Ann Austin, claims manager for Claimsplus, reveals all about her job and responsibilities

Route to job
I joined Prudential as a trainee claims handler right after doing my A-levels in 1988, so my entire working life has been spent analysing and managing motor claims. That slightly unnerving fact aside, I joined Commercial Union (as it then was) in 1993, working my way up to team leader. I became a claims manager when Commercial Union merged with General Accident in 1999, and a year afterwards joined Claimsplus. Somewhere along the way I even found time to get married and have two children.

Current job
Currently I have responsibility for the claims teams and administration department. On the one hand, that means auditing the work we do for our customers, on the other, it's more of a loss adjusting role as we seek to minimise their claims costs. I check what money we're saving, where there is leakage and measure how much our teams are saving our customers. The nature of our company's role is that we have two sets of customers - the claimants and their insurers or brokers - so we have to keep both happy.

Typical day
Involves dealing with any or all of our customers, our suppliers, my own team or other departments. In fact, the diversity of activities is one of the things I like most about the job. Most of the role deals with reducing claims costs, which can mean anything from improving our own processes and productivity to reducing the lifecycle of a claim. I also oversee the team as they work on individual claims, keeping an eye on where there might be potential savings.

Biggest challenge
Customer service, undoubtedly. Claimants are no longer willing to accept just what their insurers are offering, but have ever-increasing expectations. Our challenge is to meet those expectations and to provide our insurance clients with a real differentiator. As an example, courtesy cars are a cost factor. But, it's no longer enough for the repairer to provide a replacement vehicle to a claimant, as customers are now looking for like-for-like rental cars.

Risk management issue with most impact
Weather, particularly severe weather, as it causes massive fluctuations in road accident levels. We need to be able to forecast seasonal variations and adapt to the peaks and troughs. We're also focusing a lot more on risk management for company car fleets, as commercial motor premiums remain extremely high.

Largest issue going forward
Working on behalf of insurance companies and brokers means that we have to keep claims costs under constant scrutiny. Those costs are rising as the result of increasing expectations from claimants and higher legal costs. For instance, we have to balance how much time and effort we spend investigating claims against using those resources to provide claimants with the best service levels.

Greatest achievement so far
Speaking personally, it would have to be the promotion to claims manager at Commercial Union/General Accident. I relocated from Birmingham to Bristol with my family, took on a new and much more demanding role and survived the post-merger teething troubles. Looking back I can still hardly believe I came out of it with my sanity intact.

Advice to someone wanting to do the job
It's fast-paced, so you need bags of energy and the ability to think on your feet. Beyond that, you need a good team because no one can do it alone. To deal with both the team and the customers, good interpersonal skills are important; getting a car pranged can be very stressful, so claimants want to be calmed and to feel that their insurers have the whole thing under control.