The skills required to provide a claims service are more complex and sophisticated and require a considerably greater degree of expertise than ever before.

Brokers and assureds' expectations have grown and insurers have to adapt to the new situation.

In response to this the claims team at liability underwriters RE Brown & Others, Syndicate 702 at Lloyd's has developed special expertise – of the team of eight, five are qualified solicitors and one is a barrister – underlining the growing need for legal know-how to back up the claims handling process.

Claims manager Penny Whitwell explains: "For many people the first, and only, contact with their insurer comes when they have a claim.

"For this reason we believe it is essential to have a team with comprehensive experience of our business and that of the assured. The legal experts in the team all have a sound knowledge of the risks the syndicate insures and the legal processes and problems that an assured may face with a claim. "Where possible one person will liaise directly with an assured and is responsible for investigating and dealing with their claim."

Woolf at the door
Penny expects this hands-on approach to reap further dividends as the effects of the Woolf civil procedure reforms become more widespread.

"As yet, Woolf has had little impact on professional indemnity and directors' and officers' claims, but we have noticed significant changes on the employers' and public liability side," she says.

"Where personal injury is involved we are receiving more and better information from the claimant at the outset and our work is being front-loaded. The benefit of this is that we are able to achieve reasonable settlements in the early stages and fewer claims are proceeding to litigation."

However, Whitwell accepts that litigation is sometimes unavoidable: "Over the years we have developed relationships with a select group of specialist external solicitors renowned for their professionalism and expertise, and who are familiar with our approach to claims handling."

Specialist service
Though the syndicate does operate a claims handling service in the traditional Lloyd's manner, it is through its service company and specialist claims handling schemes with Lloyd's brokers that it comes into its own.

Whitwell says: "Through the service company and specialist schemes we are able to offer the assured immediate practical assistance, and considerably reduce the time and resources the broker needs to commit to dealing with claims."

The team works with assureds to minimise exposure to claims. Risk surveys have been commissioned, and presentations given to a number of assureds to enable them to identify areas of exposure and take appropriate action.

To ensure good communications, brokers and assureds are kept up to date with developments in industries, insurance and litigation in general by information bulletins that the team produces.

The last word must come from Whitwell: "We are finding that generally brokers are passing on more of their claims workload to us. We are more than ready to rise to the challenge of this changing claims-handling environment."