Germany’s first digital health insurance: Consumer centricity at ottonova

Interview with Detlef Gastner, Lead Project Manager at ottonova: “The customer wants it digital”

Detlef Gastner is Lead Project Manager at the first completely digital health insurance company in Germany. ottonova has been on the market since 2017 and is recording immense growth. The hub of communication between the health insurance company and the insured is a specially developed app. Detlef Gastner tells the editorial team how personal contact is still kept.

mgm: Mr. Gastner, in order to found the first digital health insurance company in Germany, you probably need more than a few experienced people from the insurance industry. Who sat around the table when ottonova was founded?

Detlef Gastner: The founder of ottonova is Dr. med. Roman Rittweger, who started his career in the environment of a large consulting firm and built up various digital and service providers in the field of health. His vision was to create a health platform that would bring together insurers, service providers and customers. This is how the idea came about to set up an insurance company that would meet our needs. Co-founders were the computer scientist Frank Birzle, long-time CTO at various eCommerce platforms, and the designer Sebastian Scheerer of the Wunderkinder. Together with other experts, the founding idea was worked out in this way.

mgm: Was there such a thing as a clash of cultures when the founders came up with their idea in a highly regulated market environment and met long-standing insurance experts?

Detlef Gastner: We were nervous at the beginning and asked ourselves the question: How do the gentlemen from BaFin in Bonn react to us? However, the Federal Financial Supervisory Authority was very friendly to us right from the beginning. There was a great deal of interest in getting to know our digital processes and to see how we comply with the strict security requirements, e.g. in the area of data protection. At the end of the two-day final testing procedure at our premises, it was simply clear: we would get this license. That was a great experience. From our point of view, the fears of the Culture Clash were much greater than the Culture Clash itself.

mgm: Your policyholders are younger than with other health insurance companies, aren’t they?

Detlef Gastner: Our entry age is already significantly younger than that of our competitors. But we also have a 70-year-old customer who absolutely wanted to insure himself at ottonova. What is quite clear is that our customers are basically digital-affine. You’re tired of paper. They want everything electronic, and they want it simple. Receipts are simply photographed and uploaded to the app – the insurance company takes care of evaluation and reimbursement.

mgm: Paperless administration, access to all documents at any time … What else does digital health insurance mean from the customer’s point of view?

Detlef Gastner: The main communication channel of other insurers is almost always the telephone. With us, on the other hand, it’s the chat. You can chat with us anytime, anywhere. We also introduced digital visits to doctors in Switzerland very early on together with a cooperation partner. Instead of the customer going to the doctor, he simply contacts a doctor via video chat. The doctor then makes recommendations for action, e.g. whether the customer should visit a doctor on site or whether a prescription should be issued … That was very well received – even if I find the term “digital doctor” terrible.

mgm: I think it really has a lot to do with terms, because when you hear or read “digital health insurance” for the first time, you might imagine it a bit impersonal. Probably this is not the case at all, but only the ways are different.

Detlef Gastner: Yes, and our customers are also very satisfied with our response times. We are very quick in exchanging information with our customers, which means that ideally the customer even gets an answer from one of our employees faster than from our competitors.

mgm: You have developed an app. Can you imagine the app as a central point in communication with the customer?

Detlef Gastner: Exactly. The app is the linchpin. For example, the chats run over it, we push health information in there, the customer also has a complete timeline where he can track when he was with which doctor. And the customer can see the appointments made by our concierge in the app at any time.

mgm: Did you involve the customers in the development of the app?

Detlef Gastner: Yes. Colleagues regularly receive feedback from our customers on where we could improve our products. The knowledge gained there will be incorporated into the next sprints. Thus the app is continuously optimized. At the beginning of the company’s history, members of the management took on sponsorships for three customers each and were always in dialogue with them in order to obtain feedback on the ongoing consultation.

mgm: I have now spoken most of the time about “insured persons” and you have not corrected me … But I think you are not talking about “insured persons” yourself, but about “customers”. This type of customer centricity is probably a new approach in the health insurance industry. Is this a real change of perspective or just a new term for something that was there before?

Detlef Gastner: It’s definitely a change of perspective, because we are really very focused on customer needs in order to make them satisfied. As already mentioned, we regularly gather feedback from our customers and react very quickly to positive and negative experiences. And we’re constantly trying to make it easier for them. We see ourselves as partners of the customer in his health matters. For example, we also arrange medical appointments for our customers. When a customer calls and says: “I have pain in my knee”, we directly visit the orthopaedist of your choice. We have also recently introduced new tariffs to the market that include a pension bonus. Many customers have requested the possibility to submit individual health services such as apps or electronic devices to us. This was often not possible because insured persons are bound by their contract, which does not provide for innovative prevention options – such as anti-stress or health apps. The pension bonus can cover precisely such services, a real added value in terms of customer centricity.