Bupa and the return of the prodigal son

In particular, brokers heavily involved with the Association of Medical Insurance Intermediaries are intent on forgiving and forgetting.

Brian Walters, principal of Cheltenham-based specialist intermediary Regency Health and vice-chairman at AMII, said: “The situation could have been handled better, but it’s water under the bridge now. Most brokers will have continued to work with Bupa on SME business over the last 18 months, so there won’t be any antipathy. Brokers will recommend its individual product where it’s right for the client.”

Such positive attitudes reflect a determination not to rock the boat following AMII making a concerted effort to get Bupa back on board after its withdrawal in October 2012 left its members unable to recommend the market leader – a most unenviable position for intermediaries who pride themselves on offering whole-of-market advice.

Article continues after advert

The explanation given for withdrawal by Bupa was that the intermediary channel simply was not proving profitable for individual business. Intermediaries were instead given an option that could never be profitable for them. They could obtain a £100 flat fee for any successful introduction they made to Bupa’s contact centre for its direct product. But Bupa would handle the entire sales and administration process, and intermediaries received no renewal commission and could not even include the company in market reviews.

Some intermediaries used this facility, because they felt it was ethical to offer clients Bupa as an option, even though the remuneration made no commercial sense. But a great many did not, and they felt under no obligation to inform clients they were unable to recommend the market leader, unless specifically asked about the issue.

Richard Norris, head of consumer intermediary distribution at Bupa, says: “We stand by our decision to withdraw from the market. We had something that was totally unsustainable, but we were always going to come back in if we found a sustainable solution that would work. We now believe we have one that will work, having paid a lot of attention to intermediaries’ views for the re-launch, but time will tell.”

However, some corners of the intermediary community clearly are not convinced by the official Amii line that no one is going to hold any grudges against Bupa.

Penny O’Nions, principal at The Onion Group, a specialist intermediary based in Iver in Buckinghamshire, says: “It’s a good thing that Bupa is back in, but the fact that it has shown the power to pick and choose when it will deal with intermediaries and when it won’t has set a dangerous precedent. There is now always going to be a concern that Bupa could refuse to deal with an intermediary who has already established a relationship with the client.

“I am not sure what effect all this will have had on Bupa’s reputation. As a fee-paying broker, we could have carried on recommending its product, but others who work on commission may have taken umbrage and could hold it against the company.”