An 18-month transformation strategy has seen a lot of change at insurer Zurich – Insurance Times looks under the bonnet with the firm’s UK head of retail

Insurer Zurich has its eye on the prize – it plans to become “the most agile insurer in the UK” thanks to a two-pronged transformation strategy that has been underway for the past 18 months.

Spearheaded by the firm’s UK head of retail, David Martin, the transformation programme was born following feedback from brokers – this revealed that Zurich needed to step up its game in terms of response times, that navigating the organisation or accessing the right people was tricky and that distribution teams needed to be more focused on delivering results for end customers.

In addressing these concerns, Zurich restructured its UK regional management teams to make it “very clear now who you deal with within Zurich, who’s accountable and responsible for [certain services]”.

Bolstering management visibility in this way has a dual purpose, as Zurich is rooting its ambitions for growth within the regional broker market.

Speaking exclusively to Insurance Times, Martin explained: “We have a desire to grow. We’re growing well this year and we continue to grow - we have plans to continue to grow in 2021 and that’s all about how we start to serve our regional broker markets and how we use the strength of everything Zurich stands for in terms of its technical excellence and customer outcomes and making sure our products are redefined and refreshed for the market we find ourselves in.

“We’ve restructured our regional management teams in each of our locations – that is all around developing those regional broker markets and developing them not only in the higher capacity areas, but in our domestic business as well and also driving the SME mid-market portfolios.

“You’re seeing us [be] far more responsive in those areas. You’re starting to watch us really start to account manage and work with regional brokers in a different way.

“We’ve restructured our teams to focus on our Broker Clubs concept more strongly and we’ve appointed a new head of sales effectiveness for the UK that will oversee how we start to move that offering forward.”

Martin added that the business is “moving rapidly towards a very tight partnership model” and that it wants “to work in close partnership with brokers”.

In alignment with this aim, Zurich plans to undertake research with its regional brokers, to understand their expectations of the insurer for 2021. “We want to really differentiate what being a partner of Zurich really means,” Martin said.

Platform potential

The other key component of Zurich’s transformation programme is digitising its operations in order to speed up response times. This culminated in the launch of a digital, integrated platform for the insurer’s regional SME businesses, which includes its “branch offices and small business operations in Cardiff and Leeds”.

Work on the platform began back in January – it has been built, tested and deployed during the lockdown period, launching around six weeks ago in October.

According to Martin, the platform has “fundamentally transformed the way we handle customers” and slashed response times down from five days to one day.

Brokers sending quotes to Zurich will now have their quote uploaded onto the platform within 30 minutes, with underwriters then contacting brokers within the same day. If one particular branch is too busy to handle the business, then it can easily be moved to another underwriter via the platform to ensure a speedy response is still achieved.

“All of our sales operations can now see all quotes in the UK, they can see rates, they can see the brokers, they can see how much work is outstanding and the system is entirely date stamped, so we can also see how long it’s taken us to respond, enabling us to really start to refocus our organisation on customer obsession, making sure our customers get the outcomes they deserve when they ask us for help,” Martin explained.

“It’s very difficult to get across how much work we have managed to complete in a very short period. To build digital platforms, test and deploy in this period is remarkable. I think this shows the hunger Zurich has to serve its customers.”

However, there is “still more to do”, Martin added.

“We’re on the second stage of our digital transformation on our renewal books at the moment,” he said. “They will all come into the same platforms over the course of 2021, which will give us an even better view of trading across the UK in its entirety.”

Flight to quality

Martin is quick to emphasise that an insurer’s culture is also of the utmost importance when it comes to attracting business from brokers.

During the pandemic, in particular, Martin noted that he has seen “a definite flight to quality in terms of insurers that behave in that ethical way, insurers that enter the spirit of the game”, as brokers flock to work with insurers that make “sure that policies respond and where policies do respond, making sure they respond quickly and customers understand the coverage”.

Martin explained: “We’ve seen through the whole period significant growth in our customer numbers, particularly in the SME sector. We believe that is a flight to quality; it’s a flight to [an] insurer that continues to do what it says it will do and we’re very proud of that and we hope that continues.”

Zurich has done its best to accommodate brokers over these turbulent past few months – Martin said he has “seen an awful lot of mid-term adjustments take place”, plus the business has reset estimates and returned premiums, mainly for travel insurance. Here, the business has “returned premiums in its entirety where the cover couldn’t be used,” Martin added.

Providing capacity

Despite identifying a lack of capacity as a current challenge for the insurance market, Zurich UK’s head of retail David Martin said that Zurich has no plans to “rapidly withdraw capacity from the market”.

In fact, the insurer has “entered into new distribution agreements – so, you’ll see us supporting a number of MGAs in the UK now. You’ll see us supporting delegated authorities with our insurance brokers and you’ll see us starting to look at new innovative ways to work.”

David Martin

David Martin

This includes continuing to team up with businesses such as By Miles and Carrot.

Martin said this capacity boost is “another nice thing to have in our stable” as it provides diversification.

“To have those skills inherent in the business at a time when capacity is falling is really an environment in which we’ve chosen to trade very heavily because we have the skills in the business,” he said.

“We have the new operational controls to be able to scale very safely and then move ourselves into a situation where we can continue providing high levels of property capacity in particular to our brokers and then trying to provide balance to that portfolio.”

High net worth

The high net worth sector is another area where Zurich believes it is a “major player” after the insurer “refreshed the entire portfolio”.

Martin said: “The [insurance] industry adapts very well to changing market needs – as the customers change, we will change and we will continue to change.

“We’ve already rewritten our high net worth products to make them more applicable to the society we find ourselves in now in terms of providing a better travel insurance and other things to our customers.”