Showing you mean business

Proposed Financial Services Authority regulation is making its presence felt in the claims handling sector, meaning untrained and incompetent claims handlers will not survive. Chris Miller shows how the new Faculty of Claims aims to give employers all the tools they need for training

At a recent conference, John Parvin, Zurich's subsidence claims manager, pointed out that come January, under statutory regulation, he would only be able to employ competent claims handlers who understand the full implications of service issues.

Picking up on this theme, Tony Boobier, director of building services at Capita Insurance Services, felt the Financial Services Authority regime would create "licensed expert subsidence claims handlers". These are two more indicators that the world of untrained, incompetent claims handlers simply cannot survive after 2005.

Exam papers

The FSA leaflet Training and Competence states: "Attaining competence is about becoming fully proficient in your job and showing you can meet the required standards in your day-to-day work. This will not happen by accident. Training is part of the process and some people may have to pass an exam."

For the 100,000 people who handle insurance claims - either with insurance companies, brokers, loss adjusters, call centres, travel agents, disaster recovery companies or others - help is at hand.

The new Faculty of Claims comes into existence on 1 July as a joint venture between the Chartered Institute of Loss Adjusters' Society of Claims Technicians and the Chartered Insurance Institute.

Specialist papers

Faculty examinations will build on existing SCT and CII provision and include papers dedicated to regulation and claims handling, as well as specialist papers in motor and household, subsidence and property. These will be followed soon after launch by travel and liability, thereby covering the vast majority of claims handlers.

For those who want to carve out careers in claims, the FoC means their training and professional development can be totally focused. Now claims handlers can gain a sector-specific qualification that has industry-wide status and recognition. It is no coincidence that Bill Paton, head of claims at Zurich, and David Williams, director of claims at Axa, sit on the new FoC board.

Although many of the major insurance companies have their own internal training schemes for claims handlers, it has been shown that there is always more interest in achieving benchmark qualifications that have industry-wide recognition and professional status. Discussions with individual companies have revealed a confidence that the FoC will result in far more claims handlers undertaking qualifications than would have been the case under the previous regime.

Vicious circle

Without training and encouragement, employees are more likely to leave, then they will need to be replaced by inexperienced staff, thus beginning a vicious circle.

Qualifications make staff better at their jobs, not just through improved knowledge but by creating confidence. Staff handling claims must want to know what they are doing - and the FSA will not have it any other way.

Qualifications must now be targeted, which is what the FoC, with its range of general and specialist papers, hopes to achieve.

The quality of staff in call centres has long been a bugbear in the insurance industry, not least because service delivery is the make or break of the commercial battleground. Those who handle claims well will retain and win customers and, at the same time, weed out leakage problems.

The proposed FoC structure will enable member services to support competent claims handling at every level, and will create an important single identity - having only one body providing qualifications and professional support will prevent any future confusion. The FoC has already been welcomed by insurance companies and should be welcomed by the government, regulator, industry and trade bodies.

Further evidence of the need for such qualifications and support came in last year's research into the attitudes of SCT members. Members estimated that 10% of the public uses swear words when making a claim, and there were reports of claimants becoming so heated that conversations had to be terminated. The often-strained atmosphere in which claims are handled is, therefore, not one for the untrained or those lacking in confidence - both issues the new FoC seeks to address.

In the middle

Claims handlers have also historically felt caught between the promises of the insurance companies and the demands of the public. Among qualified SCT members - which at launch in July will be eligible to join the FoC - more than half felt the worst thing about their jobs was the lack of career structure, something the FoC also intends to rectify.

On a more positive note, last year's research showed that if a professional level of service was offered, the public would respond "with only minor levels of abuse and criticism". Another claims handler reported: "I find the public's attitude difficult but I see it as my job to assist". It is, therefore, anticipated that those companies involved with claims will fully support the establishment of the new FoC.

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