Industry Leader interview with Paul White, Chief Executive Officer at Sedgwick International UK

  1. What’s the biggest challenge facing your sector today?

Without doubt COVID-19 has had a huge impact on the insurance industry.  Insurers are still facing uncertainty as they wait for a ruling from the UK Supreme Court on business interruption cover. Claim volumes in other areas have been significantly reduced due to normal life being put on hold during the lockdown. The industry also moved from operating in offices and in-person visits to working from home and using technology to view property damage. 

Such seismic change in such a short period of time would have been inconceivable just a few months ago and yet now, it seems very unlikely that things will return to the way they were pre-pandemic.  But with every challenge comes an opportunity and the insurance industry will be looking at how they can harness the positives from this period to change things for the better for colleagues, clients and customers.

  1. How has your business adapted to the greater use of technology and remote working for claims management and loss adjusting?

Our business has adapted very well to home working.  We were able to move 2,000 colleagues to work from home within 5 days as we’d already invested heavily in technology. Most people remember ‘The Beast from the East’ weather event. This severely affected our teams being able to travel to the office and afterwards, we put technology solutions in place to increase the flexibility of our operating model. 

When COVID-19 struck, we quickly established new claims protocols to ensure the safety of our colleagues and customers.  We limited our in-person visits to just major losses or claims with vulnerable customers and used existing, tried and tested digital tools for all other claims.  We were already on this path of using technology for claims and the pandemic has simply accelerated this.  Clients and customers are also seeing the benefits of the increased use of technology and we expect this to continue even as we start easing out of lockdown.

We are now thinking long and hard about our future operating model especially given the current constraints about public transport and the health and safety concerns of colleagues.  We are therefore having a phased return to the offices for those who need or want to be there and then looking at how we incorporate increased flexible working into our normal working week.

  1. How do you support your clients and workers in times like these? What has changed in terms of processes and priorities of your service?

The key to all of this is communication. We were very quick to share information and discuss changes with clients and were able to support them whilst they too had to quickly adapt their businesses.  We offered digital solutions to clients to enable claims to progress but also were able to support them with FNOL and implementing a solution to manage the influx of business interruption claims.  

For colleagues, it was essential that clear calm messages were regularly shared with everyone to remove any uncertainty and anxiety.  We wanted to make sure colleagues were supported during a time when many had to deal with self-isolating, home-schooling and or caring for those classed as vulnerable or even having health issues themselves that meant they needed to shield.  Many of our teams are continuing with the social side of work, but moving online with virtual tea breaks, pub get togethers and quizzes.

We’ve had to look closely at our induction process for new starters as joining a company remotely is a challenge but we’re hoping that the new way of supporting new colleagues is working and that they are settling in well.

Our priorities haven’t altered but we have embraced change more readily than we would have expected with the increase in digital adoption for customers and colleagues, all of which is a positive thing.

  1. What is the most important piece of leadership advice you can offer to the industry?

To keep calm.  Now is the time for cool heads and thoughtful reflection rather than impulsive decision making.  This experience is new for everyone and now is not the time to make quick, knee-jerk decisions which could be regretted later. People are resilient, and we will get through this. 

  1. What might the sector look like post COVID-19?

We’ve recently conducted an all colleague survey which has shown that over 80% of colleagues are very satisfied working from home.  This obviously makes us review how colleagues will want to work in the future and it’s clear there is a very strong demand for greater flexibility.  We also recognise that home working doesn’t suit everyone but even with some colleagues working from the office we expect the traditional 9-5 culture to go and be replaced with something much more flexible that takes into consideration our colleagues’ outside demands and interests. 

We expect that technology will become more widely adopted by clients and their customers as more activity has been driven online during the pandemic.  It seems unimaginable, for example, not to have online banking and we believe that, over time, customers making claims will also become used to this way of working.  However, despite the increased use of technology there will always be a need for the skills and expertise of our adjusters who are there to support customers through the complexities of their claims.

We hope that the positive environmental impact COVID-19 has had will continue as we make fewer journeys to and from work and to claims. 

The wider impact of COVID-19 will be significant for insurers who will be reconsidering their policy wordings and cover for pandemics whilst waiting for the Supreme Court judgement.  The insurance supply chain has struggled during this period and we expect that some businesses will simply not survive or will need to merge with others in order to continue to trade. Mergers and acquisitions in the market have been a familiar backdrop to the last few years but we could see this trend accelerate as the market recovers from the economic damage that COVID-19 has wrought.


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