Scott Liles did not feel like he and his team at Veterinary Pet Insurance Co. had made a strong connection with customers. VPI was the leader in pet health care insurance and had few peers, creating very little competition in the industry.
But the disconnect between his company and its customers bothered Liles, who took over as VPI’s president two years ago. The 500-employee company is a wholly owned subsidiary of Nationwide Insurance.
“We didn’t spend much time getting to know who they were, what their needs were or what really drove their decision-making,” Liles says. “We didn’t have a consumer orientation in our company. We didn’t collect data, didn’t try to anticipate or get ahead of consumer needs. In a lot of instances, we got mixed up on who we were serving.”
There was confusion as to whether the company should focus on serving the people who own pets, the pets or the veterinarians who take care of those pets. And while the company had functioned for some time without much competition, things were beginning to change as new companies were emerging in the pet health insurance field.
“We were going to continue to lose share, probably increasingly,” Liles says. “We needed to make some changes.”
As Liles looked at what was happening, he discovered that the company’s core product, insurance plans to cover pet accidents and illnesses, was not where the big growth opportunity was at.
“There were other things consumers clearly wanted,” Liles says. “They wanted products that would help them with preventative care, not just accidents and illnesses. They wanted something to help them with emergency credit, big emergencies so they could have access to credit and limit their out-of-pocket cost.”
Unlike human health care, Liles says there is not a network of providers in veterinary medicine who pet owners can turn to for specialized needs and services.
“The way the industry tends to work is a consumer takes their dog to the veterinarian, gets a bill, pays it to the vet, submits it to us and we pay them back,” Liles says. “One of the things consumers are trying to avoid, just like with human health care, is to limit the out-of-pocket. Credit facilities are a way to do that.”
Liles saw what needed to be done, but it would require a dramatic shift in the way VPI operates. Instead of being a pet health care insurance company, Liles wanted to transform it into a pet health care financing company.
“That’s a very important distinction because what it means is we had to strategically make a lot of changes within the company in order to do that,” Liles says.