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Todd Sutherland, North Central Regional Leader, North America Insurance, discusses the keys to continued success

In a rapidly changing risk environment, local expertise and the strength of relationships is what sets insurers apart. AXA XL’s Client Distribution Management team makes sure that these attributes remain at the forefront.

Todd Sutherland, Regional Leader of the North Central Region in the U.S., talks about how he and his colleagues foster collaboration and leverage regional expertise to deliver a superior experience for clients and distribution partners.

Q: What is the mission of the Client Distribution Management (CDM) team, and your role within that team?
Todd Sutherland:
As a company, we’ve evolved from payer to partner, dedicated to leveraging all our resources to build tailored and comprehensive solutions for our clients. That requires two things: strong relationships with our client and broker partners, and internal collaboration across all our business units.

The client distribution management team helps to facilitate this strategy on a regional level. The CDM team manages relationships with our key accounts: we’re responsible for nurturing those relationships and advocating for the needs of the clients internally to ensure we are providing the most comprehensive, holistic solution for our clients. As the Regional Leader for the North Central region, I am responsible for relationships for key accounts in 12 Midwestern states.

As the insurance industry continues to evolve, it’s becoming more and more clear just how interconnected risk can be. The pandemic that we’re experiencing now highlights how any disruption in the global economy has numerous and somewhat unpredictable trickle-down effects. To adequately protect companies from those impacts, insurance solutions must be very comprehensive in nature. At AXA XL, we are working closely with our broker and client partners to ensure their needs are met during this transitional period.

It’s not enough to sell policies; as insurers we must help clients understand the complexity of their risk and ensure their coverage matches that complexity. Our role is largely to make sure these conversations happen. We’re getting the right parties together at the table to ensure every possibility is explored.

Q: What’s the benefit to clients of having a regional focus?
A regional focus allows us to be closer to our clients and develop expertise specific to their industries. The North Central region comprises 12 Midwestern states. Our underwriters have expertise working with clients in the industries that dominate the Midwest economy- including manufacturing, service, food and beverage, and agriculture, among others. This expertise enables our business units to understand the unique risks in specific industries and develop an appropriate, tailored solution.

We also have representation from all our capabilities in the region, including underwriting, claims and risk management in addition to the CDM team. All our product lines are available here as well. For clients, it’s a one-stop shop. Prior to the pandemic, we gathered the entire team together in a conference room to analyze the risks and build tailored solutions. Now, we’ve adopted this model virtually. It’s important to communicate as a cohesive group to ensure details are not lost in translation- whether that’s in a virtual meeting or around a conference room table. The collaborative approach empowers the team to be more effective and deliver customized solutions in a timely manner.

Q: How do you foster a culture of collaboration in your office?
When I joined in 2018, we were in the early stages of trying to bring a more coordinated suite of products and services to clients. Over the last couple of years, I’ve only seen dedication to cross-product collaboration grow stronger.

In our office, we have numerous active initiatives to further develop that culture of working together. That includes training our people to think outside of their own niches. We must constantly think about different ways we can deliver solutions for our clients, and new resources that might be relevant to them. To do that, we should always be looking around at what the rest of the organization has to offer. Thinking outside the box is a skillset that needs to be developed and exercised regularly.

To that end, we also provide networking opportunities so our colleagues can get to know each other better personally, as well as learn about all we have to offer as an organization. We’re a big company, but in Chicago we have a very cohesive team. We spend a lot of time and have a lot of fun together, and that leads to people not just thinking about their own business but also thinking about their neighbors' business and how they can work together to create something better. The more we do that, the better overall experience we can create for our clients.

Q. How has that translated in a virtual world?
Our team has adjusted well to the virtual working environment, and we continue to find new creative ways to stay connected and foster an inclusive community. Our regularly scheduled business meetings are conducted virtually, and we have not experienced disruption as it relates to our business operations. We have introduced several tools to continue to encourage internal collaboration for our underwriters and remain committed to working together to provide the best solutions for our brokers and clients.

As an organization, we’ve committed to having regional representatives from underwriting, claims, risk and service talent close to our clients.

Q: AXA XL talks about leveraging internal resources to provide the best possible solutions for our clients. Can you give us some recent examples that highlight this capability?
I think this dynamic shows best in our regional operating model. As an organization, we’ve committed to having regional representatives from underwriting, claims, risk and service talent close to our clients. This all contributes to a unique dynamic of sharing challenges and possible solutions among colleagues across our business units and functions. When our teams meet with clients and ask them “what else can we do to support you,” we really mean it! We take any client feedback back to the office and sit down with our colleagues in the relevant line of business to determine what solutions we can offer to that client. There are too many examples to highlight specifically, but our underwriters do not simply represent their line of business, they represent AXA XL as a whole- to the benefit of our clients.

Q: How are things changing for you now amid the COVID-19 pandemic? 
It’s an incredibly unique situation. We never thought we would have to use our crisis management plan, but I'm happy to say that everything is working very well. Our immediate priority is the health and safety of our people. We spent the first week or so making sure everyone was safe, healthy, and equipped to work from home. We've been working remotely for nearly two months now, and I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that we’re at or close to 100% operational. We are open for business- working with clients to finalize renewals, evaluating and writing new business, paying claims and issuing policies and endorsements. 

The lack of in-person interaction, however, is notable. This is a people business, after all. We're trying to make up for that as much as we can with technology. We’re all living on the phone and video calls, trying to be as communicative as we can be. With the cancellation of RIMS and many major industry conferences this year- which are typically key opportunities for us to connect with our brokers and clients- we have embraced a new approach and are hosting our own webinars in addition to virtual meetings. We are dedicated to our partners and are helping them develop solutions for the current environment and beyond.

Q: What is the significance of AXA XL’s financial strength, especially in crisis? Do you consider this as a benefit for clients?
Absolutely- clients want to know that their insurance partners are going to be there for them down the road, especially for longer tail business. Our financial strength not only provides that certainty for our clients, but also allows us the flexibility to provide meaningful capacity and robust product offerings, while also developing new products and solutions to meet the evolving risk landscape. 

In addition, our financial strength allows us to attract the best talent in the industry. Insurance professionals want to know that they are part of an organization that has the financial strength to support them in their career development and growth.

 
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