19 for Bupa

From a technological standpoint, Wong explains that when it comes to the impact of COVID-19, Bupa is having to react to the conditions that people are facing such as “not being able to go to retail stores and having to move our workforce to work remotely to support people's health insurance needs. This is alongside the restrictions around elective surgery, the opportunity for treatments and some ancillary treatments being reduced.

One of the challenges we are looking at is how we support the needs of customers, while meeting the government guidelines regarding COVID-19 - and not just in Australia and New Zealand but as a global organisation. Across our operations we are sharing insights and learning from different healthcare markets across Europe, Latin America, the UK, Australia and New Zealand.”

Amidst the outbreak, now more than ever Bupa is needed by its customers to provide health advice and reassurance. Wong reiterates that it is Bupa’s purpose to help customers live longer, healthier and happier lives, and with the outbreak of COVID-19 “it is Bupa’s responsibility - like many other organisations - to look at what we can do to help people continue to get the services they need, even during financial hardship. So far Bupa has delayed the annual 1 April premium increase for all health insurance customers for six months, effectively returning $134 million to these customers. Bupa is also providing more than $50 million in assistance for customers suffering financial hardship due to COVID-19. To date we have received more than 27,000 applications, and we also confirmed that customers with any hospital policy will be covered for COVID-19 related claims, irrespective of policy terms..”

To continue to provide its services, Wong details that “the industry has had to move to a new way of operating quickly. However, this abrupt change has forced problem solving to move at a more focused and faster pace.

In order to efficiently implement a working from home strategy we have had to implement new capabilities to support areas especially impacted by social distancing measures. For example, when there were restrictions to visitors in our aged care home and villages, we sent devices out to our homes so residents could connect face to face with their families.

“These urgent technological interventions have led me to believe that technology has a big role to play in helping to address the emerging challenges of COVID-19,. We are seeing that the industry is facing a lot of pressure around efficient remote activities and the need to be able to run things quicker for rapid responses.

“Technology such as intelligent automation are areas where I think we can combat some of these challenges. Then, when it comes down to supporting the broader societal intervention around managing the impact of COVID-19, technology will play its role in that too, for example in the form of COVID-19 tracking apps that are directly related to our ability as a society to relax or manage some of the controls and restrictions that are in place.”

When it comes to the future of the industry, Wong highlights that there is still a lot of uncertainty around the virus. However, he comments that “obviously there are initial shock impacts around the availability of certain service provision now and a strain could be put on to our health infrastructure if the conditions were to worsen. But I think the most important thing is the way we manage to ensure people's health, quality of life and mental health so it is balanced.

The future will be around physical and mental health and ensuring that people will be operating safely at work or at home, or in a community with other people. The healthcare industry has a key role to play in this because people are looking towards healthcare experts and societal experts to be able to provide that assurance.”

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