Head of SME trading says insurer’s ’SME underwriters are empowered to make underwriting decisions in the moment’ 

In recent years, the insurance industry has increasingly invested in eTrading to free up time for underwriters.  

In its 2024 manifesto, published in January 2024, broking trade body Biba recognised this development and noted that achieving a “sweet spot” between technology and people is key to enhancing service, with brokers wanting staff available in insurers’ operations to help when there is a referral or clarification required.


This is where Zurich UK believes it has hit the mark.

Nikki Lidster, head of SME trading at Zurich, told Insurance Times that brokers, regardless of how they prefer to communicate, can expect to interact directly with an underwriter at Zurich – and “not a robot”.

She explained: “Brokers want a responsive, quality service with the flexibility to contact us as they prefer.

“Our SME underwriters are empowered to make underwriting decisions in the moment and are available to answer queries via live chat, phone, email or through the [eTrading] platform.”

Will Edwards, head of SME at Zurich, added: ”We are there to respond to brokers through live chat, phone or platform referrals [because we] want to be there, to work with our brokers through any medium that they choose.”

He observed that although the industry has embraced the rise of eTrading technology, insurance will always remain a “people business”.

He continued: “Technology will never replace the experience of our people and the importance we place on our trading relationships.”

For Zurich UK, this focus on pairing technology with the human touch has proven effective – brokers have spoken highly of the insurer’s eTrading  service.

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According to Insurance Times’ Five Star Rating Report: eTrading 2024, published on 14 May 2024, brokers respondents that trade via insurer extranets gave Zurich Online a five star rating – this marks a one star improvement on its overall four star rating for 2023.

Launched in 2019, Zurich Online is supported by the insurer’s centres of excellence in Leeds and Cardiff, where specialist underwriters have the authority to make decisions and provide quicker responses.

And when it came to brokers trading with an insurer via a software house platform, Zurich UK again managed to score an overall five star rating.

Lidster noted that these positive results are because the insurer “understands the importance of offering [a]  responsive and flexible service tailored to brokers’ preferences for contact”.

She said: “We are delighted to be awarded a five star rating for Zurich Online this year and to move from third to second place.

“Achieving five stars on all service factors, with our most improved score being quality of support, is a really proud moment for us and we’d like to take the opportunity to thank our broker partners for the feedback they give us.”

The eTrading survey that provided the data for the Five Star Rating Report: eTrading 2024 was open to UK brokers between January and March 2024. It surveyed 700 UK brokers on their eTrading experience over the previous 12 month period. 

Investing in employees

Lidster added that the company’s approach to providing brokers with the flexibility to contact its underwriters across various mediums aligns with its consistent investment in employees.

This includes enhancing underwriting authority for its staff and providing access to additional decision-makers for complex cases, ensuring brokers receive the answers they need promptly.

This comes after Edwards told Insurance Times in May 2024 that the firm provided additional training for its underwriters towards the end of 2023.

“We took all our underwriters through some training, which was designed to allow them to easily identify the type of individual that’s on the end of the phone,” Edwards said.

“The training helped enable [underwriters] to understand what type of person they were dealing with and what they want out of the conversation. It seems to have made a difference.”

As a result, Lidster explained that the “speed of handling referrals for commercial combined has improved”.

She continued: “In April and May [2024], 47% of referrals were responded to within an hour and 71% within three hours, up from 43% within an hour in the first quarter of the year. 

“We support brokers in trading with us however they choose, whether that is via our software house, Acturis Open Market, or through Zurich Online.”

Tapping into feedback

Zurich UK believes that the feedback it receives from its broker partners plays a pivotal role in ensuring the insurer “keeps [its] finger on the pulse” when it comes to improving service for brokers.

Lidster explained that last year, Zurich reviewed 30,000 pieces of feedback from its transactional net promoter survey (TNPS) within 24 hours, to assess performance, identify areas for improvement and enhance operations.

Lidster highlighted that the insurer also incorporates feedback from Insurance Times’ eTrade survey, as well as brokers’ own surveys, to gain a deeper understanding of broker needs.

She said: “We bolster our TNPS feedback with our team’s insights and brokers’ own surveys to capture all opportunities to develop our proposition.

“This feedback enables us to make enhancements to our platform and service proposition, supporting ease of trading with Zurich.

“Over the past year, this has included improvements to our referral process, the launch of our new office product and regular enhancements to our platforms.

“For example, we’ve also tweaked the internal process for referrals to ensure an underwriter with the right authority is looking at the referral at the right time to speed up our decision-making.

“We have a robust broker feedback programme in place, whether that is via TNPS or our own team’s suggestions on how to improve the experience, which feed into the development of our platforms, underwriting appetite and service proposition.”