Dealing with disruption in claims: AXA UK’s Waseem Malik, Executive Managing Director of Claims

Like many industries, the insurance sector has been coping with unprecedented disruption over these past few months. With so much focus on the ‘now’ and ‘how’… Business Agility wanted to speak to a peer in the insurance industry – to get their point of view and some perspective on what has happened, but also importantly, what can (and should) happen next. We were fortunate to have some time with Waseem Malik, Executive Managing Director of Claims for AXA Insurance (UK).

What follows is a Q&A between Waseem Malik and Business Agility. In the conversation, we touch on important areas such as innovation, modernisation, culture and how the sector needs to use this current situation as a catalyst and springboard toward much needed change.

You can read our white paper here on insurance in a post COVID-19 world.

Dealing with disruption in claims: Waseem Malik, AXA UK

axa insurance waseem malik

Waseem Malik: Executive Managing Director – Claims – AXA UK

Business Agility

Looking at other articles where you have contributed, something that strikes us was your use of words like ‘smooth’ and ‘seamless’ and ‘untangle’ when you’re describing how you think insurance processes should work. You clearly see technology is a huge part of that, don’t you?

W.M

I do indeed, yes. I’d say the general insurance industry is maybe a bit behind the curve if compared to banking, for instance and I think there’s still a way to go. But that’s acknowledged and as an industry, we’re embracing technology rapidly. Start-ups that are tech-focused – they’re helping because they’re bringing new thinking and new ideas into the industry.

Also, as customer needs evolve and develop, insurers are recognising they need to evolve as well. Making sure we have offerings in accordance with what customers are experiencing elsewhere in their life, so I’m all for technology and that can only help both from a consumer viewpoint, but also just making things more straightforward.

Business Agility

Do you think your views are representative of the industry, or when you talk about this smooth, seamlessness, do you think you’re pushing for it more than others?

W.M

I would say everyone’s getting there, but at different speeds. At AXA we have a real desire to strive forward on this. We see it as a differentiator, we see it as the way things are going to be. I’m not a claims person by background. So that almost allows me to ask different questions and to look at things from a different viewpoint to say, “Okay, why are we doing this? Or why haven’t we considered this?”

We’ve got quite a broad transformational agenda at AXA; Business Agility has worked with us on that. It means we’re in that mindset of looking at everything and questioning why this is done this way, how can we do it better. We’re certainly embracing it. And as a result, we maybe are slightly ahead in our thinking more than some others.

Business Agility 

Do you have any examples of that?

W.M 

We’re doing a lot in the space of data machine learning. A good example would be we recently launched a machine learning tool called RORI.

RORI stands for repair or replace intelligence. (full details here)

When someone notifies a car accident to us, we capture information on the damage that has occurred, what happened in the accident. RORI then uses machine learning techniques to accurately predict what the cost of repair would be, the likelihood of that work being done by one of our repairers and what the sort of cost would be if the car was a total write off.

What this enables us to do is to make a really accurate decision up front as to whether we should repair the car or whether it should be a total loss. And that’s important because what tends to happen is you get given a description and it’s almost down to the subjectivity and experience of the claims assessor to try to identify if this car can be repaired, or if it should be a total loss. What tends to happen is you send a car to a garage to be repaired. And there’s a lead time, customers booking an appointment, the car goes to the garage then a week down the line the customer finds out “Oh, actually, it’s not repairable and it’s a total loss”.

Using our new system, if it was a total loss, we’d know that immediately. On that very first call, we can have a very different conversation with the customer, better manage their expectations, and give them a much better outcome. So if it was a total loss, we can move straight to that process and begin to talk about how much their car is worth and giving them a settlement for that, rather than wasting the time of being sent to a garage and giving them a replacement car only to find it can’t be repaired. And then you know, we’re into another process and the customer’s frustrated and has lost time. It’s a good example of where we’re using technology to make better decisions quicker, which helps the customer and help us.

Business Agility  

So here we are now in a global pandemic. How do you think this will affect the industry? Is it ready to deal with this?

W.M 

As an industry, we’re quite strong and resolute. At AXA, within three weeks, almost all our staff were able to work from home. We have almost 10,000 members of staff in the UK, so to mobilise everyone was challenging. Probably, only 15% of that workforce would have had the right IT kit to do so.

To mobilise that in three weeks shows, when we put our minds to it, we’re quite agile and it shows our experience. My understanding is a lot of the industry delivered on a similar timescale. I believe we’ve all managed to maintain a level of customer service. Notwithstanding that, in the early days, some of our own staff were impacted, we had high absence levels.

But our teams continued to work hard to put our customers’ needs first.

Business Agility 

This is true. You strike me as someone for whom digital transformation is really important. Do you think that this has been an opportunity then? Because it has sped things up?

W.M  

Without a doubt, it’s made everyone reprioritise what they’re doing and look at what things they’re focused on. And one of the things we’ve done, for instance, is we’ve prioritised the rolling out of more digital tools to our customers. To give you a few examples:

Rather than waiting in a telephone queue to log your claim, you can now go online and register a claim. That’s moving with the times and giving flexibility.

We’re also using technology to help triage claims. For instance, if you had an escape of water in your house, we would send you a link to your smartphone, your smartphone then becomes a live video stream back to our handlers in the office. You can show us the damage that occurred in your room. Technology will then work out the surface area, the type of damage, what materials would be needed and at the end of a 30-minute call, gives you a quote, as to what the cost of that repair would be. We’d then be happy to arrange for that repair to be done or to give a cash settlement.

Again, that means no physical inspection needed. Someone doesn’t have to wait in between the hours of eight and six to see what time the handyman is going to turn up. You don’t have to take a day off work, you can organise it for when it suits you.

For larger risks where we haven’t been able to send people out physically onsite, we can use drones. You send the drone out, you get the footage from the drone, you can see the exact state of the whole size of the roof for example.

I’m not sure we’ll ever go back to how it was before. And maybe this is a good thing, because it’s given the industry a push in the right direction.

Business Agility 

These examples you’ve given, have they kicked in as a direct result of the pandemic?

W.M

We were doing some of these initiatives before the pandemic. We have extended and accelerated them into other lines of business. The e-notifications we were doing for travel before, we didn’t have the capability in motor although we had launched a pilot, we rushed the pilot through to make sure it was ready in time for this. The video claims we were doing for household claims; we’ve extended that process into our commercial property claims as well. And drones, we tended to use more on large risks. But we’re using them more now. It has accelerated.

Business Agility 

That’s fascinating. This has forced everyone’s hand, but could you see yourself going back to the old ways now?

W.M

I suspect we’ll go to a hybrid model where we’ll have a bit of the new world and a bit of the old.

Business Agility 

Going back to the old world for a second. If you had a transformation programme that was underway, at the start of this, how would it need retooling or reassessing to deal with what’s going on now?

W.M  

Linking to the previous comment, I think there would be a greater emphasis on the digital aspects of that transformation, looking much more at the customer journey, maybe looking at the back-office platform.

Customers will expect that. If you think about businesses, are we ever going to go back to five days in an office? Probably not. That is likely to be a hybrid model. That opens different working hours for businesses. No more nine to five or eight to six. You could have part of your workforce that just logs on in the evening. Any transformation activity needs to be reviewed considering those changes – to make sure it’s still relevant.

People would look at programme activity, see if it’s still necessary, or can we save some costs? I suspect people will point these programmes in a slightly different direction to ensure that transformation aids a better customer outcome and delivers more straight through processing.

Business Agility 

How important is company culture and industry culture in this? How does it impact working in an extraordinary time like we’re going through right now?

W.M 

It’s critical.

Culture is what makes or breaks an organisation. Ultimately, it will dictate whether people wish to stay with an organisation and the values that ultimately feed down into the customer experience. In my view, the type of culture that works best in the environment we find ourselves is an empowering culture. With staff now working at home, we must trust them to do the right thing. You’ve got to trust your employees. That has a major impact on management style. For me, empowering employees is right on top of that list.

Schools have been closed and people have had to juggle childcare with work commitment, you’ve got to trust them to do the right thing. We’ve also got to be flexible to allow them to log on in the evening or similar to catch up – if you know they’ve had childcare duties during the day. I think that’s really important. It’s our job as an organisation to make sure our people have the best tools to do their work, because we know times have been challenging. It’s for us to provide the right infrastructure, the right tools – and the right cultural environment.

Business Agility 

I suppose if you’re talking about diversity, this flexible working you’re describing is going to give you a more diverse workforce, isn’t it?

W.M 

Yes, absolutely. It means we can open to a whole new audience that perhaps haven’t been able to work in the set office hours that have been required in the past. This is a good thing; we can welcome back a lot of people into the workforce – a lot of talent.

Business Agility 

Regarding a culture of presenteeism – How much of a leap is it for an organisation to do what you’ve asked your managers to do?

W.M 

It’s a big leap, but actually, no one had a choice. We’ve all had to make it work and without this event happening, it would have been much harder to implement.

We all want to learn from this experience to take the good things out of it. Once a month we run a staff survey to see how our staff are feeling. We get really good response rates to that – and seeing the feedback, it helps us learn what works and what doesn’t work.

Business Agility 

It feels like such a momentous moment, doesn’t it, for bad and for good, everything that’s going on?

W.M

Agreed. You couldn’t have written this, could you?

Business Agility

It’s nearly 100 days since lockdown, we’ve all become used to a certain way of working, but you’re going to be in a very different position soon, aren’t you, where you will be able to send some staff back and some of them will want that. So that trust is going to be key again then isn’t it, about keeping them safe.

W.M 

Absolutely. And it’s a really good point you make. Because we all assume keeping people safe is keeping them away from the office. But, we know there are people who live on their own or live in a busy household where they may be working in their bedroom. For them, going back to the office is a much better environment than being at home.

We certainly don’t want to rush people back to the office. Obviously, there are social distancing considerations. Some staff may rely on public transport – that presents another complexity. This is about making sure we listen to the concerns of our staff and making sure that we do things in a very controlled and safe way.

Business Agility 

I get the sense that you’re someone who might have been frustrated in the past by sort of the slow pace of transformation across the industry. And more than most, you can really see the silver linings.

W.M 

That’s a nice way to put it. I’m an accountant by trade. I know the corporate way quite well and I think one of the things a lot of businesses aren’t very good at is speed.

Organisations can often be slow. And by the time we get there, it’s almost too late. Whoever embraces technology quickly covers more ground. At AXA, we certainly don’t want to be chasing the pack. We have the opportunity to be one of the front runners here.

Business Agility

If AXA wants to lead the pack in this revolution that you’re talking about, what needs to happen next, what do you need to be doing?

W.M 

Keeping up the momentum we have at the moment. I think we have the right culture, the right focus- really this is about making sure we continue to prioritise the right things. And continue to keep our customers at the heart of everything we do.

Business Agility

I’m asking slightly off topic, but we’ve spoken a lot about the new world and the new normal. Is there anything that you miss about the old ways?

W.M

Yeah. I do miss the camaraderie of seeing my colleagues every day. You know, working side by side – that’s been difficult to adjust to. However, hopefully in time, we’ll get some of that back. A lot of people I speak to miss that. Working at home can be quite intense and it can be quite a lonely place. And even little things like the commute home, you use that to switch off. I never thought I’d miss my commute!

Waseem Malik – Bio

Waseem Malik is the Executive Managing Director for Claims at AXA Insurance. In this role, commenced in April 2018, he has direct responsibility for all P&C claims. He is one of three exec MDs responsible for the overall AXA Insurance business. He joined the company in 2006 as Head of Mergers & Acquisitions for AXA UK and then served as Chief Financial Officer of AXA Insurance for eight years. He is a Non-Executive Board Director of Thatcham Research, chairing its Audit Committee and is also a Non-Executive Board Director of the Insurance Fraud Bureau. Waseem Malik is a Fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England & Wales. Prior to joining AXA, he worked for nine years with PwC, where he qualified as a Chartered Accountant and specialised in financial services transactions.

Read our white paper here on insurance in a post COVID-19 world.