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Head of Client Management, UK, AXA XL

In these unprecedented times for us all, innovation in the insurance industry has not slowed – indeed, responses to the COVID-19 pandemic have in many cases accelerated innovation and change. The pandemic has changed the way many businesses operate and the risks they face now and in the future. Insurance practitioners must continue to adapt to this and are seeking new ways to innovate to meet their clients’ changing needs. Tim Smith, Head of UK Client Management at AXA XL, discusses how risk managers, brokers and insurers can collaborate to find risk solutions in these challenging times. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has altered the way that we all work – in many cases for ever. Businesses have changed the way they operate, with many seeing colleagues now working outside of an office environment. Many companies adapted to make different products or use their facilities in different ways. This has changed the risks that companies face – and the way in which they need to manage, mitigate and transfer them. 

At times like these, collaborative thinking is more important than ever. As we approach AIRMIC Fest, I am looking forward to catching up – virtually – with many clients and brokers, to bouncing ideas around, to hearing innovative thoughts and to having discussions about the changing face of risk. 

Things have changed for the insurance industry too. With traditional face-to-face meetings in many cases impossible, we have all adapted our routines and become used to video calls. We have needed to change the way we do things – innovation has, to some extent, been forced upon us all. 

At Lloyd’s of London, for example, the more-than-three-hundred-year-old tradition of face-to-face meetings and physical signing of slips was rendered impossible when the underwriting room was forced to close. In response, one of our underwriters devised a way to sign scratches and slips virtually – a great example of someone thinking on their feet and innovating to solve a very immediate problem. 

But innovation isn’t and shouldn’t be just a reaction to events. In some cases, though, the restrictions on movement of people necessitated by COVID-19 lockdowns, certainly accelerated innovation – and set in motion changes that are probably here to stay. Two great examples of that are our Remote Risk Dialogue and our Digital Risk Engineer. 

During the lockdown period, the development of our new Digital Risk Engineer solution became particularly relevant, especially when facilities were empty or idle. The Digital Risk Engineer uses the Internet of Things to monitor buildings and assets 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It “listens” to building management systems and captures data to inform us about the building’s health. 

When governments around the world imposed restrictions on the movement of people, our risk engineers needed to find a way to carry out the many hundreds of risk surveys they perform each year on our clients’ facilities. By using data capture and remote analysis, risk engineers were able to continue to carry out surveys and consultations without needing to visit a site. 

Often, the use of those facilities had changed as clients innovated to adapt to the pandemic; for example, some alcohol distilleries began producing hand sanitiser, and some clothing manufacturers began making face masks. In these instances, insurers needed not only to adapt the way they carried out risk analysis, but also to adapt insurance coverages to respond to this change in risk profile. We – insurers, brokers and risk managers – all had to work together to innovate. 

It hasn’t only been the change in working patterns that have driven innovation in risk and insurance. The COVID-19 pandemic has been a human disaster on a global scale, with tragic loss of life and life-changing effects on so many people across the world. 

The search for a vaccine, and other ways to combat the effects of COVID-19, is an urgent, global effort. And risk transfer has a part to play in supporting that. AXA XL is part of syndicate 1796, a new global health facility at Lloyd’s. This is a great example of our industry responding to a global health emergency and collaborating to find new ways to do things in this “new normal.” 

Risk management and transfer has always been about collaboration between client, broker and insurance carrier to find the most suitable solutions for risk problems. Without a doubt, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced us all to find different ways to do that – with the opportunity for face-to-face brainstorming put on hold, we need to find other ways to continue to innovate.

Late last year, we launched Cube, the world’s first ever risk innovation incubator. The concept originally worked around a series of workshops in which our clients and risk experts worked together to create solutions to the most complex risks. Naturally, the COVID-19 pandemic meant that face-to-face workshops were out of the question. But the need for co-created solutions to complex risks was even more acute.

With that in mind, we completely virtualised the Cube process. Clients can now take part in virtual workshops and brainstorming sessions to test problems and find solutions. This evolution will, we believe, be of huge benefit to our clients even when restrictions on meets are eased. 

Meeting of minds
Innovation is so often fostered by the meeting of minds as we – client, broker and carrier – examine problems and look to find answers.  Even while we cannot meet in person, I urge you to challenge your insurers to support you in the changes your businesses are facing as a result of this different world. 

The AIRMIC conference has always been a great opportunity to meet up with clients and brokers and to bounce ideas around. And I will miss that this year - that face-to-face human interaction is not easily replicated. However, I believe there are ways we can all work on those “softer” elements of relationship-building even while we cannot meet in person. 

We have a packed programme of sessions, workshops, discussions and debates at Airmic Fest. And we are hosting social events too, including a virtual wine-tasting. I look forward to “meeting” many of you there. 

As we head towards renewal season for many insurance buyers, I feel confident that we can continue to talk, collaborate and co-create to find ways to assess, manage and transfer risks in innovative ways in this new normal facing us all. 


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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.
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