What does a best-in-class claims proposition look like today?

Why it's all about being willing to get your "hands dirty"

What does a best-in-class claims proposition look like today?

Risk Management News

By Mia Wallace

A rapid convert to the "breath of fresh air" that is the insurance claims sector, Julijana Sumner (pictured), chief claims officer for AXA XL in APAC and Europe, has an internationally applicable understanding of what it takes to concoct a best-in-class claims proposition.

“Knowing your client is top of the list because you can’t deliver a best-in-class service if you don’t know your client,” she said. “For example, if your client is an SME or family business, they will expect a different type of service than a large corporate which has an internal team who know insurance inside out and who have a risk manager and legal counsel who will be all over what’s happening on the day a claim arises.

“They’re two very different propositions and I’m a firm believe that you can’t have one way to service those two clients, you have to take two very different approaches. And I think as AXA XL continues to grow, we’ll have to look at that even more carefully.”

‘Handholding’ clients through difficult scenarios

It’s familiar ground for the insurance and risk management giant, Sumner said, looking to AXA XL in Australia which she led for almost three years and its SME arm - Brooklyn. In that case, a completely different claims team was set up within the organisation to focus on servicing those clients recognising that though those clients encompassed lower-quantum, higher-volume claims, they still needed a significant degree of ‘handholding’.

“The people that have a claim in that area have probably never had a claim before,” she said. “Often they have their livelihoods at stake in terms of their business and the financials behind it. So, you really have to talk them through that process and make sure they understand what the next steps are, what the timelines are, and also be ready to help.”

It’s a matter of pride for Sumner that the people in that SME-centric team proved so willing to “get their hands dirty” and go out there as boots on the ground, helping their clients get back on their feet. In addition, she said, a great claims proposition is only possible if you’re engaging the support of fit-for-purpose service vendors and providers.

“The reality is that a smaller business doesn’t want a top-tier law firm that’s going to charge them $1,000 an hour, they want something that’s a little bit more bespoke,” she said. “And I think having the AXA XL brand behind us means we’re able to negotiate those rates and make sure those people are taken care of without their policy being eroded in fees only. So, it’s all about different things for different people.”

Having the right people in the right roles

Also instrumental to the development of a great claims offering is having the right people in the right roles and this isn’t just a matter of technical expertise but also having the right temperament and characteristics. Empathy is a key trait required in claims management, she said, because a claims event can really impact a person's mental well-being and often you’re dealing with people at their lowest ebb.

Sumner noted that hearing some of the feedback her teams have received in the past about how they’ve thought outside the box to handle a difficult claim and bring it to a satisfactory conclusion, while minimising the impact on the insured, has been a consistent highpoint of her career.  

“That’s certainly how I, personally, have always approached my claims handling, by always thinking of the person on the other end of that phone call or email,” she said. “You’ve got to always remember that they actually are a real person and use that knowledge to think about what you can do, right now, to make their life a little bit easier. I think, in our sector, particularly after COVID, it became very easy to hide behind emails and just ask for more and more information.”

Harnessing curiosity to differentiate a claims proposition

In addition to empathy and decision-making, Sumner believes it takes a natural curiosity to thrive in the claims space. Reflecting on her own journey, she said, she believes it is maintaining that innate curiosity that has kept her passion for claims alive. Nobody has all the right answers all the time, but you need to be willing to keep on asking questions and trying out new opportunities if you’re going to broaden your horizons and your experiences – within an organisation, but also across the wider sector.

“I think claims people are very good at negotiating and they’re very good at finding solutions,” she said. “Some of the skills that claims people have are very transferable across a whole organisation. And we have lots of examples where claims people move into different roles in underwriting and really excel there so it’s clear the key skills you build up over years of doing claims handling can also really help open up different career paths.”


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