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Created on 18.11.2022

How Helsana is promoting the use of eBill

In 2021, the health insurer Helsana sent 4 million invoices via eBill – more than ever before. Christian Kaufmann explains how a mix of incentives and targeted communication can motivate customers to switch to eBill.

Mr Kaufmann, paperless invoices reduce workload. What’s the situation like at Helsana?

Christian Kaufmann: Time and again, we receive payments that cannot be assigned automatically because the reference number is wrong. In 2021, this was the case with 330,000 invoices. We allocate part of it semi-automatically, and the rest manually. We can greatly lessen this workload with eBill, where the reference number is correct and the payment automatically goes to the right place.

How many Helsana customers pay with eBill?

Today, around 20% of our customers pay with eBill and 22% pay via direct debit. The pandemic gave the switch to eBill and direct debit an extra push because suddenly you could no longer pay at the post office counter. Since 2021, we have also continued to charge post office counter fees – and this led to an even greater push. We have 36% more eBill payments this year than in 2021.

How have customers reacted to the charging of counter fees?

Remarkably well. We didn’t just suddenly change the fees on 1 January, but started informing people about the change early on. We discovered that not only older people like to pay their bills at the post office counter, but interestingly also young people.

In 2021, Helsana sent out a total of 4 million eBills, compared to only 400,000 in 2010. Are you surprised by this increase?

To be honest, I’m rather surprised at how long it takes for customers to be willing to change their payment behaviour. We’ve had digital invoices since 2006.

About Helsana

The Helsana Group, with its headquarters in Dübendorf (Zurich), is one of the largest health insurers in Switzerland with almost 2.2 million customers. The company employs more than 3,400 staff. In 2021, income from premiums amounted to 7.4 billion francs. Helsana introduced electronic invoices in 2006.

Why is that?

Probably because of the administrative obstacle to entry. When I first wanted to register, I saw these six pages of paper that I had to read through first, so I initially put the dossier aside several times.

Does it get easier once this initial hurdle has been cleared?

Yes. For customers who already use eBill, it is also much easier to set up additional invoice issuers. So everyone benefits from switching over. The only drawback is that since customers pay more punctually, we are collecting four times less in overdue fees than before.

Where do you start as a company if you want to switch to eBill?

We started with our own staff. In 2012, we realized that many of them didn’t even know how electronic invoices worked. That’s why we wanted to get them to use electronic invoices themselves – afterwards they understood better how to help customers and when to seek advice. That way, incorrect information can be avoided. This is crucial, because the potential for frustration increases when there’s a lot of incorrect information.

What incentives were the staff involved in?

We linked the training materials to a competition in which we gave away iPads as prizes. We looked at who had signed up for eBill by a certain day and we drew a winner from that pool. This encouraged the staff to register by that date – and those who had already registered were also included in the draw.

And how do you win over customers to eBill?

We integrate eBill communication into the “background noise” by continually promoting this payment option. For example, in January, when we have to inform customers that they haven’t adjusted their standing orders and have paid too little. In each of these letters we include a recommendation to switch to direct debit or eBill. This kind of targeted communication is much more effective than indiscriminate advertising.

Do you also offer incentives to your customers?

Yes. We once joined a competition run by SIX where you could win a Smart car – today the prize would probably be an electric Smart car. We advertised the competition directly on our inpayment slips by printing the slogan “Be smart, win a Smart” and a link to a website with information on eBill in the bottom left. Another time, we printed information about eBill on our envelopes. Both campaigns cost nearly nothing and had a great impact.

What is the advantage of eBill over direct debit?

There are customers who don’t want the bank to access their account directly via direct debit. For these customers, eBill is a good alternative. Because eBill allows you to specify that only invoices up to a certain amount are paid automatically. If a service invoice with a higher amount then arrives, it must first be approved by the customer.

Wouldn’t a standing approval be even simpler?

Yes, clearly. We’ve also noticed that customers with a standing approval for eBill and direct debit are much more loyal – perhaps because they don’t have to approve invoices and needn’t think about their health insurance contributions every month.

About Christian Kaufmann

Portrait

Christian Kaufmann has been Head of Accounts Receivable Management at Helsana for over ten years. His tasks include payment transactions, payment collection and receivables management engineering.

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