As the world emerges from the Covid-19 pandemic, there is growing concern among UK brokers about the service levels they are receiving from insurer partners

While some UK brokers believe there have been areas where service levels from insurers have improved, Biba chief executive Steve White told Insurance Times that complaints from the broking trade body’s members over poor service levels are worse than they have ever been before.

In response, the association is now undertaking a detailed member survey of insurers’ service levels to identify exactly what the issues are.

White said: “There is never a time when brokers will say they are totally happy with the service they received from insurers. However, the sheer decibel of noise over poor service [right now] is louder than it has ever been.”

He believes the reasons behind the current broker unrest concerning insurer service levels are threefold.

“Firstly, the hard market has seen underwriters less willing to take brokers’ calls,” White explained.

“Secondly, the shift in working practices with staff working from home has seen underwriters more reluctant to pick up their work phones.

“Finally, eTrading encourages round pegs to go in round risk holes. If the peg is oval or has spikes, [there] does not seem to be the systems in place to find solutions.”

He added that Biba’s new survey, which was discussed as part of Biba’s recent regional roadshow in September and October 2022, has been created to provide a clear picture of the service issues brokers are facing.

The survey is currently underway and White hopes to have the final results by the end of the year. Biba will then conduct the research annually to track year-on-year changes.

However, the survey is not seeking to berate insurers, White emphasised.

He continued: “We hope the survey will identify the issues [brokers are experiencing] and we can then look to collaborate with insurers on how we can best arrive at solutions.

“There is no insurer which sets out to deliver poor service – however, [our planned] research is a direct result of the wall of sound we have been receiving from brokers [that] are far from happy with the service they are receiving and what it can mean for their clients.”

Pandemic impact

It is not all bad news, however, in terms of insurers’ service for brokers, according to Peter Blanc, group chief executive of Aston Lark.

He told Insurance Times that there have been some improvements post-pandemic.

“Service is definitely improving, with a really focused return to face-to-face interaction,” Blanc explained.

“Where we have dedicated support teams, the service is the best. ETrade is also working well, apart from when the ‘computer says no’ - the manual problem solving is not quite so slick.”

Blanc added that many insurers have sought to broaden their communications repertoire in order to realign with their broker community.

He continued: “During the pandemic, service levels definitely dipped and homeworking undoubtedly exacerbated this.

“[But] we now have insurers providing us with quick video calls, which appears to be working quite well. [However], the best service is from the insurers that have provided us with a dedicated service team.

“The quick video call interaction is much better than just relying on phone calls - seeing the body language and gauging the response really helps. This is a definite pandemic benefit.

“Face-to-face is always best, but a video call beats a phone call.”

Meanwhile, James Livett, associate director at the London and International Insurance Brokers’ Association, believes the problems around insurers’ service for brokers have always been there, but that the Covid-19 pandemic placed a greater focus and spotlight on service levels.

He said: “In some ways, the pandemic highlighted challenges rather than created them.

“A challenge often raised is response time - this was mentioned pre-pandemic, but the concerns have grown. That is not to say that some insurers are not excellent - as ever, there are some outliers that bring the average and overall reputation down.”

Plus, “remote contact is much easier to ignore or delay than a broker standing over the underwriter at the box”, Livett added.

“We have also heard suggestions that it is easier to say no remotely and shut down a negotiation before it starts.”

Insurers’ perspective

Maria Crockart, SME digital trading and automation director at Aviva, noted that brokers have been keen to embrace the benefits of digital trading, however.

“The pandemic was a huge challenge for the industry, but we’re proud of the resilience of our people and capabilities that enabled us to support brokers during this difficult time,” she said.

“Post-pandemic, brokers’ appetite for digital capabilities continues to increase and we have continued to accelerate in this area, launching not only new products, but self-serve capabilities for more complex risks.

“Brokers are fundamental to the way we do business, so we’re always keen to act on their feedback.

“They tell us they want a quicker service response and customer personalisation outside the digital channel and we are responding [to this] through investment in our regional underwriting channel, increasing [both] capability and capacity.

“We’re also providing these underwriters with digital tools that enable them to provide personalised solutions to meet brokers’ clients’ needs.”

Nick Hobbs, chief distribution and regions officer at Allianz, added that the insurer’s own research around service for its broker partners - published in May 2022 - has been positive.

“Our internal soundings showed that our engagement with broker partners increased significantly during the pandemic - by 11% in 2020 and a further 8% in 2021,” he explained.

“This was due to our proactive approach of arranging more meetings, formal and informal, by phone or video call. When the restrictions lifted, we were back in the offices in force and that engagement has largely been maintained.

“It’s also been great to be out and seeing broker partners face-to-face again. We’re always looking for ways to enhance our service and strengthen our relationships with [brokers].”

Hobbs emphasised that insurers cannot simply rely on emails to communicate with brokers.

He continued: “The value of face-to-face interaction is huge. Further conversation, not email, must be our first style of approach.

“Additionally, given the huge amount of information we all see and receive on a day-to-day basis and the hybrid world we occupy, our day has to be just that little bit more structured and systematic to enable us to be able to give our best to our broker partners.”