William Harris CEO Chrysalis Finance in-depth interview with Healthcare Markets UK about the changing world of health and dental finance.

Tell me a little about Chrysalis Finance’s background

We started by offering payment options in dentistry and to achieve this we built bespoke technology and a dedicated processing platform. It made sense as dental patients were increasingly having to pay for treatment options.  My first business was as a design engineer and I progressed onto becoming founder Director of ATI, a company, which became one of the largest electronic security businesses in the UK until the late 90’s.  Following that we created a secure retail credit processing technology platform used by many of the major UK banking institutions. Over a number of years, I have been invited to undertake various non-exec and advisory roles in the NHS and the banking sector. 

It is this business knowledge and healthcare and banking experience combined, which means that we are able to provide tailored funding solutions to a number of different healthcare customers.

Why have you focused particularly on healthcare?

We realised that there was little understanding of the power of retail credit as a means of funding healthcare and the major benefits this brings to patients, clinics and hospital operators. Lenders’ risk in healthcare is very much higher than in other lending markets. Clinical and regulatory oversight is complex, expensive and time consuming.  Patient care pathways are very different to other consumer facing and retail transactions. We decided therefore to extend the offering into secondary and tertiary acute care. We have invested significantly in providing sophisticated real time technology to make payment options easier to access and adopt. We do this through close collaboration with our clinical provider partners, working hand in hand to improve the patient experience and provide ethical, regulated and responsible credit solutions.  It has taken a long time to build a relationship of trust between Chrysalis and the healthcare sector. There are still some unscrupulous marketing businesses that have tried to use healthcare as a platform to sell expensive unregulated personal loan products. Most people will also be aware of the current “buy now pay later” issues in the retail world. Chrysalis only provides 0% or low APR financial products with no rate for risk lending and certainly no onward selling of credit applications and data.

We are enormously proud of our hard-won reputation and commitment to responsible and ethical service in the healthcare sector. Our entire focus is on looking after the best interests of patients, clinics and hospital operators and using some of the most advanced technology available in these markets. We are in this for the long term and continuously innovate with improved products and services. 

Through making payment options available to patients, we are helping make access to private healthcare much easier, more affordable and manageable for many at a time when the pressures on the NHS through growing waiting lists are intense.

The acquisition of Zebra Finance and a number of other smaller providers led to you being the main patient finance provider for the majority of the private acute hospital groups and many others.  Do you see this as a good thing, or does it stifle competition and innovation?

Zebra approached us because of our unrivalled technological platform and our innovative approach to the healthcare market. They and other lenders simply didn’t have the resources to develop and invest in the technology. This is why we continue to invest in and develop technology designed specifically for healthcare providers in a fast-evolving marketplace and are the market leader. We see the strength of our market position as a good thing for patients and providers. Lenders and the financial regulators are reassured with their risk position in healthcare because they understand and trust our proven compliance and oversight expertise. Clinical providers know that we have strong ethics and treat patients fairly. As a result, numerous lenders have entered the market using our platform, providing a range of products and therefore greater choice to patients and providers.

How have attitudes changed in the last 5 years to financing healthcare for example the availability of medical loans?  

We now live in a subscription-based economy. People expect to be offered payment options and to have choices when making purchase decisions. Even Rolls Royce sell their cars with payment options. The vast majority of our healthcare customers choose to spread the cost of treatment because of the flexibility and added protection this provides. To assume that credit is only chosen by people who cannot afford to pay outright is no longer correct. Our market has grown with the increase in self pay patients over the last four or five years but the proportion of patients funding healthcare with credit has grown even more. Society wants and expects to spread payment costs. This is also driven by changing attitudes towards credit from a number of hospital operators, who are beginning to understand that making it easier for patients to spread the cost leads to greater profitability  

Is Chrysalis Finance just a finance provider or are there opportunities to be more active and innovative in the market?  Will this require a shift in focus from hospital and healthcare providers?

The main customers for hospital operators have traditionally been the private medical insurance sector and the NHS through waiting list initiatives and the extended choice network. Quite naturally their systems and processes, care and delivery were focussed on serving the needs of patients from these payors. Over the last decade, slow but steady increases in the proportion of UK based self-pay patients, growing NHS waiting lists, a shrinking individual PMI market and issues with PMI corporate schemes losing tax benefit for employees has started to shift the balance. Consequently, hospital operators now need to move to a more direct consumer driven and responsive service, where specific consumer expectations need to be met – one of them being affordability of treatment. Chrysalis recognised this and is working hard on being not just a lender but a full, service partner.  Providing funding options early in the patient pathway, ensuring that hospital staff understand how to promote them and integrating the application process into internal CRM systems are the key success factors in our service-oriented approach. We constantly strive to make the patient experience easier and at the same time work to improve the providers’ evolving sales processes.   

What are the most important factors when consumers are seeking to spread the cost of treatment?

It’s important to stress that, alongside finding the best surgeons and understanding when they can have their treatment an essential element in a patient’s decision-making process is how they can pay for their treatment. And so, providing payment options, which suit their situation become fundamental. Some may see this purely in terms of cashflow. They may be able to easily afford to pay upfront but would rather spread out the cost on a monthly basis and use any excess cash elsewhere without delaying treatment or waiting for NHS availability. Other individuals will decide that dipping into investments or other savings to pay for hospital treatment is not an efficient use of their wealth and prefer to fund this with credit, either interest-free or using low-cost interest-bearing products. Whatever the initial motivation may be, all consumers want payment options, which are low cost; from providers who they feel they can trust; offer strong protection (as with a credit card) but without the high interest charges. The service needs to be easy and quick to complete and offer settlement flexibility with no penalties for early settlement.  Hospital operators and clinics need the certainty of payment we provide, reducing substantially the risk of bad debt or credit control issues

How do you see the self-pay market developing in the future and what role do you see for Chrysalis?

Without a doubt, hospital operators and clinics will speed up the adaptation of their marketing, onboarding and care delivery models to meet increased consumer interest in paying for healthcare, driven by greater awareness, persistently high NHS waiting lists and a greater number of elective surgery patients going directly to a provider for their treatment. 

One of the first questions a consumer asks in their consideration phase is “how can I best pay for it?”. This is where using Chrysalis makes a real difference to self-pay growth. With our products, hospital operators and clinics present their costs in a more attractive way (showing for example monthly payments). We process an advance or loan with minimal patient information; this can be adjusted once a patient is more certain of cost and the treatment pathway. Our role therefore, working firmly alongside our clients, is to make it easy for a consumer to engage and pay for their treatment. Offering a patient, payment alternatives at the start of their journey significantly increases enquiry volumes and improves the immediate take-up of treatment.  

Are there new products and services that we should look out for?

We listen closely to the feedback from our partner clinics and hospital operators and have many ideas for new products and services in healthcare.  Our focus is on providing solutions to their specific issues and requests.

One of these, a card payment processing service dedicated to healthcare professionals is launching imminently. This new service simplifies an overly complex market by offering one fixed rate for all major cards with no hidden charges, guaranteeing to reduce costs for clinicians and hospital operators. The current market is almost impossible to understand for many. It’s awash with unexpected charges and does not provide healthcare professionals and their patients with the service they need. With this new service, we will change all this. We will be offering a remote process whereby administrative staff can take card payments over the phone, in clinic, send payment links to patients and register card details securely for future payments, all facilitated through a bespoke online portal specifically designed for use in the UK healthcare system. With this new service sitting alongside our funding options, we will be offering a complete payment experience like no other. This is a state-of-the-art technology-driven solution, which we are making available now. Most likely, well in advance of the more traditional card merchant providers. 

Our greatest challenge is getting our partner clinic and hospital operators to talk openly about what they want and how they need it to work for them.  Transactional elements in patient pathways are often overlooked. But they are most definitely key to making sales processes work well.  They are critical elements in service delivery and in improving patient experience.  

Find out more about how join the UK’s largest award winning payment solutions company today https://chrysalisfinance.co.uk/partner-with-us/