Every year, Post's Claims Club identifies and rewards rising stars — who together represent the future of the claims profession. Ant Gould met up with some of this year's finalists to garner their views on the state of the claims nation.
Insurance really does have a stigma attached to it, insisted Andy Craig, property claims manager at NFU Mutual and winner of this year's Claims Club Rising Star Award. "It is seen as a dull place to work and that is a big hurdle for the industry to surmount. But this is a reputation it does not deserve."
Unfortunately, however, admitted Mr Craig, "claims can be quite monotonous at the lower end of the pay scale. If you are just dealing with whiplash or windscreen claims day in, day out, it isn't particularly interesting to be honest. We need to get people in and then excite them, so that they can move on and deal with the likes of multiple injury, catastrophic head injuries, major fire losses and business interruption claims. That's when it really gets interesting."
Fellow rising star Greg Coles, motor fulfilment area manager at Royal Bank of Scotland Insurance, agreed, and said: "At the lower end, some jobs can tend to be a little boring." However, he also insisted: "There are huge opportunities for people to really push on quite rapidly within insurance."
The Claims Club's rising stars have undoubtedly made the most of any chances that have personally come their way and clearly demonstrate that opportunities do exist for those with talent and ambition. It is also evident they are enjoying their roles.
Josephine Joseph, senior consultant in Marsh's forensic accounting claims services, certainly believes the insurance industry provides her with everything she ever wanted. "I was looking for an accounting-type role having qualified as one and came across an advertisement that involved forensic accounting and thought 'that sounds interesting'," she recalled. "I went for the interview and it proved to be the best choice I could have made. I don't think I will ever move out of the insurance industry. It's been eight years already but it doesn't feel like any time at all, as something new is happening every day."
So, how did the others end up in insurance — and, in particular, within claims? Mr Coles' response was typical of the vast majority of those in the profession: "A bit by accident really. I studied economics and finance at university and was offered an interview via a job agency for RBS Insurance. Before that I had not even contemplated or researched working in the insurance industry," he admitted. "However, after carrying out some research I was very encouraged by what I found: the potential challenges and the vast breadth of opportunities. This dispelled many of my poorly thought through misconceptions about insurance being a grey industry."
But Mr Coles also had a word of warning to offer the sector, when its comes to its graduate recruitment strategies — or lack of them: "The worrying thing is that it took a third party to make that change happen and I think the insurance industry should have been better at coming to people like me proactively, rather than the other way round."
Mr Craig's route into insurance was, unusually, more by choice — although family connections played a major role. "My Dad works for NFU Mutual, so when I was looking for summer work I did office temping. As I knew the company quite well, I then applied for its graduate scheme on leaving university. Dad always said it was a good company to work for — that it was keen on training and offered a lifetime's career," he added, before quipping: "My brother works there, my wife used to, my sister-in-law still does. If the company goes under, we'll struggle."
Ms Joseph added: "Many people think insurance equals boring but they simply don't have enough knowledge about the industry. When I tell them how interesting my job is, they are keen to find out more." She surmised the root of the problem: "The insurance industry is very good at nurturing talent once people are within it. But it needs to think further ahead, work at getting students interested and capture that talent earlier." Mr Craig agreed wholeheartedly: "Once you are in, especially in the claims sector, there is no better learning environment."
So, what specifically should the industry do to address this issue? Mr Coles said that merely by taking a few practical steps, at grass roots level, better talent could be secured in any given geographic area: "The sheer breadth of opportunities really swung it for me when I was considering my options," he recalled. "But people just don't know about it and, on a local basis, we could do much more. There is a big claims centre in Leeds, for example, and two business schools: all it would take is engaging with some of the students who are about to graduate and offering them opportunities — especially in the current climate with record numbers of graduates and limited jobs. The insurance industry could be really bold and grab the talent out there before the economy picks up again."
Mr Coles also thought the industry is failing to help itself by the way it is structured. "I've only been in the business about three years, but a common complaint I hear from frontline claims staff is that they become siloed in very specific areas and less exposed to the end-to-end process. This potential lack of a joined-up approach to claims handling can also significantly heighten some of the problems the industry faces." In terms of general feedback, he suggested: "Give staff a bit more accountability and responsibility — and then we might be better at controlling claims than we are at the moment."
Tricky frontline balance
Mr Craig agreed in part but felt a balance needs to be struck. "You don't want specialists handling low volume claims either."
"First notification of loss is often the key," responded Mr Coles, "but that is where we have the lower paid staff. So it's a question of getting the right tool kits and awareness to those guys."
Mr Craig shared this opinion and used an example to illustrate the difficulties encountered. "There is the odd case where a passing reference is made to a coma on the claims form, which could easily be missed by junior staff. Then, a few months later, you suddenly find yourself facing a multi-million pound claim. But, on the other hand, you want your best case handlers undertaking the biggest cases. There are pros and cons; it is all about training really."
He explained: "We have checklists to say 'these are things to look out for', such as a thatched roof. That is to say, specific characteristics of claims being notified that you can flag to people who may not have much experience so that they know to refer these cases on. Another example could be where a tractor has pulled out and hit a motorcyclist — there is the potential for an air ambulance to have been called, and the roads closed off. All these cases should be referred on."
Naturally, to make such 'red flags' work properly requires training — and then more training. And all three rising stars expressed their support for a shadowing and mentoring approach. "When I started file handling, I had a small case load," said Mr Craig. "Someone experienced would sit with me, not only to act as a safety net but also to provide constructive feedback". However, he also conceded that resource issues often arise and this form of shadowing or hands-on mentoring can be hard to do when you have a whole team to train-up and manage.
On-the-job and in-house learning were both cited as areas for the claims industry to prioritise. Ms Joseph pointed out that Marsh is now providing its own training via a partnership with the Chartered Insurance Institute. But what of the institute's own exams — and specifically its advanced diploma, the traditional benchmark for ambitious insurance professionals?
Ms Joseph explained that her in-depth industry learning to date has predominantly been experience-based, as opposed to formal exams, but admitted she would look to pursue CII qualifications "soonish". Mr Craig, on the other hand, is a firm fan of industry qualifications. "The ACII qualification is highly regarded at NFU Mutual and you hit a glass ceiling unless you've got it — it's like a golden ticket. It shows the management team you are serious and want to progress to the next level."
In fact, he reveals the ACII was part of his employment contract — in that he would be required to work to obtain it over a number of years. "It is a useful set of initials to have at the end of your name; people take you more seriously," he said. "I had to go through 10 different workbooks and there is a lot in there, so much knowledge. I can't speak highly enough of it."
Mr Coles admitted to being more sceptical: "I haven't taken the exam. I work on the supply chain side and the ACII is not a common qualification in my area of the business. However, this is a decision I will have to take soon — undertake a more specialist supply chain qualification or the ACII." Having the wider insurance knowledge of the CII exams as a base could be really useful, he added, while conceding that portability would be a major consideration.
One issue that came up repeatedly during the discussion was the issue of rising claims costs, especially in the personal injury sector due to the endeavours of claims management companies and others in the claims chain. Mr Coles did not mince his words: "Just look at the combined ratios of the major insurers. We are approaching a position where the insurance industry needs to be bolder in dealing with bodily injury. We need to be braver in challenging back. Operations are springing up all over the country in glorified potting sheds."
Of course, underwriters also need to take a share of the blame for the parlous state of affairs, particularly in the motor insurance sector. As Mr Coles observed: "On the flip side, the underwriters need to get the pricing right and I think that, as an industry, we have not been as good as we could be at feeding trends through to the underwriters."
Mr Craig agreed that the relationship between claims and underwriters is crucial: "My view is that more of an incentive exists now to get the underwriting right: in the past we have operated in separate silos but we now work much closer together. Even 24 months ago we would not have fed back as much information about weaknesses in policy wording, or details of dodgy claimants to the underwriters. That is all changing."
Speaking from a broking perspective, Ms Joseph added that intermediaries have also been doing more to help make underwriting more relevant to the risks actually being covered. "We deal with major property damage business interruption claims and have been using our loss experience to review the policies of our clients. In fact, insurers have started funding this as well to help them understand the risk." Offering an example, she explained: "We look at the policy and how the underwriter could simply tailor it for each customer."
Data was another popular topic debated by the rising stars, as Mr Coles surmised: "Management information is key to running our areas of the business and without it we would make the wrong decisions. But it has to be meaningful. There is a big focus for us at the moment to get some rigour around the data, so that when we make a strategic decision we know exactly what the impact will be all along the way — the waterfall of benefits from making a certain decision."
But is the industry's MI up to scratch, especially as insurers have traditionally not always been on top of this information? "Our best MI does come from our suppliers," conceded Mr Coles, "and we need to get our internal MI to be as good as that. The more data we have the better I think."
MI is all well and good of course, but what are the insurers specifically trying to achieve through its collation? "Our major focus is on retention," said Mr Coles. "Can we satisfy our customers from a claims perspective? We don't need to delight them but if they are satisfied and receive the service they expect, they will generally stay with us. At the end of the day it is cheaper to keep hold of customers than get new ones in. It's crucial to get the basics right."
This last point bodes well for the sector's future and underlines the fact that a new note of realism is finally permeating the volume claims sector. Customers want a solid, decent service that delivers what matters — not an all-singing all-dancing offering. If the industry can get the basics right, it will be a major step forward. And if the young guns of the claims profession — represented by the enthusiastic, determined and ambitious Claims Club Rising Stars — are anything to go by, the industry is in good hands.
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