Why the claims sector is a "breath of fresh air"

Newly promoted leader on the power of on-ground claims experience

Why the claims sector is a "breath of fresh air"

Risk Management News

By Mia Wallace

It was with some confusion that AXA XL’s Julijana Sumner (pictured) saw a colleague make the move from serving as a partner at the law firm where she was a senior associate, to take on an in-house role with an insurer. As somebody who took such huge pride in being a lawyer and having worked and studied so hard to reach that point, she said, it was a decision that didn’t make a lot of sense to her until 12 months later when he reached out to inquire whether she’d considering joining his team as a senior claims specialist.

“At that point, I was thinking that I didn’t know if I could do those long hours forever,” she said. “There were a lot of billable hours, a lot of time spent away from my family, so I decided to give it a go, knowing that if I didn’t like it, I could always go back to private practice. So, I joined the insurance industry and honestly, I’ve never looked back.”

Becoming chief claims officer for AXA XL in APAC and Europe

From there, Sumner’s career continued to go from strength to strength as she progressed through the company, taking on increasingly senior positions across a range of different business lines. After more technical positions, including as claims practice leader for APAC in financial lines, she was promoted to a more operational role, becoming head of claims for Australia which saw her lead a large team across several lines of business.

When the opportunity arose to become chief claims officer for APAC and Europe – a role that would require moving her whole family to the other side of the world – saying “yes” took quite a leap of faith, she said, because it was such a mammoth undertaking. However, the opportunity was too good to pass up, both from a professional and a personal perspective, and with everything packed and ready to go, Sumner is now just waiting for her visa to come through.

What Sumner enjoys most about the claims sector

Looking back to when she joined the claims sector, she noted that it instantly struck her as a breath of fresh air, being so different to what she was used to. As a lawyer, or even as a law student, you’re trained to work as an individual rather than as part of a team, she said, and you become an island, locking yourself in an office and churning out advice. In that world, your success depends on you and nobody else because you’re responsible for your billable hours.

“When I made the transition in-house, there were so many stakeholders that you had to consider throughout your day-to-day,” she said. “You have dealings with the underwriters, with the actuaries, with the finance team and the operational team – and everything has to click and fit neatly together in order for it to work and for the insurer to be a successful business. And I've really enjoyed that. I’ve enjoyed the different aspects of the role and how every day is a little bit different.”

Sumner also relished having the opportunity to go out into the market and build strong relationships. To be able to get together with people in the office or at market events and exchange ideas and knowledge, and having real ownership of her time was what attracted her to the sector – and is what holds her interest today.

The power of having on-ground claims experience

In many respects, her new role feels like quite a natural evolution, she said, offering the opportunity to bring together the full breadth of her strong claims background, as somebody who has worked her way through the organisation, from claims handling all the way to senior management. Being able to understand how the system works and what brokers need and want from their claims partners is crucial, because it equips you to understand the market you’re supporting.

“Having that on-ground experience means I actually understand the people and what they do day-to-day, which means I can think about processes, and how I can improve their journey,” she said. “I think APAC and Europe is an extremely complex region so I have a natural curiosity around that and how I can bring the entire community together. And not just the claims, but also how we can work cross-functionally to be one AXA XL – and then use that to help drive the business forward.”

What’s next on her agenda?

Though only two months into her role, she already has plans to go out and meet all the local teams on the ground and get a real sense of how they work, their aspirations, and where they see their journey with AXA XL going now. As a big believer in bringing people along on the journey, she said, she’s excited about supporting the teams in setting goals and delivering best practices with regards to both client servicing and technical excellence.

“Because at the end of the day, client satisfaction is what we’re here to deliver,” she said.

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