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When it matters most
December 16, 2019
One of the things I find most striking about commercial P&C insurance is how it blends financial elements which are somewhat commoditized with highly valuable, tailored services.
This distinction is most apparent when we’re presented with a slip from a broker representing a client who is considering either moving some or all of its insurance coverages to a different insurer or taking out a new policy. While we can perhaps modify the conditions or sub-limits/deductibles somewhat, the risk transfer components of different insurers’ proposals generally don’t vary widely in the end. And it’s not uncommon for the business to be won or lost based on slim differences in premium levels.
In my experience, however, clients don’t always look closely at the different carriers’ claims capabilities and overall quality of service during these marketing exercises.
Why it matters
In one sense, that’s understandable. For most clients and lines-of-business, the bulk of the claims involve smaller, more predictable losses. And risk managers and brokers rightly assume that insurers can handle those competently; a carrier that struggles to resolve “typical” claims quickly and fairly will have difficulty retaining its clients.
But most organizations can expect to experience some number of “atypical” losses; it’s when these occur that insurance is most relevant.
When a firm is hit with a significant loss – a fire destroys a manufacturing facility; cyber-attackers encrypt and hold data for ransom; a design error with far-reaching implications is discovered midway through a major construction project, and so on – that’s when clients rely most heavily on their insurers’ claims teams.
Events like these have the potential to cause substantial and possibly long-lasting impacts. And the performance of the insurer’s claims team can make an enormous difference in how well the firm recovers from the incident.
In other words, a carrier’s competence when things go wrong – from small and routine incidents to large and complex disasters – is indeed when it matters most.
It was a painful lesson that – thankfully – I learned early on in my career. That is: The worst time to meet with a client for the first time is when the settlement of a significant claim has gone off-track. I’ll skip the details but suffice it to say that this was not a happy meeting for either the client or me. And although the loss ultimately was resolved satisfactorily, the settlement process was longer and more involved than it needed to be.
That experience reinforced for me the value of organizing meetings among clients, brokers and the carrier’s team during the marketing process, followed by periodic sessions as need be after the policy is bound.
That’s an opportunity for us to become familiar with the client’s operations, business objectives/challenges and risk appetite; information and insights that will help us better meet its needs. Clients can also use these discussions to convey their expectations on different topics, including:
- What management information they want to see and how they prefer to access the data; and
- Their preferred communications practices – when, for instance, do they want to stay closely involved in a claims settlement and who needs to be kept in the loop.
Looking under the hood
Such discussions can be beneficial in familiarizing clients with our preferred approach to handling claims for different lines-of-business as well as the range of services we offer. These interactions also can make an immense difference in helping us form relationships with clients where we are both a capable payer that’s there when things go wrong and an encouraging partner to help things go right.
In particular, insurers have different philosophies, approaches and systems for managing claims. And their global capabilities are often more highly developed in some countries/regions compared to others; that can matter a lot for clients with sizeable exposures in a specific locale. Likewise, the level of authority a local team has in resolving claims can vary considerably between different carriers.
And for some risks, clients can benefit by partnering with an insurer that has dedicated practice leaders who are experts in that line-of-business and knowledgeable about the latest developments and innovations in the field. That can be especially important in construction and financial services, for example, where the claims can quickly become highly technical and complex.
The same holds for cyber. Virtually every organization today is vulnerable to a cyberattack, and the nature of the threat is continually evolving. As a result, an increasingly important priority for many companies is having ready access to technical specialists who can respond immediately in the event of a cyberattack, as well as attorneys and PR/crisis management experts who strive to lessen the collateral damages.
A final thought: Commercial insurance can be strictly transactional – client pays premiums, insurer covers claims. But when there is a substantial loss, the resolution and settlement process can only benefit when the client, insurer and broker work together cooperatively and with a clear understanding of their respective responsibilities, needs and capabilities. And in my view, it’s preferable to start building those relationships from the very beginning, and not when the fire has already been lit.
About the author: José Ramón Morales is Country Manager, Iberia for AXA XL and is responsible for its operations in Spain and Portugal. He joined XL Catlin in 2012 as a Client Distribution Leader and then served as Deputy Country Manager. He was named Country Manager in 2016. José Ramón is based in Madrid and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.