Algarve-based insurance broker Medal started serving the expat community in the Algarve at a time when the focus was mostly on seasonal tourism.
Many people today may find it hard to believe that foreign residents were not always viewed as a key cog in the Algarve’s economy.
But with the growth of tourism in the Algarve, all eyes were on capitalising on the seasonal tourism market – at least until the mid-1990s, when Medal arrived on the scene.
The insurance broker was founded in 1996 by Henrique Pinheiro in Portimão, having become a leading company in the sector, particularly when it comes to serving the Algarve’s expatriate community.
“In the 1990s, the focus was on ‘tourism, tourism, tourism’. Foreign residents were not considered as important for the local economy as seasonal tourism,” Henrique Pinheiro explained.
Seeing an untapped opportunity, Medal started gearing its services towards expats.
“The fact that I had worked at multinational companies meant that I already had that experience, vision and will to offer solutions to this particular type of client,” said Henrique Pinheiro.
“The services that existed (for expats) were not very professional and lacked after-sales service, which is essential for expat clients who need ongoing support,” he added, citing linguistic issues as one of the main barriers they face.
“Thirty years later, we see that time has proved us right. Expats are an important part of the economy, and the Algarve would not be the same without them,” the Medal founder said.
As he pointed out, foreign residents “consume locally, buy cars here, go to supermarkets, travel through Faro Airport, invite friends to come on holiday, dine in restaurants, buy houses, and represent a very, very important part of the economy for the Algarve, which would not have the economic strength and power it has now without them.”
Medal even formed a partnership with afpop, the country’s largest foreign residents’ association, offering members special insurance deals and exclusive insurance solutions as Motor, Household, Travel and Health insurances.
80% of private clients are foreigners
Medal’s focus on the expat community is clear when looking at the broker’s private client percentages: around 80% of them are foreigners, said João Pinheiro, COO of Medal.
Many of these clients are people who have worked at some of the biggest companies in the world, which has also helped Medal step up its game when compared to its competitors.
“These clients also help us improve our after-sales service and, most importantly, pre-sales service. We explain how their insurance works and offer advice. In turn, they bring valuable experiences that we would never have otherwise. We wouldn’t be able to speak with a retired director of a large multinational company if we didn’t already work with these types of clients. They give us a different perspective, make us think and challenge us. It is a privilege for us to work with them,” said João Pinheiro.
Americans value health insurance above all else
Like so many other companies in Portugal and the Algarve, Medal has also been registering an increase in American clients, although British clients remain its main foreign market.
“That is why we always look to work with internationally known insurance companies. When we speak of Allianz, everyone knows it is a very powerful name; or AIG, a very well-known American insurance company; or Zurich, another well-known brand; or even Hiscox, which is more geared towards artworks and jewels.”
Health insurance is the type of insurance that clients have the most questions about, although there is a stark difference between European and non-European clients, explained João Pinheiro.
“European clients already have an idea of how the public health service works. British clients are already used to having the NHS as well as private health options, so they are very easily adaptable to the Portuguese market,” he said. “Clients from outside of Europe, especially Americans, have more doubts about how the public and private health sectors work.”
Part of Medal’s job with these clients is explaining all the public health services they are entitled to as well as the private options at their disposal.
Henrique Pinheiro goes as far as to say that Medal has been a pioneer when it comes to health insurance in Portugal.
“If we go back 20 years in time, health insurance practically did not exist or was in a very embryonic stage. It was almost impossible to get health insurance above the age of 56, and the coverage only lasted until the age of 65. However, using our experience, we started introducing new solutions and opening the horizons of insurance companies,” he said.
The sector has evolved “very quickly” in the last 15 years, according to Henrique Pinheiro, who stresses that the reality is “completely different today”.
“We have solutions for clients who want to begin their health insurance coverage at the age of 70 with no cut off age,” he added.
Being chosen to manage the insurance of “such an important community” is a “huge responsibility” for the team at Medal, which motivates them even further to meet client expectations.
“We have many clients who contact us because we were recommended to them by a friend. It’s an amazing feeling and adds to our responsibility,” said Henrique Pinheiro.
“We feel we have all the conditions to continue on the path of success and being a ‘name that you can trust’, as well as a leader in Portugal in terms of ‘insurance for expats’.
New office to open in Lagos
To help maintain the “emotional and more personal” connection with its clients, MEDAL is planning to open its third office in the Algarve, more specifically in Lagos, by the end of this year or first quarter of 2024.
“We will have three offices in the Algarve (Lagos, Portimão and Almancil), which means we will be even closer to our clients in this region,” said Henrique Pinheiro.
The company also has an office in Estoril (Lisbon Area) in partnership with MEDAL Target and does not exclude the possibility of opening new offices in other regions of the country, as part of its expansion and business growth strategy.
For more information, visit www.medal.pt
“Living in the Algarve” event
João Pinheiro will participate as a speaker in the upcoming “Living in Portugal” free seminar event on Thursday, June 15 at Cascade Wellness Resort in Lagos.
For more information, click here