As sectors across the UK look to strengthen their resilience and rebuild following the pandemic, all eyes will be on the insurance industry’s response and how it supports recovery.
Like all sectors, the insurance industry faced its own set of challenges as it navigated its way through the pandemic. The reputational challenges faced by insurers were substantial as businesses and individuals looked to us for support. It has never been more important for the insurance industry to leverage the valuable lessons learnt from the pandemic to strengthen trust and deliver products which go further to support and protect customers. We must reflect on this period and consider how we can best protect our customers and mitigate threats of the future.
“On one level, the industry is going through a phase of rebuilding trust and relationships to some degree, and it’s definitely starting to look ahead while having one eye on the fact we’re still in a global pandemic,” says Jon Walker, CEO, AXA Commercial.
“By their very nature many of the things we do in the industry are extremely complex. But I think we’ve learnt that this complexity can create a degree of confusion which either requires clearer explanation at point of sale or renewal, or we need to explore ways to make what we do more easily understandable for the end customer and businesses that we’re insuring.”
Jon believes that now is the time for the industry to reflect on lessons learnt and consider how it can collaborate more in the future. “It felt to me at times that we were focused on our own businesses, and in many ways that was understandable, but in the middle of a pandemic there were customers and businesses who needed clarity and support and, whilst many will have received this, some clearly felt they did not” he explains.
“It’s not helpful, in full view of the public, for the industry to look and feel fragmented. It’s a far healthier position to be in if we’re on the same page trying to deliver the same result.”
He adds that it’ll take different organisations time to think about and plan how to do things differently in the future, but he has hope that the experience of the pandemic will, “act as a reminder of insurance’s role in society and that we all take the learnings from it.”
One thing everyone seems to have learned is that while face-to-face contact is still very much valued and sought after, it really isn’t necessary in every instance.
“My hope is that going forward, those face to face interactions are more valued, focused and purposeful rather than going back to the default position of having a meeting for everything,” he says.
But like the reputation issue, he believes it’ll take time for organisations to figure out what will work best for their people and for their clients – a thought process that AXA is already undertaking.
“We have to get to whatever the new normal will be, a smarter way of working,” says Jon.
“We won’t go back to having 100% of people in the office 100% of the time, but we need to get our people safely back to a new way of working and also make sure we can do that in a way that works for brokers and customers.”
Although planned well before the pandemic struck, Jon is also keen to point out how that attitude of pivoting operations and services to deliver a better service to brokers is playing out in the structure of the business.
All the SME business that AXA underwrites has been unified into one unit as has all the schemes and delegated authority activity. This leaves underwriters in the branch network free to focus on managing larger risks.
“The branches are very focused on bespoke underwriting – mid market and mid corporate – where the relationship between an underwriter and broker is key to understanding the risk,” he says.
He says it’s about pooling all the expertise available within AXA Commercial, and across the wider group, to ensure brokers can access that expertise more quickly, effectively and efficiently.
But the change and the learnings that Jon speaks of apply as much to him as they do to AXA or the wider market. About nine months into the pandemic, he experienced some health issues that made him question the way he works and about how he understands resilience.
“To me being resilient meant being able to work long hours, soak up the pressure and keep powering through things,” he says.
“I spent most of 2020 busier than I’ve ever been – tied to a desk for 14-hour days – and in my head, I was saying ‘I am resilient so crack on’.
“But what I’ve found is that resilience isn’t about how hard and long you can work. It’s about taking care of yourself, so you’re better prepared to deal with what the world and work throws at you.”
And that lesson, he believes, could be as well applied to the industry as it does to individuals.
“It’s incumbent upon the industry to make sure that it’s forward looking,” he says.
“Not that we should be looking for the next Covid-19, but we should be aware of the role the industry plays in society and reputationally and understand where the challenges of the future are going to come from.”