David Williams, AXA

In an impassioned speech, Williams called on the industry to implement service level agreements: "The rest of the world has them, so why should we not enter into them?"

Agreed timescales are crucial to ensuring insurers and claimant lawyers work together to secure a fair outcome for all parties, he said.

Williams admitted that insurers could benefit from inefficiency, but warned that ultimately "all we do is spread the cost over everybody else's premiums, so it is the man in the street that pays".

The main thrust of Williams' speech was a denunciation of the time taken to compensate claimants, particularly in relation to small claims. Williams revealed AXA data highlighting the fact that some small claims were taking up to 1,200 days to conclude.

In relation to proportionality, Williams quipped that the concept "appears incomprehensible to judges". While "we often hear it quoted that 40% of the total cost of injury claims goes in claimants' expenses", he indicated that AXA was "paying virtually the same in claimant costs as we are in damages".

He also called on the industry to improve transparency and build trust.

Williams highlighted the crisis in rehabilitation: "There are not enough rehab providers out there." He emphasised that independence is crucial in the provision of rehabilitation, but the dearth of qualified professionals is adding to settlement times.

Insurers also have to improve the skills of their claims managers: "We need claims handlers to have empathy and we need them to have expertise, and we need to do a lot of work in that regard."

In a final volley aimed at the legal fraternity, Williams predicted that two-thirds of the 6,700 personal injury specialist practices "will exit the market".

Williams' vision of a perfect claims future was persuasive: "Imagine a time when we resolve claims quickly, rehab opportunities are not missed and settlement times are measured in days, not weeks, months and years... it can happen."