Improved training is needed for this core business, says John Dye

Let's place claims at centre stage. After all, the claims service is really the shop window of the insurance industry.The experience of the claimant during a claim shapes his impression of the insurer - and the broker - influencing his decision to stay loyal or look elsewhere. It also frames the reputation of the industry in the eyes of the consumer. Claims handling has a significant impact on the bottom line of insurers too. In recent years, the focus has been on improving underwriting profitability. Industry leaders have been reminded by poorly performing equity markets and low interest rates that insurers need to make their money from acceptable insurance performance, rather than relying on investment income to satisfy their shareholders. As a result, the emphasis on the core skills of underwriting and claims handling has returned.At Lloyd's, Chairman Lord Levene has made a number of speeches asking for claims to be handled better across the market. It is the market's biggest expense - in 2002 Lloyd's paid out £10bn - but he says, to date, there has been no formal strategy to oversee this function. There are now plans in place to set this up and he is confident a more professional approach is going to save the market millions. I agree with him.Every member of a claims team has a vital role to play - everyone should benefit from proper assessment, individual training and the provision of the right tools, resources and working environment.

More professionalWe need to provide the right mix of technical training and soft skills, as well as ensuring there is proper support from line managers.Some insurers are already taking steps to improve the professionalism of their claims operations. This has recently been supported by the launch of the Faculty of Claims at the CII and it's encouraging to see many claims leaders voicing their support for this initiative.For our part at Allianz Cornhill, we have launched our Excellence in Claims programme to provide structured training and development for our claims people. This programme has already been accredited for continuing professional development by the CII and we will be looking for further ways to dovetail our training effort with the CII's syllabus. This cannot be a passing craze. If the industry is to improve its reputation with the public, satisfy its customers, provide a return for its shareholders and meet the requirements of an ever more demanding regulator, then the investment in the professional development of claims staff must be a permanent feature. Well-trained claims handlers will be at the core of every successful insurance business in the future.Claims service is the insurance industry's shop window. I want it to be a display of which we're all justifiably proud. IT' Jon Dye is claims director at Allianz Cornhill