Key to a rewarding, healthier and happier life is less stick and more carrot

Martin Peacock, the Scots entrepreneur changing the face of insurance for families, individuals and companies across the UK, has a vision for the future that is firmly rooted in the past.

Unlike other providers of personal policies he and his fast growing company, Health Rewards, has developed a modern approach to an old fashioned value – dedicated personal service.

Martin Peacock

Photograph by: Stewart CunninghamMartin Peacock

And Martin appears to be succeeding where others have failed, by turning the usually dry products of health and life insurance from an often necessary but frequently reluctant annual cost into an on-going lifestyle service which provides a valuable on-going return on investment.

The affable businessman believes passionately that people want and deserve value for money, especially in the economic wake of the last few years. His aim is to ensure they get just that; along with a pile of rewards and incentives which encourage his clients to improve their wellbeing and spend quality time with family or friends.

He is very much hands-on boss and investor in people. In less than a year he has created a business employing 17 people, with more recruitment on the cards, and a customer base the length and breadth of the UK.

“There are millions of people who buy life insurance or health insurance but beyond paying their annual or monthly premiums have no tangible benefits or interaction with the people who manage their accounts,” said Martin.“That’s not good enough anymore.

“I spent years working as an Independent Financial Adviser and I saw how things changed over the last few years. People understand the benefits of health or life cover but they want more bang for their buck.

“If somebody is going to spend money on insurance they want more than a certificate they put in a drawer for a year. If they are paying a monthly figure for health or life insurance they know it’s a good thing but after a while they might resent seeing the money going out of their account for something they don’t use regularly or are unlikely to see a benefit from.

”The Vitality programme works by rewarding people who attempt to get healthier. Participants can earn points by doing various activities which can then be redeemed against a range of benefits from free iTune downloads and Starbucks’ coffees to subsidised gym membership and discounted sporting equipment.

Even the most simple things, such as completing an annual online health review, being a non-smoker, and buying healthy food can earn points.

Scotland has one of the worst obesity records in the developed world. Over the last decade and a half , adult obesity in Scotland has risen from 17 per cent of adults aged 16-64 in 1995 to 27 per cent in 2010 If the increase follows the same trend as the US almost half of the population could be classed as obese with 15 years.

Obesity increases the risk of type 2 diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, osteoarthritis and cancer. It is also associated with many other health problems, such as stroke, liver and gall bladder disease, respiratory problems, sleep disturbance, sub-fertility, mental illness, and poor quality of life.

Martin Peacock

Photograph by: Stewart Cunningham

The problem of how to encourage people to enjoy a long and healthy life should be a major concern for everyone. Not just because of the personal tragedies of seeing so many people die young or suffering from avoidable illnesses but because it is also putting a strain on the national health service and economy.

“We are all living longer but unfortunately most people can expect to live about 20 years in poor health. We want our customers to live as long and healthy a life as possible,” said Martin, 45, who practices what he preaches and is keen to show-off the phone app through which he can record his physical activity, manage his lifestyle and collect his Vitality rewards.

“We provide everyone with a a Vitality Ambassador who keeps in regular touch with the customer to help them save money and get the most out of their policy in the way of cash back, free cinema tickets, discounts on bikes, trainers or gym membership and much more,” said Martin.

“We will even remind people when it’s time for their next dental appointment and give them 100 points just for going for a check up. That’s because we know dental problems can be an early sign of other things, like heart disease. If we can spot any problems early we can help people avoid long term illness and get better much more quickly.”

However, it’s not just the lives of individual customers that Health Rewards with Vitality is helping to transform.

One of the biggest growth areas for the Bellshill-based business are commercial companies, football clubs and sporting organisations. His corporate clients want to see the life and health insurance benefits they provide staff as being a genuine on-going attraction for employees rather than a cost which nobody thinks about until renewal time or in an emergency.

“When we work with companies the first thing we do is to give everybody a free health check and then help individuals to improve their health by rewarding them,” said Martin.

“If they make small changes to their diet perhaps, do a little simple exercise or just give up smoking then we will offer them a range of incentives and rewards.

“We have changed life and health insurance from a commodity based product into a wellness and lifestyle perk. Nobody else does that like we do.

“Employers have a lot more responsibility to their staff these days to keep them healthier, fitter and losing weight. It also means they benefit from staff taking less sick days and being better motivated.”

Last year around almost 24 million work days were lost in the UK due to work-related ill health with stress, depression or anxiety accounting for most of them. On average each employee took around 20 days off with stress, which now considered to be the single biggest cause of lost productivity, costing employers at least £1.24 billion a year.

Lack of exercise, too much stress, poor diet and bad habits such as smoking and drinking too much can be killers.

According to Shanthi Mendis, author of a report into Chronic Diseases Prevention and Management for the World Health Organisation, an invisible epidemic of bad lifestyle inducing diseases, such as heart disease, cancers, lung disease and diabetes, killed more than 38 million people around the world in 2012. More than 16 million were under the age of 70 with many in their 30s, 40s and 50s.

When people fall sick and die in the prime of their lives, productivity suffers, and the cost of treating diseases can be devastating. If nothing is done to improve the situation premature deaths will suck $7.0 trillion out of the global economy over the next decade.

“What Vitality does better than any other product on the market is take a long-term sustainable view of health,” said Martin.

“By rewarding positive choices we can help people stay fit and well for longer. It benefits them, the businesses they work for, the health service, the economy and the insurers as it means less people are left suffering the burden of living with and treating lifestyle diseases.”