Global programme networks: quality matters (not just size)

Credit: Zurich/Getty Images

Risk managers require many things from their insurer when it comes to serving their global insurance programmes. To begin with, they are looking for a network that covers all the territories in which their company needs insurance and risk management services. But it is not simply about the size of the network and the number of territories covered. Risk managers are also concerned with how well the network is set up, and the quality and performance of the network.

In times of crisis, such as the current Covid-19 pandemic, the quality of the network is more important than ever. Insurance networks typically involve a setup that includes owned offices together with partners in the territories where the global insurer does not have a presence. Quality is about ensuring that owned offices and partners alike are complying with the high standards of the global insurer in order to provide a seamless customer experience, and it is this that can differentiate between one global insurer and another.

Global standards – not only a hygiene factor
The quality of the network relies on the quality of the partners, and that is why the selection and ongoing monitoring of partners is so important. This involves not only examining their financial strengths and compliance aspects, but also their operational fitness, looking at how well they run their business and their ability to deliver the service levels required, especially in a crisis. And once selected, it is crucial to monitor their performance on a regular basis, to ensure that they continue to meet the required criteria.

A network partner must work to the same standards that have been sold globally to a global customer. The standards relate to what the customer expects of their insurer and the programme. And this goes back to very simple things, such as ensuring that the policy is issued in a timely manner, is of the right quality and is compliant with local regulations, as well as making sure that claims are handled correctly and efficiently, and the money flow is transparent and efficient. Things which seem to be basics or hygiene factors can make a great difference, and a key focus needs to be on their thorough execution – similarly what we can observe also during the current Covid-19 pandemic, where basic hygiene factors and their thorough execution, such as properly washing hands, can make a significant difference.

It is about ensuring that whatever the customer’s needs are locally, they are being properly served, with a seamless approach whether it is through an owned office or a partner. To ensure that standards are maintained, a global insurer will use service-level agreements with their partners that clearly set out what is expected of them from a performance perspective. This may involve operational key performance indicators as well as addressing topics such as efficiency and quality. But an important component of maintaining standards across the network is the direct feedback from customers and brokers, in order to confirm that owned offices and partners are delivering the expectations of the customer. It all comes back to what best supports the customers’ needs and how the network delivers on those expectations.

Technology – bringing it to the next level
Technology is the key enabler for ensuring the quality of the network also in the future and bringing the service delivery and customer experience to the next level. The global insurer must not only drive the technological transformation, but also include the partners in this journey as they are one crucial part of the whole ecosystem to ensure that they are part of the technological platform of the network.

A global programme involves many parties within the customer, the broker and the insurer with its network, and with that, many interactions and handovers. Technology plays a critical role to significantly reduce the number of handovers, support and simplify the entire end-to-end process, and to connect parties to the same platform – helping to remove system breaks and with that, errors and delays.

Robotics for example can be used where data needs to be entered into systems and where a level of automation can be utilised, increasing both the quality of the data and the efficiency. This can be complemented with artificial intelligence to categorise and triage the whole workflow. In order to reduce even further system breaks in the whole workflow, there is also the opportunity to interconnect directly with the systems of customers and partners via APIs (application programming interface). And blockchain can significantly improve processes and transparency when it comes to payments and cashflows.

The use of these technologies ultimately frees up more time for employees to engage and work with clients on the more complex elements of the programme.

The human factor – the glue to make things happen
A network is a living and breathing entity, made up of hundreds of insurance professionals providing seamless support to customers. An insurer can have the best global standards and operational processes in place and the most advanced technology, but it is ultimately about having the right people with the right mindset and the depth and breadth of skills dedicated to this business. And this comes down to communication, communication, communication; and training, training, training.

With so many parties involved in setting up an international programme, it is crucial that people are properly communicating with each other, whether it be on the customer, broker or insurer side, and on both the global and local side.

The global insurer will want their own employees, and their foreign insurance partners’ employees, to be the best they can, with the right level of knowledge and expertise, and to support them through training. The collaboration needs to be bi-directional, learning from each other, from the expertise of the global insurer, but also from the local market experience of the insurance partner.

A network requires people with experience and knowledge, but also people with a customer-centric mindset, that always have the customer experience of the programme at the forefront of their mind.

The human factor is still vitally important in the global insurance programme world and that is why communication and training are so crucial in ensuring that the network operates as efficiently as possible, providing the highest quality levels and, above all, making things happen seamlessly for the customer.

Contributed by Dr Carin Gantenbein, head of network management, international programmes, commercial insurance, Zurich Insurance Group