Driving down risks: how international insurance programmes can be used in the management of commercial fleets

For many companies across the world, commercial motor fleets are an important part of how their business operates. Simon Kay, AXA XL’s head of international motor, and Halima Bekkali, a motor risk consultant specialising in road safety, discuss some of the challenges involved in operating large fleets and how international insurance programmes can be used to help transfer some of those risks.

What are some of the challenges for risk managers whose companies operate large motor fleets?

Simon Kay: All companies that own and operate vehicles have two overarching challenges. First, they have duty-of-care obligations to ensure the safety and wellbeing of their employees, and secondly to the public at large.

For our clients, ensuring the safety of their employees and other road users presents a specific challenge because these companies are not, per se, in the transport business; their employees are not what would be considered professional drivers.

In other words, while driving is an important if not essential element of their work, these employees were not generally hired for their driving prowess. In fact, it’s reasonably uncommon for a candidate’s driving record to be reviewed during the hiring process. This is changing, however.

The second overarching challenge is operational efficiency. As noted, corporate companies often have hundreds and sometimes thousands of vehicles. These are costly to operate and maintain and, in addition, the direct and – often considerable – indirect costs of accidents can have a significant drag on a company’s performance, corporate image and profitability.

Commercial vehicle fleets, like people, are unique. They all have different profiles and different problems and therefore insurance coverage, structure and servicing requirements need therefore to be tailor-made.

How do those challenges differ from client to client?

Halima Bekkali: We have a common interest – that of improving safety, preserving the lives of drivers and reducing costs – but when you look under the hood, so to speak, their specific needs and priorities invariably will differ.

That’s why, whenever we start working with a new client, the first order of business is to conduct a comprehensive risk assessment to analyse the maturity of the client risk exposure and actions already implemented. This encompasses an in-depth look at the company’s recent and longer-term experiences, including its accident history, both frequency and severity, as well as its bodily injury and property damage losses. Our scope of analysis also applies to fines and other parameters related to indirect costs generated by the fleet. We also lead individual driver risk assessments, which allows us to establish a profiling of each driver and identify high-, medium- and low-risk drivers.

I should also stress that while this is a fact-based exercise, the process itself – from data collection through to a review of our findings with the client – is highly interactive and helps us become more familiar with the client’s policies, operational procedures and, importantly, its culture. All that helps us understand more clearly where there are opportunities for improvement, both short and long term.

Once the analysis is done, how do you work with clients to improve safety and reduce costs?

Halima Bekkali: Again, there is no one-size-fits-all approach and each implementation plan is tailored to the client’s specific needs and circumstances.

In general, however, a core element of the programme is assessing each driver, or group of drivers, across the six competencies of safe driving: driver attitude, other motorists, danger zones, scanning, speed management and space management. That is enhanced in large part by the increasingly sophisticated telematics devices available today.

The next step is delivering targeted training to higher-risk drivers, based on their particular deficiency or deficiencies. That is carried out via interactive e-learning modules and videos, which can be supplemented, as appropriate, with training on a test track, hands-on workshops with simulators, or similar events designed to promote awareness and build skills. Such activities can also help to instil and reinforce a safety-first culture within the organisation.

How can international insurers help clients transfer some of the risks associated with operating large motor fleets?

Simon Kay: In most countries, motor third-party insurance is obligatory. This protects our clients from any motor liability that may arise through damage or bodily injury caused to a third party.

Risk-managed corporate clients may wish to retain some of this motor third-party exposure – generally the attritional claims – and transfer the severity claims to their insurer. Because our clients are typically large multinational or national companies, many also find it is more cost-effective to self-insure their first-party risk or own-damage risk.

Are there any future trends that risk managers with fleets are keeping an eye on?

Simon Kay: An intriguing trend to watch is how cities in different parts of the world, including in Paris where I work, are reimagining the role of cars in the urban environment. While that’s not a new development, the global Covid-19 pandemic has prompted a wave of bold initiatives around this issue. The social, environmental and health benefits of these schemes are appealing, and it will be interesting to see how this plays out in the future.

And we can’t overlook the effect that self-driving cars, as well as autonomous delivery vehicles, shuttle vans and the like, will have on commerce and daily life.

All in all, it is a very interesting time and the types of vehicles on the road, and where and how they are used, will no doubt continue to evolve. Nonetheless, the fundamental imperatives for risk managers and insurers alike, as we discussed earlier – improving safety and managing costs – will very much remain, even as the dimensions of these challenges naturally also change. So, as we say in France, ‘plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose’.

Contributed by Simon Kay, AXA XL’s head of international motor, and Halima Bekkali, motor risk consultant

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