The insurer’s managing director of claims explains how the Covid-19 pandemic has changed customer behaviour and expectations, making digital communications more ‘prominent’

Insurance customers have thrown caution to the wind and become much more “digital savvy” in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, looking to log both complex and straightforward claims online – Direct Line Group’s managing director for claims Jessie Burrows says the insurer has responded by accelerating its programme of self-serve models in order to meet customer demand.

Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic taking hold, DLG had plans to deliver numerous self-serve programmes across its personal line products, to enable customers to register home, travel and motor claims online – although this work was originally scheduled for June, the firm fast-tracked the project to launch its self-serve capability in early April instead, responding to how Covid-19 had changed customers’ lifestyles and their communication preferences.

Burrows adds that the pandemic has “forced everyone to be a bit more digital”.

Although DLG has spent the past 18 months developing its “strategy to be more digital, to offer customers those digital options so that we can serve them as and when they want to contact us”, Burrows explains that Covid-19 “has made that even more prominent” due to home working, emphasising the need for self-service functionality.

She continues: “Before Covid happened, we would absolutely have said customers are getting much more digital savvy. They’re getting much more comfortable with things like self-serve.

“Before Covid hit, we would have said that there’s a bit of caution in that, so from a claims perspective, we could definitely see that if your claim was quite a straightforward one, like an accidental damage or something like that in home claims, or a baggage claim for travel, a lot of customers were getting more used to registering these claims online.

”Whereas if there was a degree of complexity in there, or if they’d had a road traffic accident, or it was a big escape of water claim, like a major pipe’s burst, then they would want to phone us straight away.

“One of the reasons that we wanted to [initially] take a longer time frame [with the self-serve project] is originally we weren’t quite sure whether customers would like it or use it, but of course in a Covid situation, it becomes the preferred method because people get much more used to working from home or being at home. So that whole reason for spreading it out disappeared.”

Burrows reports that the self-serve initiative has so far been a success; within the first six weeks of launching, 12,000 travel claims were registered online, mainly around cancellations.

For home insurance, 12% of claims are being registered via self-serve as at June 2020, primarily for accidental damage. Single vehicle motor claims are also being logged through the self-serve channel, however Burrows notes that this has been less popular with customers.

Jessie Burrows Pics

Jessie Burrows

Brokers are also able to register commercial claims online on behalf of their clients, “which has had some fantastic feedback” according to Burrows.

“I think changing customer preferences about digital and tech, if you thought it was a trend before, it is definitely a trend now,” she says.

Customer centricity

This focus on the customer will be vital as the insurance sector evolves post-Covid-19.

Burrows explains: “The critical thing is really understanding what customers want because if you’re fulfilling customer needs then you’re always going to be relevant.

“That’s why we spend a lot of time, not just in claims but right around the business, really looking at our own customer research, feeding that into product development, feeding that in to the claims process because we’re there for those customers, first and foremost, so if you’ve got that agile mindset, if you’ve got that real customer centricity about you and everything that you do, that’s what you need.”

This customer feedback has also pointed DLG to invest in automation, particularly within its motor line; Burrows adds that customers want “speed” and for their claim to be settled quickly and accurately.

“If you phone one of our handlers now, they can automatically assess the damage on your car to work out the likelihood of it being a total loss or a repair and that in itself speeds up the journey; they can book you into one of our garages direct as well,” Burrows says.

“That whole automation theme will definitely continue as we go through this Covid phase.”

Internal response

As well as influencing DLG’s digital strategy and approach to automation, the Covid-19 pandemic has also impacted other business areas, for example counter fraud, where Burrows says all hands have been on deck looking at previous potential fraudulent cases that may have slipped through the net.

“Q1 we were quite open to say that in terms of motor claims, we’d seen a reduction of about 70%. We haven’t furloughed anyone at Direct Line. What that has enabled us to do is take a really hard look at some of the fraudulent claims we might not have got to in the past,” she says.

Burrows adds that counter fraud has been an important area of investment for DLG over the past couple of years “in terms of data capability, data analytics, being able to spot trends, etc but to do that quickly so that for the majority of our customers that are not impacted; they get a very quick, seamless experience, so that we can really focus our time to sort out where we’ve got claims that perhaps are either inflated or are not claims at all”.

She continues: “Counter fraud and the work that we do on that is absolutely a key trend and how that will change as people get more digital savvy.”

Furthermore, DLG has had some good results – Burrows tells Insurance Times that “in a six-month period, I think it was just in the new year, we closed down about 500 fraudulent claims sites”. This kind of work helps keep customers’ premiums, as well as DLG’s overall costs, down.

From an operational perspective, Covid-19 has also led to increased home working for Burrows’s 4,000 strong claims team. A long-term pilot prior to coronavirus saw 10% of her staff already work from home, however since the start of the pandemic, this has jumped up to 98% - DLG are not having employees return to their offices until September.

She says that this mentality aligns with DLG’s focus on its people and internal communications during this unusual time – the business has ramped up its overall communications and senior leader availability, as well as endeavoured to conduct a weekly staff survey for a “big feedback loop because I just think that permeates itself into customer service as well”.

Caring for staff during this unprecedented time also extends to DLG’s supply chain, where the insurer has been “very cognisant of trying to do the right thing”.

Burrows explains: “Like many insurers, we really rely on our supply chain to fulfil a lot of claims, particularly in the home but also in the garage network, so we’ve been very cognisant of the fact that, particularly as a large insurer, it makes a real difference to supply chain if you pay them on time.

“In fact, what we’ve been trying to do is pay them even quicker than their contractual terms, so we’ve been trying to pay them within a week, so around five working days, just so we can do our bit for society and the community to keep that going because that makes a really big difference to some of our suppliers.

”We’ve been very cognisant of trying to do the right thing.”

Broader investments

But outside of Covid-19, what are some of the other big-ticket trends for Burrows?

“Things like car technology, advance driver assistance techniques, so the things like the sensors in either your bumpers or windscreen, etc – all of that technology has been driving a lot of trends in claims severity,” she says.

Although automation and new car technology has improved car safety, Burrows adds that it also makes vehicles “more complicated to repair”.

She continues: “One of the things that we have invested in as a business is that capability to repair cars with these driving assistance techniques on it and also we work very closely right across the industry in terms of the best and safest methods to repair cars as well.

“So, unsurprisingly, car technology and how it’s impacting our business right now, but also how we think it might impact our business in the future, is definitely one of the critical trends that we are looking at.”

A secondary theme for Burrows is the “resurgence of fintech” in terms of “digitising the claims process, really improving the customer journey, really improving some of the data and analytics you can get off your processes [and] how that then [impacts] pricing”.

Burrows says DLG has been approached by numerous innovators, looking to work with the insurer.

“There’s almost so many ideas. When they come into our claims team and we get approached, it’s not ideas that we’re lacking in, it’s how we prioritise them in a way that then delivers value,” she continues.

“We’re almost spoilt for choice, which is a fantastic place to be. It’s quite an exciting place actually.

“People are starting to very much see that claims is an area of massive value, whether that’s the customer value and really improving those moments of truth. Not just financial value, this is about how do you really make sure that you can offer a fantastic service and be a real champion when it comes to the customer as well.”


  • Appointed the managing director for claims at Direct Line Group in 2018.
  • Initially joined Direct Line Group in 2016 as group financial controller, using her accountancy background.
  • Spent 13 years at insurer Aviva in numerous roles from 2003.
  • Joined KPMG UK in 1995 as senior manager, insurance.