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Robert Riha, AXA XL’s Head of Claims for Asia, shares his insights on three fundamental requirements for a successful claims function, and why these are doubly important in the Asian region.

I trained as a solicitor in the UK and worked for many years in the London insurance market. In 2013, I went to Singapore to help resolve an emergency claims situation. Following that trip, my interest and focus quickly shifted to Asian business, and in 2014, I had the fortunate opportunity to relocate to Singapore. Sitting in an oasis of calm in a region full of natural catastrophes as well as volatile political and man-made risks, Singapore is a fascinating market for insurance and risk management professionals.

For me, the transition from navigating the world’s oldest, most established commercial insurance market to working inside the fast changing and evolving Asian region was both exciting and eye-opening. Nonetheless, I’ve come to appreciate three fundamental requirements for a successful claims function that are doubly important in Asia: having a local presence supported by global capabilities; being customer-facing and focused; and maintaining a high level of operational readiness.

Locally present, globally capable

Having empowered local claims operations is crucial in Asia because – and I can’t stress this enough – the region is not a collection of relatively homogenous countries. Contrary to this common misconception, the reality is that every country has its own unique business culture, legal system, insurance law, regulations and broker style.

A few examples: Japan has a distinctive and unique business culture; if you don’t understand and respect its nuances, achieving a successful outcome – however that’s defined – becomes much more difficult, if not impossible. Perhaps less abstractly, the legal systems in Singapore and Hong Kong are grounded in common law; for someone like me trained in the UK, their legal environments aren’t so dissimilar. But just next door to Singapore lies Malaysia, where the law is quite interesting: a mix of Sharia and common law. And other countries such as China, Indonesia and Thailand are civil law jurisdictions with their own civil codes. Also, the judiciaries in Asian countries have vastly different experiences adjudicating insurance claims. In some places, these sorts of issues are new, and the judicial responses to complex commercial claims can be quite unpredictable.

Given these daunting regional variations, having capable claims professionals who are immersed in a country’s business culture and customs, and who understand its legal system and local market practice, is indispensable. It is also essential to maintain good relationships with trusted local service providers.

At the same time, the claims function is greatly fortified when local claims operations are part of a broader global network that includes practice leaders who have confronted larger, more complex situations elsewhere; people who are global experts in their fields, allowing us to leverage their know-how to find local solutions.

Lastly, our clients and their brokers expect swift, clear-cut responses and decisions made in real-time; they want to deal directly with decision-makers on the frontline. That is why we’ve built a regional claims network where we trust and empower our local claims teams to resolve virtually all claims within the region. As a result, when time is of the essence, our Asian clients don’t have to wait for the other side of the world to wake up for us to make important decisions on claims.

Being customer-facing and focused

The Asian insurance market is in transition driven by:

  • rates trending upwards;
  • a more challenging and complex risk landscape; and
  • firms continuing to expand regionally and internationally.

As a result, many Asian companies are increasingly recognising the value of holistic enterprise risk management approaches that aim to avoid or reduce losses, and that help firms to rebound quickly after major events. Asian risk managers now, more than ever, appreciate the benefits of working with carriers having a value proposition that they deliver on, including a strong reputation for claims management.

That is why, over the past several years, my colleagues and I in Asia have focused on conducting regular client and broker roundtables as well as educational claims presentations. For clients, these sessions are an opportunity to hear from various experts, including our underwriters and risk engineers, about the latest approaches for managing different risks.

They also help all parties in the tripartite relationship – clients, brokers and insurers – to develop a greater understanding of and familiarity with each other’s respective capabilities, operations and internal requirements. The benefit of a strong tripartite relationship when it comes to navigating large and complex exposures can be invaluable. In particular, these discussions and exchanges enable us to explain the claims process, coverage provided and potential outcomes. And, importantly, to build trust and establish rapport with the people you will be dealing with in possibly highly stressful situations.

Or to put it somewhat differently, the best meeting a claims professional can have with a client – and vice-versa – is before a claim has ever arisen.

Stepping up 

People who work in claims have first-hand understanding of all the ways companies and people are impacted by different incidents. 

Today, the world faces a situation with COVID-19 where everyone, everywhere is affected.

A solutions orientation to claims is vital as this global emergency progresses. We know that everyone is going through difficult times. As the economic headwinds strengthen, it is essential that we are there for our clients; that requires equal measures of empathy, flexibility and commerciality. On our end, that entails, for example, having proactive discussions with clients about interim funding agreements so their firms have some money and cash flows as economies around the world contract; or, when feasible and appropriate, discussing the early settlement of negotiations on covered claims.

I should also note that our teams here in Singapore and across Asia are operationally ready for this crisis. This includes our Shared Services team in India; it is a vital part of our operation for both claims administration and servicing. Our business continuity plans and technology also have been enormous assets in helping us adapt to the new “socially distant” way of working. And since our operations were already paperless, we can continue to access our global claims systems and data anywhere in the world and at any time of day.

Finally, while we are doing everything we can to be there for our clients and brokers, importantly, we are there for our colleagues as well. Most of us don’t just have day jobs now; along with our work responsibilities, many of us have kids home from school as well as elderly parents, friends, and/or neighbours to look after. Many of my colleagues are working unusual hours and demonstrating the flexibility that it takes to get the job done. I’m proud of their commitment, resilience and support for one another as we put our best practices to the test.

About the author: Robert is the Head of Claims for AXA XL in Singapore. In this role, he is responsible for leading the South East Asia Claims teams across all commercial lines of business, with a focus on finding solutions for clients on even the most challenging claims. He is also the Manager of AXA XL‘s International Financial Lines portfolio of claims for Asia, working in collaboration with clients and brokers to find successful resolutions to complex and significant exposures across the region. Robert is based in Singapore and can be reached at


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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.