Building the GrECo Health & Benefits Business: A Catch-up With Adam Riley

In July of this year, Adam was recruited in a newly created executive leadership role, to run, build and develop GrECo’s specialist Health & Benefits business across its 17 countries.

It is widely recognised that GrECo has seen continued success across its specialist businesses and has built its reputation across the Central, Eastern and Southern European (CESEE) region by providing market-leading risk and insurance solutions to clients. As part of its next phase of strategic growth, GrECo laid down a clear marker this year: it is going to invest in building its Health & Benefits business, which reflects the demands of clients and employers across its markets.

As a business which attracts high-calibre individuals and top talent, it is renowned for its people, reliability, stability, and independence.

If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together” – an African Proverb, Adam Riley’s favourite phrase to use with his team. In July of this year, Adam was recruited in a newly created executive leadership role, to run, build and develop GrECo’s specialist Health & Benefits business across its 17 countries. Adam’s appointment has enabled GrECo to relaunch its Health & Benefits offering across the CESEE region, and of course the wider international markets. 

We caught up with him to find out about his 2030 vision for GrECo´s Health & Benefits business.

Hi Adam, how have the last four-months been for you and what have you been focusing on since starting at GrECo?
The past four months have been both refreshing and rewarding. Meeting with a huge number of people from across our business, I have witnessed first-hand the close-knit and people culture for which GrECo is known. The depth of capabilities from across the group is inspiring as is the integrity and spirit of our dedicated teams.

The most important focus for me has been to refresh, restructure, and relaunch our group-wide Health & Benefits strategy and direction for the business, giving it a fresh outlook to reflect the next phase of our strategic growth! 

So, what would you say employers are looking for when employing a risk and insurance management provider?
The market is changing, employers are demanding more sophisticated solutions and much more from their specialist advisers. 

Employers are looking to work with a specialist consultancy that understands their business, and employee requirements and, above all else, is seen as their true partner to provide sustainable long-term Health & Benefits solutions.

You’ve been working on a newly developed Health & Benefits strategy. Can you give us a snapshot of what the future holds for GrECo as a result?
At GrECo Group, we don’t just look at the “now”, we also look at how our business will evolve over the next few years. Our new Health & Benefits strategy focuses on a clearly defined roadmap outlining our “2030 vision” for the business.
You will see that we have changed our name from “employee benefits”, to Health & Benefits. This better reflects the new direction in which we are headed. Coupled with the risk management services and solutions we will be offering our clients, and the future of our business, this reflects and incorporates a fresh approach.
Put simply, we will become the leading Health & Benefits risk management adviser and employer of choice across the CESEE region, further enhancing the value proposition for clients, partners, and carriers!
Some might say that’s a bold statement but looking at results in the last few months alone, and your projects for the next 12 months, it is clear the new Health & Benefits business at GrECo, under your direction, is shaping up to do just that!  What’s GrECo’s current position in Health & Benefits, and how do you see it developing by 2030?
By revenue and premium, the GrECo Health & Benefits business is already a top-five broker in 10 of its 17 countries, with the remaining seven countries not far behind. Part of the “2030 Health & Benefits vision” is to double our revenue through both organic growth and selective M&A activity. 

Building a more robust and sustainable proposition, incorporating a mix of traditional insurance-led solutions with Wellbeing, data insights, and online and digital offerings is core to the future of the GrECo Health & Benefits business.

On the topic of M&A, what’s currently happening in the CESEE market? 
The markets in our region are changing, we are seeing more consolidation of Health & Benefits businesses than ever before. With this, opportunities for the GrECo Health & Benefits business are emerging – as a group, we are very selective on M&A activity: culture, people and synergy are core to what we look for when looking at potential acquisitions.

Adam, you’re also working on integrating the MAI CEE Health & Benefits business into the GrECo structure. How’s the acquisition been received? 

Very well! The acquisition of MAI CEE was seen by the market as hugely positive, with many synergies brought by both businesses, as well as bringing great new talent to our team. Our Health & Benefits business has expanded to over 120 specialist people. 

It also strengthened several of our countries where there were established GrECo and MAI CEE offices and furthered GrECo’s reach across the CESEE region with new operations in Albania and Georgia. Our business in Georgia officially changed its name to GrECo in early November.

The pandemic brought many issues into sharp focus for employers but one of the most prevalent was ESG – particularly the social elements; how is the Health & Benefits business incorporating ESG? 

Addressing ESG factors can help employers manage their environmental and social footprint and determine their business risks and opportunities. The “social” element links directly to Health & Benefits. When looking more widely at the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, good health & well-being is one of the 17 goals – the GrECo Health & Benefits team is already part of this conversation with clients. 

With the geopolitical and global economic backdrop currently being faced by us all, we have never experienced this level of uncertainty before! When will the next pandemic hit? The next war? Global recession? Energy crisis…? It is now about how the Health & Benefits programme can function and be sustainable for when the next challenge arrives.

The new world order is bringing many existing workplace trends to the fore, accelerating the adoption of flexible/agile working as well as raising concerns around the mental health of employees.  

Adam Riley, Cert PFS 

Group Practice Leader Health & Benefits

T +44 (0) 7507 788 144

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Do Health & Benefits Really Matter to Employees?

Employers need to go back to basics and look at the structure of the benefits they offer and determine if it must be changed or stepped up. Now is the time to do it.

Steps employers can take to future-proof benefits

Employers need to go back to basics and look at the structure of the benefits they offer and determine if it must be changed or stepped up. Now is the time to do it.
For employers with international offices or mobile employees, the wider benefits strategy must match the wider HR and Benefits strategy, corporate objectives as well as workforce demographics. Any required local changes must be assessed as well.
The Health & Benefits being offered must ideally reflect changing working patterns, age differences in the workforce, as well as individual country requirements affecting mobile employees, expatriates, and teams in international offices.

Do Health & Benefits really matter to an employee?

Absolutely yes, but with different emphasis. A recent report by edays showed that 75% of employees are more likely to stay with their employers because of a great Health & Benefits programme. Considering a new political world order, employee cross-border migration and decreased standards of living, employers need to recognise that their Health & Benefits, together with corporate culture, are ways to differentiate themselves, to compete for talent, retain staff and better engage their workforce.
At the same time, employers need to keep in mind that the success of any benefits programme largely depends on benefits being tailored to the needs of a diverse workforce.
As no workforce is the same, benefits that matter to one group of employees may not matter to another. Millennials for instance may be most concerned about the debt they have to pay; older employees will focus more on whether they have enough for their pension. TeamStage reported that millennials will represent 75% of the global workforce by 2025.
Employers are challenged to find new and innovative ways to engage this group of employees, while making sure the Health & Benefits they offer cater for the needs of the entire workforce – a huge challenge for HR. A sustainable Health & Benefits programme that is fit for purpose will be an asset for the success of the business.

Is remote and flexible working here to stay?

Yes, and no. I am rarely one to sit on the fence but in this case, it is not a simple answer. Adding more flexibility to the way we work will enable employees to create the work-life harmony that works best for them.
Nevertheless, we cannot work remotely in every sector. Remote and flexible working models thus need to be well-managed. No doubt, the move towards remote working has presented employers with a new opportunity to address the needs of a multi-generational workforce, but it has also created a huge challenge and in some sectors a move away from “tradition” where employees came to the office every day and were “present” to a new way of working, sometimes not just from their home, the coffee shop, library, or on a beach.
We are faced with up to five different generations of employees in the workforce: from those in their 20s to those who are still working into their 70s and beyond. As a result, HR teams have been reviewing their long-term approach to flexible working and related policies. Talking with many HR leaders, it has become clear more flexible Health & Benefits strategies could help employers retain their ageing workforce and attract new talents.

What role can an adviser play?

The first step is for employers to better understand their working environment, culture and people. Culture plays a key role. It provides employees with a solid foundation, helps build trust and a safe working environment. Besides that, employers have started to recognise that the value of an effective Health & Benefits offering goes far beyond the traditional objective of recruitment and retention. It also goes far beyond traditional insured benefits, rather it focuses on wellbeing, flexible leave policies as well as wider fringe or lifestyle benefits.
The right benefits strategy, a clear direction as well as practical solutions, will help employers attract the best people and look after the needs of their workforce. Health & Benefits will become more employee-led. More and more employees are wanting to select the benefits that suit them, meaning employers need a multilevel benefit system where people can pick and choose – hence the need for the right technology and digital solutions.
Globally, we are all feeling the financial squeeze on our income. Now, more than ever, employers need both support and sophisticated solutions, coupled with expert and professional advice to ensure they have the right benefits, strategy, and direction in place to meet the changing needs of their employees and business.
Employers are already looking beyond insured benefits at other factors which are fast becoming part of the wider HR and organisational strategy. Factors that impact decisions concerning benefits design and strategy, such as: ESG (climate, DE&I and Governance), alignment of benefits with corporate objectives, employee value proposition and achieving work-life harmony across their domestic and international workforce.
The time is now for employers to invest their benefit budgets wisely and in areas where the impact will be felt most! A one-size-fits-all Health & Benefits package is no longer appropriate, presenting HR with one of their biggest challenges!

Adam Riley, Cert PFS 

Group Practice Leader Health & Benefits

T +44 (0) 7507 788 144

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The World Is Changing, Enter a New World Order!

The world is changing, enter a new world order!

Nowadays, employees expect more from their employer than ever before. Meeting these expectations will involve more personalisation of the health and benefits offering.

The world has had its fair share of upheavals, but when Covid became part of our daily conversations, irrespective of where one lived, we were all looking for the magic light at the end of the tunnel! It took a long time to come, never have we had to live with so much uncertainty, and this new state of uncertainty will become part of life, certainly for the foreseeable future.
Employers reacted quickly when another lockdown was announced. Working from home became the norm, and a new way of living was forced upon us. I remember when the first lockdown was announced; I thought it would soon be over, but days turned into weeks, then months. Schools closed, infrastructure suffered, travel became a distant memory, as did freely going on holiday.
The financial impact on the global economy was severe, and the true extent of the impact on people’s mental wellbeing is still largely unknown.
Then the unthinkable happened: a war in Europe! Further significant disruptions aggravated the already fragile and near-breaking healthcare and financial systems across the globe. Energy supplies, production lines, supply chains, distribution channels, and more, were equally hard hit. Many believe these disruptions have permanently altered the world order. While we all feel the direct and indirect impact of the war, managers and business owners have made it their top priority to protect the health and safety of their employees. 

A new world order …

History tells us that Woodrow Wilson and Winston Churchill introduced a term “new world order” to global politics, describing a new era of history marked by a profound shift in world political philosophy and the worldwide balance of power. Over the years, it became a factor in domestic and international relations and in legislation. It also sent out a clear message that change to the status quo was on the cards. As a result of the global consequences to the war in Europe, “a new political world order” has come about, again.
Rapid change and shifting trends have also found their way into companies. In response to the economic crisis – caused by the world bouncing back from Covid, changing weather systems, spending patterns and the conflict in Europe – employers are taking steps to support their staff, arguably much more than we have seen in recent memory, but this can only go so far as it is not just individuals who are affected. Employers also need to address their short, medium, and long-term strategies simply to remain in business.
The cost of living has risen significantly. Levels of inflation across the globe have spiked. Talks of recession and warnings of energy price-increases have become reality. The war in Europe, which many thought would be over quickly, still rages on, with terrible human loss. Unstable Governments resulting in profound market and economic shifts resulting in significant changes to financial ratings.
The news presents a gloomy outlook – yet, still, employers continue to uphold both health and benefits in their companies, whilst at the same time employers are facing increasing insurance premiums and crippling energy bills. Why? Their employees are important, as are the families. With this, we are seeing a shift in how employers are looking at their future benefit programmes – a steady wise in employers ripping up the “benefits blueprint” and looking at how to restructure their benefits to be more sustainable; more fit for purpose to assess how the wider package could better support their employees.
Whilst some level of financial support is welcomed by all, this is only one part of the solution. Employers with voluntary-style benefits, discount schemes etc can also signpost employees to these as they can offer real-time savings for every-day-expenditure.  In view of the current economic backdrop where pressure on salaries has started to impact, we are seeing more employers incorporating this into the wider offering, and anecdotal evidence shows this has been well-received by employees.
We learnt valuable lessons through lockdowns when innovative digital solutions were introduced because we could not access face-to-face services. Solutions such as online yoga and personal trainer lessons, telemedicine and virtual appointments to access General Practitioners, wearable technology being used to track fitness levels, our sleep, diet, etc. have been widely adopted.  Many of us have become used to doing things via handheld devices.

We need to better listen to our people

People typically don’t like to admit it they are struggling or ask for help! The same applies to financial difficulties, where many people struggle silently when faced with the next household bill, rising energy bills, dental costs, etc. Hence, employer attractiveness has long since ceased to be defined by just the daily fruit basket or a water cooler. Corporate culture and wider wellbeing must therefore be place permanently on the leadership agenda to enable employers to better support employees and promote financial, mental, physical and social Wellbeing.
Everyone knows and understands the arguments as to why Wellbeing needs to be taken seriously. When it comes to Wellbeing, it is a complex dynamic between the culture of the company, the work environment, external factors, and the physical, social, psychological & mental health of employees – it also perfectly dovetails into the wider ESG conversation and the key sustainable development goals!
As the Human Sustainability Index, a new way to track Wellbeing and performance, gains momentum, we’re seeing more and more organisations wake up to how they can decrease burnout and build performance and Wellbeing at the same time.
Employers also need to focus more on the individual; however, they first need to listen to what their employees are saying, and not simply push forward an employee “benefit” just because it may be a good idea for the company. Over the years, I have seen many employee “benefits” introduced (sometimes at significant cost to the company) only to hear the end recipients, the employees, say that it isn’t something which is needed or wanted.
Nowadays, employees expect more from their employer than ever before. Meeting these expectations will involve more personalisation of the benefits offering: employers reviewing what benefits are offered, restructuring leave, and working policies, bringing forward salary reviews to help those who need it most, and perhaps even shaping a position to suit the skills, experience, and ambitions of the individual they want to recruit. Ultimately, employees are expecting employers to work hard(er) to attract and retain them. Those that do can expect to gain the very best talent. Those that don’t will face an uphill struggle in getting the right people, achieving employee loyalty, and of course engaging their people!

Adam Riley, Cert PFS 

Group Practice Leader Health & Benefits

T +44 (0) 7507 788 144

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Make mental health & wellbeing for all a global priority, every day!

According to research by Deloitte in 2022, the total annual cost of poor mental health to employers increased by 25% since 2019, totalling between £53-56 billion in 2020/202

World Mental Health Day, October 10 and the theme for 2022 is “Make Mental Health & Wellbeing for all a Global Priority”. World Mental Health Day provides an opportunity to talk about mental health, how we need to look after it, and how important it is to talk about things and get help if you are struggling. As a society, we now live with permanent uncertainty – this will become part of life – but we also need to reflect on the toll these continued uncertainties are having on our wider health and wellbeing.

Whilst current figures are being assessed, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported in 2021 that one in four people globally will be affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives. They go on to say that around 450 million people suffer from such conditions, placing mental disorders among the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide! Anecdotal evidence is strongly showing that the “post-Pandemic” figures will show a significant increase to what is already a staggering number of people living with mental health disorders.

According to research by Deloitte in 2022, the total annual cost of poor mental health to employers increased by 25% since 2019, totalling between £53-56 billion in 2020/2021.

Mental Health Data

But is mental health and mental illness the same thing? In short, no they’re not! By understanding the differences provides some insights into why, sometimes, we can overlook when someone needs help, and ensure they receive the correct treatment. The Centres for Disease Control (CDC) points out that many individuals with poor mental health (our emotional, psychological, and social wellbeing, affecting how we think, feel, and act), have not been formally diagnosed with a mental illness (including: anxiety, bipolar disorder, depression, or schizophrenia). Also, many people who do have a diagnosed mental illness “can experience periods of physical, mental, and social wellbeing.”
This is when the stigma attached to mental health / mental illness causes further issues, discrimination and sadly creates a situation where people don’t talk about what is worrying them – some would say this coupled with a general lack of understanding between mental health and mental illness impacts on the way we interact with others, handle problems, and make decisions.
The way mental health and mental illness is handled is different across the globe, and the approaches that each country takes are sometimes at different stages especially in how they perceive the condition culturally! For this reason, having discussed this very topic recently with a number of senior HR professionals, all agreed one key challenge to having a robust wellbeing strategy is how to embed it across different countries. It is important, therefore, to adapt their wellbeing polices accordingly.
Central, Eastern and Southern Europe, not unlike other regions, the stigma around mental health (and mental illness!) is prevalent. It remains a barrier for people to openly discuss or access the right level of care – and in some countries, the limited infrastructure remains a further problem. For many countries across Eastern Europe, institutionalised care remains a barrier for those with mental health disorders – there is also a wider issue when it comes to professionals in these countries moving away, creating a backlog with limited numbers of people able to properly care for those who most need help!

Mental Health Data

A report from Notes from Poland, set out how the three-stage system in Poland aims to move part of the burden of mental health support from psychiatry wards to local institutions offering services of psychologists and counsellors. The system includes improvements to hospital infrastructure, launch of a round-the-clock helpline, online support and prevention programmes, as well as easier access to specialists.
In Lithuania, considerable stigma around mental health remains – the country’s mental health system is largely lacking clear pathways for care, with a heavy reliance on hospitals to provide what support they can.
A worrying yet consistent observation is the lack of care pathways available for mental health-related illnesses across Eastern Europe. For example, research on the state of the Serbian mental health system conducted by the German Association for International Cooperation, conducted in 2022, showed that approximately one-third of the population of Serbia have clinically significant disorders that can be related to the symptoms of at least one disorder, while one-fifth showed symptoms clinically indicative of two or more disorders.
Having talked with our team in Turkey recently about mental health and wider disorders, the growing number of people being diagnosed, and seeking treatment is growing there too! Anxiety and depression has significantly increased, and according to the data of the Ministry of Health of Turkey (MoH), nearly one-fifth of the population face mental health issues, over three-million people suffer from depression, and of a population of about 83 million, some 9 million people seek mental health support in Turkey each year.
More proactive and preventative measures, coupled with ongoing reforms (and financial support) is needed in order to continue building a culture where employees (people!) feel comfortable talking about their mental health (and mental illnesses). It is unlikely the stigma will be removed, but collectively we can work towards removing this across as many cultures and countries as possible. One of the 17 United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals is “good health & wellbeing”, and the management of employee health and wellbeing must therefore remain a key agenda leadership agenda item, and core element of an employer’s employee value proposition.

Mental Health Data

Looking inwardly, at GrECo, we take a proactive approach when it comes to our peoples’ wellbeing – it is not a “tick-box” exercise for us! We have made employee wellbeing a priority that forms part of our culture, embedded within the DNA of our business.
For GrECo, looking after our people’s mental health is every day! The truth is in the pudding…by offering access to counselling, “wellbeing days off”, yoga, healthy food, stress prevention tools, and listening to what is not being said has created an environment where some of the stigma attached to mental health and mental illness has been broken down. Whilst all of these initiatives are great, having recently discussed this with our Head of Group HR, we are the first to admit our approach is not perfect yet, but it is a continual topic on our senior leadership agenda. For example, this forms part of regular discussions I have with my country Health & Benefit leaders to ensure our people are being listened to, supported, and importantly watching out for the “unseen” changes in behaviour and health. We believe a “one-size-fits-all” strategy is no longer an option, our people are all different and in return they should have a safe environment to be able to talk about what is affecting them and be reassured a more tailored approach to looking after their mental health is in place!
Whatever the differences in regions, all employers need to focus on developing a mental health and wellbeing strategy that promotes more openness around mental health and ensure they are supporting to people with mental illness. It can’t just be a tick box exercise. A “one-size-fits-all” approach is unlikely to be effective, as different countries are at different stages in their awareness of and acceptance of the issues related to mental health and mental illness.
The working culture, and making sure it’s not contributing to high levels of stress and anxiety is a key area to assess, on an ongoing basis. Offering greater flexibility and the ability to work at home could help employees deal with stress. Creating a working environment where people feel comfortable and able to ask for some time off if they need is all part of providing a supportive and open culture. Ensuring people know how to access help is vital too.
Often companies have mental health programmes in place, but employees don’t know where to go or feel uncomfortable asking, so focusing on communication around mental health support and ensuring employees know how to access appropriate pathways are key. Over the next few months, globally, we will have further occasions to also consider how to support our people such as World Menopause Month, Men’s Health Awareness week, International Stress Awareness week, Talk Money week, and of course not forgetting our children during Children’s Mental Health week – all forming part of the three core pillars of Financial, Mental and Physical Wellbeing.
So, as we approach World Mental Health Day on October 10, it creates an opportunity to really consider how we can create a more open  culture and consider how wellbeing strategies can support their employees’ wellbeing. Without doubt, prevention and early intervention is key, but reducing stigma is also important when talking about mental health, mental illness, or asking for help! Every day provides the opportunity for employers to demonstrate the steps they are taking to ensure their employees’ wellbeing is high on boardroom and leadership agendas, and how this is embedded within the company DNA!
We have come a long way already. Wellbeing is a complex dynamic between the culture of the company, the work environment, and the mental, physical, psychological and social health of its employees but more needs to be done to ensure this discussion becomes an intrinsic part of the day-to-day company culture.

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Adam Riley, Cert PFS 

Group Practice Leader Health & Benefits

T +44 (0) 7507 788 144