Insurance Times catches up with the four finalists in the Claims Team of the Year category for this autumn’s Claims Excellence Awards, finding out the key attributes that make an award-winning team and why these firms feel their claims staff stand head and shoulders above the competition

Earlier this year, in April, Insurance Times confirmed the final shortlist for its Claims Excellence Awards 2020 – now taking place virtually on 15 October. One of the most prestigious accolades is undoubtedly the Claims Team of the Year award, which acknowledges and recognises the hard work of claims colleagues across the country.

This year, there are four finalists in this much-anticipated category, including insurers Ageas and Aioi Nissay Dowa Europe, which owns Insure the Box and Toyota Insurance, as well as brokers Deacon and Clegg Gifford.

Each shortlisted claims team has undertaken a unique journey over the past year. For example, Aioi Nissay Dowa Europe sought to create “a significant step change” and “a real turnaround story” with its ‘Close the Premium Gap’ initiative, which aimed to transform “a claims function that was lacking in credibility” by empowering its 120 staff to lead the charge on change, explained Greg Cole, UK claims director at Aioi Nissay Dowa Europe.

He continued: “It’s been led by our own people rather than getting in external consultants. They were given the license to operate and I think that really allowed their passion and talent to be unleashed.

“Once they knew the key outcomes to focus on, the key capabilities to work on, it just really unleashed their passion and talent and they’ve delivered some incredible results really. The whole claims department has been fully engaged with this whole change process.”

Cole described his claims team as “passionate, but also proactive, positive; they’ve just got an incredible attitude to what they do, particularly in our Newcastle office and it’s just a great place to be. It’s a real positive environment. They’ve definitely got the right behaviour and then actually capability wise, really good technically, really good technical skills.”

Alongside this, Cole added that a standout quality of his claims department is that it features “some really commercially savvy people”. He said: “That’s the key differentiator in claims is being able to think commercially and not just micro claim by claim, but thinking about macro and we’ve got some really talented people that have got that mindset; that really does give us the edge.”

Key areas of focus for Aioi Nissay Dowa Europe’s claims team includes claims costs, “absolutely making sure that we’re beating market inflation”, income, operations and customer outcomes.

“Those four key outcomes are embedded in everything that we now do. Everybody, no matter what level they are within the organisation, is focused on those four key outcomes and they absolutely understand how their role impacts those,” Cole said.

Freedom to deliver

Another company that has handed its employees the keys to the claims kingdom is Lloyd’s broker Clegg Gifford. Here, the claims team underwent a full restructure – the previous management left the business and was then replaced by internally promoted candidates. Chief executive Toby Clegg said: “By freeing these guys up from what were lower managerial positions to suddenly being at the forefront has enabled them to thrive and it’s a real demonstration of where you actually entrust your team.”

Lee Welham, who heads up the firm’s claims function, agreed: “Given the freedom from the management team, from the board to enact changes, obviously processes and saying what we want to do, why we think it’ll work, given the freedom to do it has been invaluable. That’s a real key component.”

The size of the broker, as well as supporting technologies and systems, has also been an enabler, according to Welham. He said: “Because we are smaller, we’re nimble, we can really concentrate on different aspects and areas and make the changes needed quickly without the normal red tape that perhaps some of the larger insurance claims departments have.

“We just find ourselves flexible. We’ve a challenging motor trade and taxi personal lines book, which threw up a unique set of problems, and I think the way we meet them and try and offer good customer service as well as offer fantastic financials for the carriers has been amazing.

“Where we are a small team, anyone can come up with anything; we take it seriously, we listen to it and we encourage them to put forward suggestions, no matter what position they’ve got.”

Jonathan Banfield, Clegg Gifford’s claims operations manager, added: “We’ve involved the team in a lot of the process changes that we’ve made, so we’ve got buy in from them.”

Part of Clegg Gifford’s claims success can be attributed to the length of service of its staff – Welham and Banfield have both been at the firm 19 years, for example, and tenures of 10 years or more are not uncommon.

“We all complement each other, our skill sets, very well and I think it’s that stability which has helped us just make those changes and the consistency,” Welham explained.

These changes to the claims team has helped Clegg Gifford secure reinsurance partners such as Arch and Munich Re, as well as cut “leakage rates”. Welham said: “How we look after our insurer clients and how much money we leak was very important to me, so having it down from over 10% to 2%, which I understand is as good as it gets, is personal vindication and I was very satisfied with that.”


At Deacon, claims team manager Luke Tarlton said his claims team had undergone an “evolution, not a revolution”, as the broker has built on the team’s existing experience by investing in new training opportunities as well as technology tools, such as Xactware, over the course of the last two years.

This helped Deacon’s nine-strong claims team achieve some impressive results. Tarlton explained: “[Around] 78% of our claims last year were authorised within 72 hours compared to 24% in 2018 and then since August last year, our average response time has managed to reduce by about 75% on our [service level agreement]. We’ve done this all with the same headcount.

“We’re always consistently challenging ourselves to listen to customers and see what we can do better, so we do MPS surveys and NetEasy scores. We have a meeting every month and take the feedback we have into consideration, just to see if there’s any processes or things we can change to make that end customer’s journey a bit better.”

A large part of the team’s success, according to Tarlton, is down to its good relationships with loss adjusters and insurers. Not only does this rapport streamline the claims process, as the parties have a greater understanding of each other’s needs and processes, but these firms have also offered additional training sessions to Deacon’s team, to build on its collective 13 years of industry experience. “I’m a believer in regular training,” Tarlton confirmed.

Underpinning all of this is Deacon’s focus on servicing the end customer and remembering that there is a policyholder at the other end of the claim “who might be in a couple of feet of water, or might just have a leak through a ceiling, but that’s a real person”. Tarlton added: “You’re going to want to do better for that person”.

Operational change

Insurer Ageas’s claims journey takes centre stage amid a backdrop of broader organisational change, as the firm closed two Portsmouth-based offices at the beginning of 2019. Alongside this, Ageas sought to reconnect with its corporate purpose and existing customers, as well as cut down its indemnity spend.

Robin Challand, claims director at Ageas, explained: “We were looking to understand how we could connect to both our customers and our purpose in a much more simplistic and streamlined way that resonated with what customers want to experience when they report a claim, but also then addresses a challenge that all insurers have got which is actually controlling their indemnity spend whilst doing the right thing by the customer.

“Our purpose is to make life easy for our customers by making insurance personal, and, when the team and myself started looking at the process, we noticed that there was just lots of different handoffs in the claims process - in some cases it is essential, but it isn’t necessarily great for the customer. But also, from a staff engagement point of view, we encourage ownership, we encourage empowerment. We want our teams to be able to demonstrate they care for the customers. We want them to demonstrate they are able to deliver for the customer and that handoff doesn’t necessarily fit with that. So, we started thinking about how we could engage with our teams and our teams with our customers in a much more collaborative way.”

This, in turn, led to the adoption of technology such as video calling, as well as the introduction of assessment tools such as online buildings valuation tool Symbility.

In addition, Challand said that Ageas looked “to up our skill levels” and “bring the team on a training journey” – this involved closely liaising with the insurer’s internal learning and development team.

The claims team were keen to embrace these changes and were quick to learn from their mistakes, said Challand, however behind the numbers that proved these targets were now being met, there “was really this view of saying how do we remove some of the traditional obstacles that customers see in the process and actually make it a much more interactive claims discussion with our customers, which allowed us to improve service and it also allowed us to hit those indemnity savings”.

Challand emphasised: “Let’s try and remove those obstacles and actually make it a much more natural, conversational process with decision-making at the very beginning of the process so there’s no surprises for the customer as they go through the claims journey.”

The win

Winning the Claims Team of the Year accolade would be an enormous achievement for any of the shortlisted organisations. Useful for recruitment purposes, Cole also believes the award win would be “well-deserved recognition” for his claims team, while Deacon’s Tarlton said it would be a “massive honour” and that he would be “be over the moon”.

For Challand, it comes down to “external validation that we are doing the right things and we are seeing the right results in terms of the care we show to customers [and] delivering those ambition statements”.

Clegg Gifford’s claims team would also be “really proud” to take home the win. Welham said: “We would shout it from the rooftops.”

Clegg added: “It would be lovely to get them something I feel they deserve and they’ve worked so hard for.”