High UK staff turnover forces insurer to look abroad

Zurich has been forced to open a call centre in India because it cannot find staff willing to work late evening and weekend shifts in the UK.

The pilot scheme began two weeks ago in Bangalore and will run for six months.

A Zurich spokeswoman said: "Late evening and weekend shifts aren't popular so staff turnover tends to be quite high. This is very costly because we're training people, then training others a couple of months later.

"It also puts a lot of pressure on remaining staff to cover the shifts.

"It was causing quite a problem so we looked at the possibility of supplementing our UK call centres."

She denied this would lead to the closure of any of Zurich's UK call centres.

The spokeswoman said UK call centre staff had volunteered to travel to Bangalore to train the new recruits. She denied they would undergo "accent neutralisation", as the training was described in an internal memo leaked to Insurance Times.

"We talk about smoothing out, not eradicating, an Asian accent," she said.

"It's something we support across all of our call centres so it's no different, for example, than in Glasgow, Leeds or Newcastle; anywhere that you have deep regional accents.

"We don't hide the fact the calls are being answered in Bangalore."

The spokeswoman said the pilot was unrelated to the recent sacking of two UK call centre staff and the disciplining of several others.

"We had a problem with a small number of call centre staff not giving the high level of service we demand, which came to light during routine checking," she said.

The pilot scheme followed a recently released report by management consultants Accenture, which predicted the UK insurance sector could shed 65,000 jobs by 2010 as it moved call centres abroad.

The report said payroll savings of up to 90% and the number of highly qualified staff were incentives for the move.

Royal & SunAlliance, Bupa, AXA and Churchill have already transferred part of their support operations out of the UK.