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PruHealth’s Neville Koopowitz proving PMI benefits in sickness and in health

PruHealth chief executive Neville Koopowitz explains the rationale of ’lifestyle health insurance’.

PruHealth chief executive Neville Koopowitz wants to change the outlook of private medical insurance and believes it should provide benefits in sickness and in health.

PruHealth is a PMI specialist, a joint venture between Prudential and South African insurer Discovery. Under Koopowitz’s leadership, PruHealth has fully integrated Vitality – its healthy living rewards programme – into its products. From January, it will be marketing its holistic approach to PMI as “lifestyle health insurance” and will provide free healthchecks to members.

“If we were inventing private medical insurance today I can’t believe we would just focus on the sickness side,” says Koopowitz. “Traditional insurers focus on how you can pay for your treatment but we want to give equal weight to wellness.”

With his interest in healthcare, Koopowitz could have easily followed his father and three elder brothers into the medical profession. But an early fascination with business steered him away from being a doctor.

“I’ve always been interested in the entrepreneurial side of business. As a five-year old I dug up my mother’s vegetable garden and was found selling the vegetables by the side of the road. My mother was not pleased,” he says.

Koopowitz joined Discovery in 1996 and relocated to the UK in 2010, when Discovery bought Standard Life Healthcare. Koopowitz was needed to oversee its integration into the PruHealth brand. Luckily his wife and family were receptive to the move.

“You don’t want to look back in your life and wonder,” says Koopowitz. “It was another opportunity to test myself on an international stage.”


Discovery had decided early on how it would integrate Standard Life Healthcare within PruHealth. “We tried to keep the integration work as far away from the consumer as possible. We wanted to make sure brokers had just one product to sell, so we launched that new product within three months. We understood that the asset of Standard Life was customer service in the UK so we shut down the South African operation. We were getting the right model for the UK in 2012 and 2013 –  I think that formula is right now.”

For Koopowitz the need to give something back to all policyholders, not just those who become ill and make a claim, is the key to driving PruHealth’s PMI sales. But he does not expect a huge increase in the take-up of PMI because it is a voluntary complement to the NHS. He contrasts this with South Africa, where Koopowitz grew up, where the absence of anything like the NHS means people rely on PMI to cover everything from a cough to a liver transplant.

“It surprises me how some people do not appreciate the NHS. Yes it has problems but every healthcare system in the world has problems. Whether it is private or national there are limited resources and great demand because people are living longer,” says Koopowitz.

He points out that of a sample of 50,000 people profiled by PruHealth in the UK, only 20 per cent claimed more than they paid in premiums. Around 65 per cent were found not to claim at all – but Koopowitz says two-thirds of those were getting value for money through their Vitality discounts and rewards.

“With traditional PMI, the insurer takes the premiums, manages claims and the first contact many people get from them is a renewal letter. With us it’s different, the individual is engaged in Vitality on a daily basis.”

The Vitality programme was launched by Discovery in 2004 as a way of attracting new customers while helping to reduce claims. It provides discounts from various partner firms to incentivise people to eat well, exercise, monitor their health and give up smoking. Making an effort to stay fit and healthy enables members to earn Vitality points, which are totted up and used to reduce premiums.

Koopowitz played a key role in the launch of Vitality. “Vitality is good for members, it is good for the insurance company in terms of claims management and its good for society,” he says.

It does have its critics, with some complaining that rewards such as free cinema tickets are gimmicks that have nothing to do with healthcare. But he points out that those who might visit a gym for the first time then see a film for free are still making positive changes to their lifestyle, regardless of their motives.

“Incentives do change behaviour – we find people are engaging with their health a lot more. Even if they are doing it for the wrong reasons, they are still doing it. If incentives encourage someone to go for health screening which leads to the early detection of cancer, they can get the treatment they need and a better prognosis. So there is a serious side to it,” he says.

Koopowitz says the business generated through PruHealth’s IFA channel has been promising. “IFAs of the future will have a holistic view of protection from wellness and healthcare to critical illness, then death. It’s all one spectrum and advisers are already going down this route.”


Born: Queenstown, South Africa

Lives: Surrey

Education: Queen’s College, South Africa, Rhodes University, South Africa

Career: 2010-present: chief executive, PruHealth; 2005-2010: chief executive, Discovery Health; 1997-2005: chief executive, Vitality; 1996-1997: marketing director, Discovery; 1991-1996: director of employee benefits, Pride Consultants; 1987-1991: manager, Old Mutual

Likes: Spending time with my family 

Dislikes: Negativity and dishonesty

Drives: Mini

Book: Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela

Film: The Godfather trilogy

Album: Greatest Hits by Queen

Career ambition: To build a great business in the UK that gives great value to clients and is a force for social good. 

Life ambition: To make a difference to the world and leave it a better place

If I wasn’t doing this I’d be…Unhappy!


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