NU Online News Service, June 19, 11:26 a.m. EDT

Claims professionals’ performance as a whole is improving, and the greater focus on claims service in recent years comes just in time to address new and emerging risks that will challenge the insurance industry over the next decade, according to the chief executive of Willis Group Holdings.

Speaking at the recent Swiss Re Americas Claims Conference held annually in Chicago, Joe Plumeri, chairman and chief executive officer of Willis, applauded the audience of senior claims professionals in attendance on a steady improvement in performance as measured by Willis’ own carrier-rating system: the Willis Quality Index.

The index was initiated in 2007 to give insurance carriers direct feedback on a range of measures about their services.

The average score for claims performance across areas such as attitude, technical support, and timely approval and payment, has increased steadily over the last three years, Plumeri noted.

“Together we’ve made huge strides in recent years: claims issues are higher up the agenda, more claims people are moving into leadership, and service is improving along with expectations,” he said. “But there’s still some way to go. Claims is fundamental to the insurance experience; it needs to be at the forefront of everything we do.”

Plumeri said claims management will be crucial over the next 10 years, as the economic recovery and an emerging global middle class will create increased demand for coverage and new risks.

He discussed six risk trends that the risk community needs to pay attention to, and that claims professionals will have to contend with in the near future. These trends include:

  • An increase in underwriting scrutiny, documentation and claim audit.
  • The impact of issues such as supply chain risk, government-ordered blackouts and post-catastrophe movements of populations on business interruption coverage.
  • The emergence of “haboobs” or dust storms causing massive movements of sand into commercially-sensitive areas and equipment. The question arises does this meet the definition of direct physical damage, or is it simply dirt needing to be cleaned-up?
  • The impact of solar flares on communications systems.
  • The emergence of ‘space junk’ as a new risk to operational satellites and ground populations.
  • Conflicting forecasts for severe weather among expert groups.

But claims professionals have already met great challenges in the past decade, from the rebuilding of the World Trade Center to the rejuvenation of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

Plumeri said, “The role of insurance carriers and insurance brokers working as quickly as possible to settle claims when people need resources to rebuild must not be undervalued. These are great stories of the insurance industry doing its job, and claims professionals should be justifiably proud of their critical role in the process.”

The Swiss Re conference ran from June 14 through June 16.

This story was updated at 1:24 p.m. with additional comments about dust storms.