’There is a better dialogue we can have around digital,’ says chief executive

The latest data around artificial intelligence (AI) shows that such technology is likely to become more prominent across European insurance firms within the next year.

Published by law firm Ernst and Young (EY) last week (25 October 2023), figures, which came from a survey of 24 executives, found that 58% of leaders anticipated that up to a quarter of all roles will require AI training or upskilling over the next six to 12 months.

In turn, Gregg Barrett, chief executive at insurance industry technology supplier Waterstreet, found that there had been a “noticeable shift” in how insurance firms were directing their technology spend, with there being a pivot towards front-facing and operational technology.

Front-facing technology is tech that directly interacts with consumers, such as online portals, while operational technology refers to software that assists in the day-to-day running of firms and includes innovations such as policy management systems and risk assessment tools.

It is no surprise that the insurance industry is heading in this direction, with the Covid-19 pandemic having increased the need for more firms to become digitised.

However, humans remain essential, not only to deal with complex cases, but to also provide reassurance to policyholders when needed.

And Jon Walker, chief executive of Axa Commercial, said his firm viewed the digital transformation as complimentary, instead of a replacement for humans.

“Instead of seeing all the technology as a barrier to having better relationships, I view it as it can often be a facilitator to having those conversations that are really going to make a difference,” he told Insurance Times.

“There is a better dialogue we can have around digital – how we approach it within Axa is that digital is complimentary to our people, as opposed to a replacement because there are so many things in a complex commercial insurance environment that, candidly, technology can’t do in the same way a person does.”


Walker’s comments came in response to JMG chief executive Nick Houghton, who said that it was “appalling” that it can take so long for brokers to get hold of insurers as the industry becomes more digitised.

Houghton felt that digital processes across the sector needed to be improved and highlighted that there had been times where it had taken too long to get hold of an insurer on the phone.

“We’ve got too many examples where it is just too hard to speak to somebody at an insurer about a client – we’re hanging on the phone for 40 minutes, which feels appalling,” Houghton added.

Walker said he understood that brokers wanted to respond promptly to customers and that Axa wanted them to achieve this.

However, he felt there may be a misconception on how digital trasnformation was being viewed, claiming that it was often referred to as “the thing that prevents a broker or customer talking to a person”.

“Actually, a lot of the investment in digital is about enabling brokers and customers to access information that may not necessarily need the experience and specialism of an individual,” he said.

He highlighted claims as an example, saying that Axa had a portal that allowed customers and brokers to put in policy details to find out what stage a claim was at.

“What that then does is free up time and space for those more complex questions or issues to be dealt with from a person-to-person perspective,” Walker added.

How to improve

Walker’s comments came at time when complaints made about insurance firms are on the rise.

Published by the Financial Ombudsman Service earlier this month (11 October 2023), figures showed that 24,496 general insurance and pure protection complaints were made during H1 2023, up from 19,346 in H2 2022.

And its quarterly data, which was published earlier this year (14 September 2023), revealed that complaints over building, car and motorcycle insurance hit a five-year high in the first three months of the current financial year.

Walker admitted that across the industry, there was “certainly more we can all do” to improve service and felt the best way for that to happen was for brokers and insurers to work collaboratively “on the things that are going to make the biggest difference for the customer”.

He said this included working together to fight challenges faced by both brokers and insurers, such as finding future talent to ensure “we can resource ourselves appropriately”.

For example, according to figures published by Aviva last year (3 May 2022) for the its Broker Barometer, more than half (53%) of brokers revealed that a vacancy had been open for four months or more.

“With the customer in the middle, if we recognise a number of those challenges are shared challenges and work more closely together on them, my sense is we would deliver a better outcome,” Walker said.

“We are most likely to deliver an optimal solution by working together in partnership – broker to insurer – and that is very much our approach at Axa.”


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