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Don’t miss the moment

Zurich's Peter Hamilton explains why the claims experience is key to changing consumer perceptions

Jan Carlzon, CEO at Swedish airline SAS in the 1980s, is often credited with the phrase 'moments of truth', referring to those interactions with customers that make or break the perception of the company in question. In the world of insurance, it's hard to think of a more critical juncture than what we might call the 'moment of claim'.

The claim is everything - it's how we will be judged, and it's right that there is ongoing scrutiny of every aspect.

In the general insurance arena, the American startup insurer Lemonade has been causing a stir for a number of reasons. Most recently, it announced it had paid a claim within five seconds of receipt - something that is going to be hard to beat (and any gain will be, at best, marginal!). The claim was for a lost coat, and an algorithm rather than a human claims assessor made the decision and transmitted the money.

The life industry may take a while to catch up, though we should be challenged by these developments to think differently. The sums assured will typically be higher and the appropriate payee not always immediately clear, but the customer need is likely to be greater.

For our own part, we have significantly improved the turnaround time for claims and introduced:

  • A choice of how to be kept up to date on a claim - post, phone, text or email
  • Voice recording used as authentication, meaning one call is all that's required to proceed with a claim
  • Electronic submission of evidence - customers can use their mobile to photograph evidence, saving time on postage and chasing medical professionals
  • A choice of flexible payment options, including electronic transfer
  • Quick payments upfront - we will pay money immediately to meet funeral and other costs (whatever they are ­ there's no monetary limit), as long as it is within the sum assured. We don't need a will and we don't need probate.

Technology will help us accelerate the process even further, but it will be a while before robots can truly empathise with what a customer is going through at what will often be a traumatic time in their life. We have invested heavily in the development of soft skills, including empathy and understanding grief.

In the world of protection, surveys regularly suggest that consumers believe payout rates to be below 50% (despite them actually being well into the 90% and above segment). In 2016, Zurich paid out close to £2bn in GI and life claims in the UK. This is a huge number, and evidence of genuine social good, but the online comments under financial press articles on any weekend shows that collectively, we have more to do. 

Harnessing technology will be important, but the bigger challenge is changing public perceptions and behaviours; so that they expect claims to be paid, they trust us with their data and they expect us to use it to craft better, bespoke propositions and communications for them. And so that insurance is seen as a social good, not a necessary evil, and there is a genuine community of interest. If we can't do this, and others can, it won't just be Lemonade who will have a pop.


Peter Hamilton is head of retail partnerships at Zurich