It was in October 2019 that Lisa Bartlett stepped into her role as president of Crawford & Company UK & Ireland, armed with a strategy that not even a global pandemic, spiralling inflationary pressures and a rapidly evolving technological landscape could dampen.
Almost four years on, Bartlett (pictured) reflected on the rollout of this strategy to date, highlighting how the importance of keeping it on track has only been accentuated by the uncertain external environment facing the entire insurance ecosystem. The strategy is unchanged, she said, but what’s interesting to see is the changes in how it’s being applied and how it resonates among Crawford’s colleagues, partners, and customers.
“For instance,” she said, “technology has changed the industry landscape so significantly. And part of this was due to COVID bringing technology adoption to the forefront of every service proposition. Certainly, it has driven the hybrid and flexible working environments adopted by many firms, Crawford included, and has changed the employment landscape permanently. And that has put the people agenda I’ve always championed very much at the forefront, where it belongs.”
In her first interview with Insurance Business as president, Bartlett highlighted her conviction that, “if the people and the clients are taken care of, then the numbers will take care of themselves”. That belief is still at the root of her agenda, she said, and while no company has completely cracked the nut of attracting and retaining great insurance talent, Crawford has made some great inroads.
“We’re actively working on how we can upskill our people because making investments in our people is how you create a sense of loyalty and belonging to a business,” she said. “Our apprenticeship programme is going well and I see us doing more of that going forward. And I’d like us to do more cross-training with the apprenticeship programmes run by our clients.
“In March we brought in Luke Brannigan to take Crawford Academy to the next level. We started in property, and we’ll be extending that to our other lines of business. Then at the other end of the spectrum, we’re supporting the more mature workforce found in some of our more technical roles. I’m proud to say we’re a business that values experience and is committed to creating flexible solutions for our people towards the other end of their careers.”
Bartlett noted that creating the right support structures is critical to empowering experienced colleagues to upskill the younger generation in terms of technical capability. For her, one of the biggest successes of Crawford’s people-first agenda is its focus on enterprise-wide talent management. The firm is committed to moving its people around the business to allow them to expand their skill base and enjoy variety in their careers.
“By moving people around the business, we’ve been able to keep our retention high and our internal promotion rate is the highest it has ever been, with three people getting promoted within Crawford a week on average,” she said. “So, that’s working really well for us. We’re at a 42% promotion rate and while I’d like to see that get a bit of an uplift – maybe to 50% - I’m proud that we’re keeping that steady.”
In addition, she said, the gender pay gap within the UK business has started to improve but it is not where she wants it to be yet. This is a reflection of the amount of work the team has put into eliminating bias in recruitment, creating more flexible working solutions and offering more secondment opportunities. Balancing the needs and expectations of a multi-generational and diverse workforce is no mean feat, and for Bartlett and her team, education has been crucial to moving the dialogue on culture conversations.
“There’s so much to understand about inclusion,” she said. “And the younger generation coming into the workplace are much more socially and culturally aware and they are changing the workplace every day. A sense of purpose for these people is much more important, as is having a truly inclusive environment.
“But we can’t forget that actually we’ve got five generations of people in the workplace. So, getting the education right for all is the key. I think we’ve done a lot of good work in terms of flexible working, family policies, and social mobility programmes. There’s probably more that we can do but we’ve made real strides. And for me, I think companies that don’t crack this people piece will suffer because this has now become the norm.”
Inextricably linked to the impact technology has had on the workforce is the impact it’s continuing to have on the work done by insurance professionals. In the context of the current economic environment, Bartlett said, all companies are looking for efficiencies – a driver which is creating new opportunities for technology to be utilised in a meaningful way.
For Crawford, she said, the right technologies are the ones which create efficiencies and streamline processes, while delivering better outcomes for clients and reducing the workload of the firm’s people. The firm has utilised automation, and technology more generally, to offer self-service solutions and to conduct remote loss assessments without sacrificing its high service standards.
Bartlett noted that this drives efficiencies for clients and policyholders alike, and she said it has been great to see not just an uptick in digital reporting on major losses but also how a number of Crawford’s clients are now using those digital reports to train their people. Advancing technology advancements alongside a people-first agenda means keeping an eye fixed on the skillsets of the future and mapping out the place your people will occupy in that future.
“Some existing entry roles will be replaced by technology so you’ve got to be much more focused in terms of the type of talent you’re bringing into the business,” she said. “How will you develop them? How will you move them around? I think that’s where we are genuinely blessed because we’ve got every role from an entry-level trainee claims handler all the way up to running a business unit.
“So, people can see their path to progression and they can see their peers moving around which gives them the appetite for role stretch. And that role stretch isn’t necessarily about a promotion or moving to the next level, but rather about developing new skills and opening yourself up to new opportunities.”
The agenda hasn’t changed for Crawford and amid such an uncertain economic environment between the aftershocks of COVID and Brexit, and the impact of inflation, which is having a substantial effect on the claims sector, she said, the power of that strategy is shining though. So, it’s more important than ever that the business is resolute in terms of how it applies that strategy.
“On a practical level, claims may take longer due to supply chain issues, and they are more expensive to settle due to claims inflation as a general rule,” she said. “Getting the right contractors is proving more challenging and people are generally wanting reinstatement, not cash settlements as they’ve done in the past. The role of the broker has become much more important for all of those reasons, so we need to manage all parties on a claim for longer and to a better standard.
“We’re seeing more cover disputes, and more policy limits being breached because claims are taking longer which demands an even greater need for technical experience. We’re also seeing an increase in fraud, which is not surprising in the current economic environment.”
To offset supply chain disruptions, Crawford is investing in the right partnerships, she said, and making sure its processes support those partnerships, as well as continually monitoring what areas it might look to expand in going forward. Cyber is one such growth area, and the firm recently invested in its own consultancy service business to offer casualty, property and environmental insights to clients who would not otherwise have access to that level of expertise.
“It’s early days for that offering but it’s already seeing good momentum,” she said. “So I think my core message is that actually, in this environment, if your strategy is right, then you should stick to it.”
Lisa Bartlett will be speaking at the upcoming Women in Insurance London Summit: Book your tickets today