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Catherine McGrath

PruHealth’s chief executive is determined to change the private medical insurance market with innovative products such as offering lower premiums for healthy lifestyles

Born: 1971, Wellington, New Zealand.

Lives: London

Education: LLB/BComm, University of Canterbury, New Zealand

1990-91: Law clerk, Murray Crossman and Partners, Tauranga, New Zealand;

1991-92: Law clerk, Cooney Lees and Morgan, Tauranga, New Zealand;

1993-96: Bank of New Zealand, Wellington, mortgages and personal lending analyst, product manager and segment manager;

Aug-Dec 1996: Project manager, National Australia Life, Glasgow;

1996-98: Retail design programme project manager and direct operations senior manager, Yorkshire Bank;

1998-2000: Head of mono-line retailing for Europe, National Australia Group;

2000-2001: Chief operating officer, Vivid (NAB direct financial services business);

2001-2002: Director of product development and cus- tomer value management, ITV Digital;

2003-present: chief executive PruHealth

Career ambition: Get PruHealth to the point where it is a significant player in the marketplace

Life ambition: Keep happy

Likes: Sailing, people, travel

Dislikes: Unfairness, mushrooms, dark winters

Drives: BMW M3 convertible

New Zealand-born PruHealth chief executive Catherine McGrath says Antipodeans can often get away with being more direct in business than British people and that can be useful.

Since moving to the UK eight years ago, McGrath has used this directness and her business acumen to make her way up the ranks of financial services to the point where now, as head of the newest private medical insurance provider, she says she can do something truly innovative on a national scale. McGrath did not leave New Zealand until she was in her 20s when she moved to Glasgow in 1996 after three years at the Bank of New Zealand where she developed and implemented a new superannuation product and managed the bank’s mortgage products.

In Glasgow, she led a investment management project for the National Australia Bank before being recruited by Yorkshire Bank to develop a new direct customer proposition and established a new business unit.

After leading NAB’s Vivid financial services business, she joined ITV Digital in 2001 to bring a more commercial focus to marketing and key strategic projects. This was a considerable success with the firm seeing a 25 per cent increase in the average revenue per customer under her leadership but it was not enough to keep the flailing company afloat.

After 18 months at the Pru, the opportunity to head the new PMI provider – a joint venture from the Pru and South African provider Discovery – was the chance to launch something very different in the UK.

The PruHealth proposition is the first time that the UK public have been offered private medical insurance where policyholders can reduce their premiums by taking measures to improve their own health, such as giving up smoking, going to the gym or receiving regular health checks.

The idea has proved itself in the US and South Africa where the concept was conceived and IFAs are finding it an attractive product for clients.

PruHealth has seen double the volume of business it expected since the October launch. Intermediaries who have embraced the concept are finding it a useful tool to talk about with prospective clients. ‘It is an exciting proposition that IFAs like talking about with their clients,’ says McGrath.

At the launch of the product, some newspaper articles claimed the deal was a gimmick to lure consumers away from traditional providers but McGrath says once intermediaries see the product pricing is competitive and there is a genuine ability for policyholders to decrease their premiums significantly year on year, it speaks for itself.

She claims that PruHealth is at the forefront of a change in PMI product design. She believes the industry in the UK has been producing uninspired products that do not appeal to consumers.

‘Most PMI providers are simply buying the services of private hospitals with the perception that all they need to do is beat NHS waiting lists and this is a big problem. It is a stagnant way of thinking that hampers innovation.’

McGrath is concerned that the big players are operating on the basis that the NHS provides a poor service and she believes that this means in the long term that they will find it difficult to compete with innovative products. ‘I would be surprised if there were not attempts by other providers to try and replicate what we are offering.’

But she says PruHealth has a secret weapon that will keep imitators at bay. By teaming up with South African provider Discovery, Pru Health has at its fingertips seven million life years of data which it uses to analyse behaviour, structure pricing and design services that will meet consumer’s needs. ‘This gives us insight into claims, health and behaviour that other companies will not be able to touch.’

The individual product has been well received, with policyholders ranging from 18 years old to the mid-60s. PruHealth’s corporate business is all done through IFAs and McGrath says the firm is working on a corporate product. ‘If people think that the product we launched this year will be the only innovation we make, they are very much mistaken.’

The company launched with partnerships with fitness clubs Holmes Place and Cannons as well as GPs, specialists, consultants and hospitals and a deal has just been signed with a quit smoking organisation and agreements are being discussed with a weight-loss organisation and a range of health spas. ‘The intention is to make our PMI offering comprehensive and holistic by teaming up with innovative partners from a wide spectrum of related industries.’

McGrath has a history of innovative thinking, not just in financial services. When she was at ITV Digital, part of McGrath’s remit was to tackle piracy, hunting down access card pirates. Company technicians would send focused interruption signals across the airwaves aimed at disrupting punters who were accessing the network illegally.

She discovered illegal access to ITV Digital was usually at its peak during premier league football matches and established that this was the best time to send through the signals. Such measures may not be required in the running of a PMI provider but McGrath’s belief in the new product means that she will do everything she can to bring people’s attention to the PruHealth offering. ‘We believe in it so why pull any punches?’


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