Focusing on ‘automating underwriting rules and reviewing question sets’ will help the insurer stay ‘ahead of the competition’, says its head of broker eTrade

Year-on-year data from Insurance Times’ annual Five Star Rating Report: ETrading shows that delivering a high quality service to brokers via insurer extranets has historically been a challenge – 2022’s report, published in May 2022, revealed declining scores for many insurers in this category.

However, NIG is striving to buck this trend.

Its extranet, The Hub, received a four star rating from brokers this year, on a par with its 2021 result. Ranked in sixth place overall for the insurer extranet category, NIG’s The Hub scored 3.85 for 2022, compared with 3.95 last year.

NIG is already working on improving its extranet’s service, however. The firm has been recruiting heavily over the past couple of years and it expects this action to pay dividends in terms of delivering a better service for brokers.

Daniel Burton, head of broker eTrade at NIG Commercial, explains: “The [Covid-19] pandemic was a big factor [impacting broker service]. As we went into the first lockdown, it was a challenge to get people up and running so they could work from home.

“We’ve grown very quickly during lockdown - attrition was very high compared to our previous experience. We took [on] an extra 40 or 50 heads in just 12 months. We had to train them up from scratch.

“We’ve spent a lot of time putting in place robust recruitment programmes and training processes, to ensure we have a flow of high quality people with the right skills to service our brokers.

“All this is part of our plan to get to real-time service levels, which is ultimately what is required for this segment of the market.”

NIG currently has an eTrading site situated in Manchester – it plans to open a second site in the south east in due course, to increase its operational resilience and create a wider pool to recruit from geographically.

Burton continues: “We have put in place a lot of steps already to improve. We recruit throughout the year now and at varying levels of experience - from apprentices through to more experienced underwriters - and tailor training plans to the needs of the individual.

“We make sure our recruitment plans tie in with our growth plans and tweak [them] according to our changing needs as we go through the year.

“We also use technology to augment and complement the skills of our underwriters - for example, by using simple artificial intelligence engines to help prioritise work [for] underwriters.”

‘Staying ahead of the competition’

NIG’s goal of improving its broker service and underwriting standards is also evident in the way it is approaching enhancements to its live chat function.

This includes an increased focus on staff training to support interactions between brokers and the insurer’s underwriting team.

Burton says: “We are seeing a clear inverse correlation in our data between [live] chat and phones, so we try and service chat as much as we can [because] we find that this reduces inbound call volumes.

“We can see [that] more and more brokers want to use web chat to contact us, so we are training more of our underwriters to be proficient on the chat platform.

“We aim to get underwriters handling a minimum of two chats at any one time - and that is regardless of the complexity.

“We do sometimes get very complicated queries come in via the chat channel. We can generally handle those complex queries on the live chat, although because we’re typing back to the brokers, some of those queries can take a bit more time.”

Daniel Burton

Daniel Burton

Alongside boosting live chat functionality, Burton adds that NIG also “constantly reviews question sets in the same way that we approach referrals” because “both are part of the process of constantly improving broker journeys”.

He continues: “In this data led age, where we are comfortable with relevant datasets, we will pre-populate or remove questions from the journey where we can, to streamline the broker experience and improve usability.

“We also take feedback from brokers on where we can make question sets easier or shorter and implement changes based on their recommendations.

“It is a constant process. Automating underwriting rules and reviewing question sets are just things we do all the time with all our products to make sure they are constantly evolving and we’re staying ahead of the competition.”

Improving multiple trading routes

For 2022, brokers gave NIG’s eTrading performance via a software house a four star rating, ranking the insurer in third place. Its exact score is 3.88, down on 2021’s 3.96 result.

Burton believes NIG’s four star rating reflects the insurer’s work to ensure brokers have a frictionless experience regardless of how they trade with NIG.

Burton says: “We put a lot of effort into ensuring we are easy to trade with via software houses and do a lot of business via Imarket, [the commercial insurance digital trading platform provided by Polaris].

“We spend time listening to our brokers, to understand what they want and how they think we can improve for them.

“We also seek feedback from brokers before making changes that will impact them significantly, to ensure that the changes are positive for them and don’t have any unintended consequences.

“We actively amend changes based on broker feedback.”

Despite this proactive approach to broker feedback, this year’s eTrading survey results found that 41% of the brokers polled have to wait over two days for their referral to be cleared on complex products, while 33% of respondents have had to wait one day.

Burton says that ensuring underwriters are empowered to make decisions is key to getting these referral times down.

He adds: “We are working on a plan to cross-skill our eTrade underwriters on motor and property and casualty. If we can get to ‘one and done’ in terms of handling most of our broker contacts, then we’ll be a long way to getting there.”

Plus, “focusing on automating the biggest volume type of referrals will free up underwriters to add value [to] the most complex products and referrals”, Burton adds.

“For example, we are going to automate security underwriting for our business package product, which will remove hundreds of referrals a month for us and free up underwriters’ time to look at more complicated things,” he continues.

Avoiding ‘box ticking’

Key to NIG’s continued success in eTrading is its commitment to underwriting standards. It strives for interactions between its underwriters and brokers to not become a rigid, box ticking exercise.

Burton says: “We spend a lot of time on improving the trading and technical skills of our underwriters, to ensure they are empowered to make decisions. They need a full tool kit when interacting with our brokers [to] minimise referrals internally.

“We, like all insurers, have underwriting rules and strategies that our underwriters need to work within, but they work really hard to ensure they find solutions for our brokers where it’s possible to.

“If we can answer most of our broker queries on first contact, then it is a better experience for the brokers and more efficient for us.”

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