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The advantages to building deeper partnerships between clients, insurers and brokers are well known and there are numerous examples of how, whether through innovation or cooperative problem-solving, such efforts have created or added value to businesses. Fast Fast Forward recently talked with Elie Hanna and Tim Smith about how their UK-based team is increasing collaboration with clients and brokers to shift the focus from “payer to partner". Elie is Chief Distribution Officer, UK & Lloyd's, and Tim is Head of UK Client Management.

What is the background of this heightened focus on partnering with clients and brokers?

Elie Hanna (EH): AXA XL has always sought to work together closely with our clients, together with their brokers, to develop solutions to challenging issues and add value. Of course, some clients opt for a strictly transactional approach in which we are capacity providers. Yet, while balance sheet protection—by transferring risk from a company to an insurer—is a core element of our value proposition, our more collaborative experiences with some clients demonstrate we have much more to offer.

That, briefly, is why we established "accelerating the transition from payer to partner" as a core strategic imperative when the new organisation came together in 2018. "From payer to partner" means a value proposition that starts with "here is the coverage and the capacity we can offer", and then emphasises "and here are the other resources and capabilities we have that could help your organisation become more resilient, greener and more competitive". And we can come on to some examples of how that works in practice that later.

What makes "from payer to partner" realistic and achievable?
EH: One underappreciated aspect of the commercial P&C industry is the deep knowledge underwriters, risk consultants and claims specialists have about different risks as well as individual industry sectors. At AXA XL, this core expertise and experience is augmented by professionals from various scientific and engineering disciplines, plus data scientists and modelling experts.

These experienced professionals understand the unique ins-and-outs of an industry segment, as well as how an individual company compares with its peers. And because we operate globally, have clients in diverse industries, and offer a wide array of traditional and specialty coverages, our storehouse of collective knowledge and expertise is pretty vast.

Many insurers like ourselves also maintain strong ties with the academic community and fund important, relevant research projects. To cite just two examples: the AXA Research Fund recently sponsored extensive research conducted by the Centre for Risk Studies at Cambridge Judge Business School (CCRS) into the socioeconomic impacts of natural disasters, including the relative effects of various factors on disaster recovery. The Fund also recently created the AXA Chair in Coastal Resilience at the University of California-Santa Cruz, which will support ongoing research into the valuable role mangrove forests play in safeguarding coastal areas and how best to protect and restore these natural defences.

Then, we can harness this wealth of wisdom and partner with clients and their brokers to reduce their total cost of risk, create and/or sustain competitive advantages and unlock new opportunities.

What is the team in the UK doing to achieve that?
Tim Smith (TS): It starts with just spending the time and effort to better understand our clients’ goals and aspirations, and the risks and challenges they face in achieving them. And from there, to look for ways that clients can capitalize on our capabilities, expertise and resources. That isn't new or profound, but it can be sometimes tempting to focus on more immediate priorities in the press of day-to-day business, rather than to think big and into the future. That's why developing deeper relationships with clients and brokers is a core mandate for the team here in the UK.

The pandemic was a good test of cooperative problem-solving in action as, like all of us, many clients were suddenly confronted with new problems and, in some cases, a vastly different risk landscape.

One of our clients, for example, makes perfumes, and wanted to repurpose some of its manufacturing capacity to produce hand sanitizers. Since the alcohol concentrations in sanitizers are considerably greater than in perfumes, that is a much riskier proposition. We quickly identified the risk consultants within AXA XL who had particular expertise on this issue, and they were able to advise the client on how to make this change safely.

Another client owns a considerable number of leased vehicles. During the pandemic, most of these sat idle and, as one would expect, accident-related claims dropped considerably. At the same time, losses from theft, vandalism and weather-related incidents tend to increase when vehicles are parked for an extended period. In this case, we worked closely with the client to restructure its coverages to reflect this new risk profile more accurately. We also provided guidance on how the client could mitigate some of the new threats it faced.

Is there anything else you’re doing to encourage greater engagement with clients and brokers?
TS: We recently launched two Industry Practice Groups, or IPGs, in the UK, covering Food, Beverage and Agribusiness and Healthcare and Life Science. And we have plans to launch a further two later in the year on Technology and Communications and Entertainment and Leisure.

Each IPG includes people within AXA XL who have either worked directly within that industry or have extensive experience supporting it, as well as subject-matter experts on relevant issues. So, in line with the points Elie made earlier, the IPGs are another way for us to share our insider knowledge about each of these sectors as well as our deep expertise on specific topics, and of course for us to develop and build on that expertise so that we better understand our clients and the risks they face.

Although I’s still early days, we envision the IPGs adding value by creating opportunities to exchange best practices and lessons learned with clients and brokers, and challenge prevailing views/assumptions about traditional and emerging risks. On this latter point, one of the principles we established for the IPGs is that while there is much we can learn from the past, all of us—insurers, clients and brokers—who are navigating increasingly complex and dynamic markets need to be willing to "skewer some sacred cows" from time-to-time.

EH: We’re also promoting greater engagement with new solutions and capabilities. Although these are available to clients globally, they are highly relevant to many of our UK clients, particularly those with operations in areas exposed to different natural perils.

One is the Risk Scanning solution offered by AXA XL Risk Consulting. In short, Risk Scanning involves analysing an extensive portfolio of properties/assets based on data from the client and external sources. These are used to develop risk assessment algorithms that quantify and benchmark the perils associated with specific assets. The output is a consistent picture of relative risk levels for the overall portfolio and individual sites. From there, clients can allocate their resources more efficiently and make targeted investments in prevention, preparation and ongoing monitoring.

The Risk Scanning solution also capitalizes on new tools and technologies, including machine-reading applications and artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities. With these, we can collect, analyse and synthesize massive amounts of data from disparate sources, and do so faster and more economically than previously.

Another tool is called Cymo, which was developed by AXA Climate. In Greek mythology, Cymo was one of the sea nymphs who accompanied Poseidon and helped sailors. Her superpower was the ability "to still the wind and calm the seas".

Cymo is a monitoring tool that helps clients in the periods before, during and after a natural disaster take the right actions to minimize losses. Once Cymo "sees" that something could be in the offing, the system sends targeted alerts to the relevant people telling them what to expect and outlining the steps they should initiate based on predictions about how the event will unfold. These alerts become increasingly detailed and specific as more and more data about the event come in.

Cymo accomplishes this by harnessing the collective intelligence of global climate and weather experts, a 365/24/7 Ops team and a unique global network of satellites, drones and social networks. This external information is integrated with such relevant internal material as the client's organisational charts, and disaster-response and business-continuity plans. All of these come together to provide a 360-degree view of a natural disaster in real-time. This visual assessment map of the Beirut harbour explosion shows how Cymo can provide vital insight into the situation on-the-ground after a natural disaster.

Any closing comments?
EH: While this discussion has focussed on how a spirit of cooperative problem-solving can help clients become more resilient, greener and more competitive, it is not all one-way. There is much we can and do learn from our clients – and that learning is vital for us to better understand our clients and their risks, which in turn helps us to ensure we’re providing them with the right and most appropriate products and/or services. 

TS: To Elie's point, I would add that the value we each derive from the relationship increases considerably when clients take an interest in our organisation; things like our operational processes, organisational culture and local decision-making authorities. And, of course, we’re always on hand to help improve that understanding in those instances. 


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US- and Canada-Issued Insurance Policies

In the US, the AXA XL insurance companies are: AXA Insurance Company, Catlin Insurance Company, Inc., Greenwich Insurance Company, Indian Harbor Insurance Company, XL Insurance America, Inc., XL Specialty Insurance Company and T.H.E. Insurance Company. In Canada, coverages are underwritten by XL Specialty Insurance Company - Canadian Branch and AXA Insurance Company - Canadian branch. Coverages may also be underwritten by Lloyd’s Syndicate #2003. Coverages underwritten by Lloyd’s Syndicate #2003 are placed on behalf of the member of Syndicate #2003 by Catlin Canada Inc. Lloyd’s ratings are independent of AXA XL.
US domiciled insurance policies can be written by the following AXA XL surplus lines insurers: XL Catlin Insurance Company UK Limited, Syndicates managed by Catlin Underwriting Agencies Limited and Indian Harbor Insurance Company. Enquires from US residents should be directed to a local insurance agent or broker permitted to write business in the relevant state.