What new initiatives is Daman currently undertaking?

MICHAEL BITZER: If you look at our initiatives, you have to differentiate between more internal ones and initiatives which have an impact on the client outside. Let’s maybe start with the internal ones, although they are not really visible for members. Here we are still investing heavily in big data, data analytics, it's a better managed core (system) but able to better support members. That's a huge initiative. We have a significant automation initiatives internally, also to reduce cost, which long-term, reduces the premiums for the members, for individuals and groups.

On the external side, we have launched, or we are just in the pilot phase of launching three apps, health apps: one targeting nutrition, one targeting diabetes, and one maternity management. It's something currently in the testing phase, but will soon be available for every member. We are still rolling out our Activate Platform. That's a platform, say to summarize it, to encourage healthy living and give access to gyms and fitness activities through the employer. And we are further rolling out our Health Guardian, which is a tool which enables the employer to better manage the health of their employees.

What comes on top, but that will be visible for the members maybe next year, is the Daman pure online platform. Pure Online means a platform to interact with us purely online without the need for any manual or analogue intervention or cooperation with us. That would be a huge breakthrough for us but requires significant, let's say investment, in back office systems, integration of back office into front end. But here I'm sure, 2018 we will launch some exciting initiatives.

How do the apps support members’ well-being?

MICHAEL BITZER: We started with some small solutions but we just rolled out new solutions for nutrition, maternity management, and diabetes. They can tremendously support the member. But what's maybe unique with our apps is that it's not only an app standalone. It integrates the app into our customer service unit. Plus, we have health coaches, so it's not purely an app, it's an app supported by human beings. We will also roll out new solutions in the next one or two years which hopefully further support the member in the management of the health of the whole family.

We will significantly invest in the self-management of the member. We want to enable you, that you can manage your health, the health of your family, and that you are also better educated about your health and you can make a better choice, an educated choice, when you visit a provider.

How would you describe the culture of innovation at Daman? What are some examples of innovative products/services that you’ve developed?

MICHAEL BITZER: Our culture is relatively open. I am not saying we are non-hierarchical. That's unrealistic in the environment we are living in here. We are relatively un-hierarchical and people can approach me, can approach other C levels and come up with ideas. I have open office days where people just can come and talk ideas. We have our own innovation unit that will soon launch a kind of an internal innovation platform just to encourage everyone to come up with innovative ideas which are also part of our performance appraisal. So, we focus very much on innovation. But nevertheless, it's still a challenge to activate the whole company. That simply takes time. But a lot of the initiatives we have now in place were ideas of employees especially on the HR side, like going more flexible with working hours, and also the apps came from employees. So, we tried to use ideas of employees and roll them out immediately, because if you look at the product side, many product ideas or adjustment or provider networks come from employees based on market feedback. We simply try to involve everyone.

As a leader in health insurance in the UAE, you’ve contributed to the sector’s development, especially in Abu Dhabi. What is Daman’s role in Abu Dhabi and how has the company influenced the wider UAE market?

MICHAEL BITZER: Our role in Abu Dhabi can be crucial for the healthcare system. We are a key player in the system. We manage financial flows between policyholders, between hospitals, between the Department of Finance and hospitals and we monitor the market from a financial perspective. We also have to make sure that everybody has access to healthcare, that everybody that pays his premium is insured.

Of course, together with the health authorities, since we don't have exclusivity for the market. We are there with other players. But being the biggest player, I think we are an important partner for the Health Authority. We are also an important partner for the whole healthcare system. Just to give you one example, we introduced recently quality measurements. So we measure the quality of providers and we started linking payment to quality. We will soon publish quality measures. We will create centers of excellence together with our hospital partners.

In a nutshell, I think we play a very important role in Abu Dhabi. What is now our role for the UAE, if I look at the other Emirates especially Dubai, when they introduced health insurance, of course, they looked at the system in Abu Dhabi. They tried to learn as much as possible from Abu Dhabi. Not copy it, but adjust it to their local needs. So, I think we had simply the role of being a pioneer in Abu Dhabi together with the Health Authority and the others have the benefit now from our experience.

Health insurance is only one part of the equation when it comes to overall healthiness and well-being. What else is being done to support citizen health in the UAE?

MICHAEL BITZER: Healthcare financing is only part of what needs to be done to keep the population healthy. If you look at the situation in Abu Dhabi and in the whole GCC, lifestyle-related diseases are a major challenge. It started now with high rates of diabetes, obesity, simply driven by the lifestyle. Too much food, lack of physical activity. And this will contribute significantly to increasing healthcare cost in the future.

Plus, it will cause a lot of burden on the society because you can imagine if someone that has diabetes later has a leg amputated or has to go for dialysis, they might drop out of the working process. They might cause additional pensions to governments. So it's a big risk and I always call it the ticking time bomb.

Of course, we cannot change everything. We cannot change the lifestyle alone but we try to contribute with our activities through Active Life, like activating the population. Typical example are our three evenings on Yas Island where we have now sometimes, 4,000—5,000 participants. We started with 20 or 30 a couple of years ago. We do activities for schools. So we simply try to encourage the community to be active, communicate a lot about healthy living, healthy food. But of course, others also need to contribute because we are simply too small to change the market alone.

How is Daman supporting the development of local talent in the insurance sector?

MICHAEL BITZER: We started 10 years ago with 3 UAE nationals in the company. They were sent by the Executive Council as a way to try to start to employ nationals. We have meanwhile more than 300 UAE nationals in the company and we probably employ around 35% to 40% of all nationals employed in the insurance sector. We developed them long term and if you look at us now, we have nationals in all levels, from C level, up to entry level or middle management positions.

We try to contribute by training, giving opportunities, also giving opportunities for international training. We cooperate with universities to encourage young nationals to join the insurance sector because that's not easy. It's not the most popular sector for young nationals. And we try of course to get our employees grow naturally.

What is your outlook for Daman in terms of future growth and development?

MICHAEL BITZER: We want to grow in the UAE. In Abu Dhabi, it's difficult for us to grow due to the high market share we have now. We are going to grow more in Dubai and become the leader in Dubai. In Dubai, we are currently number three in the market but we want to be the market leader in 2020, also in the other Emirates. Otherwise, we grow outside the UAE together with Munich Health. We have an investment in Saudi in a company called Saudi Enaya. And we look at other markets in the region. But as I have said, we don't grow blindly. We don't want to start adventures because we have to be careful that we don't burn too much money. We gradually grow in the region, but we want to grow in a controlled way, in a profitable way.