‘Outside the box’ underwriting has helped the insurer maintain its five star streak with personal lines brokers, according to its director of intermediated distribution

January has been “so crazy”, according to Sue Coffey, director of intermediated distribution at Covea Insurance.

The past two years, in particular, have posed immense challenges to the insurance industry - and 2022 looks like it will provide little let up, she tells Insurance Times.

For example, regulatory changes – most notably the FCA’s drive to end loyalty penalties in home insurance policies - will have widespread ramifications for personal lines insurance.

Coffey explains: “There will be changes to business models without a doubt - changes to the way we communicate, processes and systems.”

Furthermore, this major regulatory shift is taking place against a vastly altered backdrop in terms of customer behaviours and needs, she adds.

“The last two years has made lot of people stop and reconsider their personal circumstances,” Coffey says. “Some people who weren’t vulnerable are now vulnerable.”

This all adds up to what is set to be the “most significant change” personal lines insurance has seen in years, Coffey continues.

However, Covea has been able to impress general insurance brokers in meeting these challenges as it received a five star rating in this year’s Five Star Rating Report: Personal Lines 2022, exclusively compiled by Insurance Times and based on broker feedback.

“Over the moon” and “blown away” is how Coffey sums up her reaction when she was told that Covea had received a five star rating for the fourth year in a row.

Covea’s continued success in Insurance Times’ personal lines report is testament to the insurer’s efforts to forge relationships with broker partners, Coffey explains.

She says: “The insurance industry is still a people business. The main thing is a really strong focus on relationships. The way we link in with partners and intermediaries is key.”

Virtual connections

Maintaining these relationships has been tougher than usual as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, Coffey notes – for example, she has only been in her company’s London headquarters a handful of times over the last two years.

She emphasises, however, that Covea “totally adapted” and found “new ways” to cement relationships.

This includes, for example, hosting monthly broker networking meetings and delivering training and coaching sessions, all conducted via Microsoft Teams rather than in-person.

Coffey believes this virtual approach has worked so far. She says: “If anything, we have had more touch points with partners and brokers [and have] touched bases more often in the virtual environment.”

In spite of wider, pandemic-related pressures, Covea’s relationship management score in the Five Star Rating Report has improved over the last year, from 4.27 in 2020 to 4.48 this year.

One of the factors behind this has been the high level of engagement Covea has provided at a senior level. Coffey says: “We don’t hide away.”

For example, the insurer has launched a senior leader roundtable to discuss the challenges facing the industry.


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This enables more “open and honest conversations” between Covea’s senior leaders and the insurer’s broker partners about common challenges industry participants experience.

“A lot of it is what we were doing before but it’s been heightened,” Coffey says. She adds that feedback from brokers suggests that this enhanced level of support and engagement has not been the norm across the industry.

However, this type of engagement helps to ensure that when brokers are reaching out to customers, they have “everything they need”. Coffey says: “Every situation is different - you can’t be a sausage machine with one offer.”

Importantly, these lines of communication with brokers are not one-way traffic - keeping them open helps Covea harvest intelligence about shifts in the market.

Coffey explains: “We don’t know everything - we’ve got to be proactive. One of our teams’ biggest targets is to bring intelligence into the business to make the right decisions.

“We don’t sit here and make lots of assumptions - we look out and see what is happening and upcoming issues.

“We push out insight and information and we gather it in - that’s what strong relationships are all about.”

Tackling new HNW risks

Brokers also reported a significant improvement in Covea’s underwriting offer, according to 2022’s personal lines Five Star Rating Report – the insurer’s rating for this metric improved from 4.31 last year to 4.52 this year.

Coffey believes this improvement is down to continued investment in skills and expertise, which has been key to giving underwriters the confidence to think “outside the box”. She adds that this “was massively important when people’s circumstances were changing”.

One of the areas where this focus has paid off is in high net worth (HNW) - Covea became one of the first insurers to offer a bespoke cyber cover for mid and high net worth customers early last year.

After getting a couple of cyber claims, the company started digging into the issue. Coffey says: “We found that the types of customers in these risk profiles are more likely to be victims of cyber crime than theft.”

This insight demonstrates how the company understands emerging new risks, she adds.

Another underwriting change which resulted from Covid-19 was around travel extensions for HNW customers.

Coffey says: “We needed to make sure that travel extensions reflected the changed situation with Covid and made sure [customers] got the right cover and [that] the needs of that particular demographic were covered.”

For Coffey, insurers must have an “absolute focus” on delivering the “right level of service” for HNW customers.

“It’s a very personal product and they really demand a level of service,” she says.

Issues emerging on the horizon in the HNW arena include a greater awareness among customers of environmental and social issues, such as whether purchasing policies are ethical.

Coffey says: “People are asking more about our social responsibility and the green aspects. At the minute, it’s not translating to having to massively change the products, but it could do.”

Another area of growing concern is cyber security, Coffee adds. HNW customers are “very, very aware” of the risks of losing sensitive information in the cloud, for example.

Underpinning Covea’s response to these challenges will continue to be firm relationships with the company’s broker partners.

Coffey says: “That’s going to be a challenge for us and a massive challenge for our brokers and partners - more than ever, we must truly understand how we can help each other.”