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CASE STUDY

Some things you learn best in calm, and some in the storm

An analysis of storm claims performance of the industry by looking at the recent named storms in the UK, from Arwen to Eunice.

Introduction

From November 2021 to February 2022 the UK experienced an unprecedented set of five named storms in four months. Storm Arwen first hit the UK on 26th November 2021 and was followed quickly by Storm Barra in December 2021 and Storm Corrie in January 2022. Then Storm Eunice arrived, the biggest of them all, on 18th February 2022 which saw a record-breaking wind gust speed of 122 mph at The Needles on the Isle of Wight. This was quickly followed by Storm Franklin just two days later.

Storm Arwen and Eunice were the biggest of the five storms but were quite different – Arwen mainly affected the Northeast of England and Scotland whereas Eunice was more widespread and affected most of England and Wales.

So now we are in the calm after the storms, we thought it would be useful to look at our data to see what the industry can learn in preparation for future storms. As always, our analysis is data driven and based on facts rather than anecdotes and “noise”, and this series of storms has given us a fantastic opportunity to analyse a large data set. “There are some things you learn best in calm, and some in the storm.”

Storms Arwen and Eunice

We have focused our analysis on the two groups of storms – Arwen with Barra and Corrie, Eunice with Franklin. As Arwen and Eunice account for most of the data we refer to these storm groups as “Arwen” and “Eunice”. We have analysed the data to understand the patterns of behaviour during a storm surge and to determine best practice by comparing performance across our clients.

 

Storm Arwen (left) had a greater concentration of claims in the Northeast of the UK, in particular the NE postcode which had 22% of claims. We also had quite a few claims in remote areas of Scotland, areas which are always challenging even in BAU.

Storm Eunice’s heat map (right) showed a very different pattern of claims with far more areas of the UK affected and the highest concentrations in the Southwest and Southeast of the country. We also had a few hotspots in the Northwest of England. As these were all heavily populated areas, insurers and intermediaries were competing for surveying and validation resources.

Incoming claims

The graph below shows the day-on-day trend for new claims received by MA Group. Storm Eunice (brown) has been plotted onto the first day of Storm Arwen (blue) to give a like-for-like comparison:

The graph shows that the pattern in the first couple of days was quite different for each storm, which is surprising as both storms started on a Friday. Clearly insurers were not prepared to deal with new claims over the weekend for the first storm but were much better prepared by the time storm Eunice arrived.

Once we get past the first weekend the pattern of claims coming in was remarkably similar for both storms, with a massive increase in claims in the first week. For both storms the number of claims dropped off over the second weekend and picked up again in the second working week. This suggests that insurers did not have their claims handlers working through the second weekend. We are confident that this pattern is arising with our clients as, due to our investments in technology, new claims coming into MA Group are automatically opened on our systems, whether our office is open or not.

Closing claims

The graph below shows the day-on-day trend for claims being closed by MA Group. Storm Eunice (brown) has been plotted onto the first day of Storm Arwen (blue) to give a like-for-like comparison:

The pattern of closing is much smoother for Storm Eunice as survey reports came in consistently from a wider range of surveyors across the country. For Storm Arwen the “spikier” closing performance is due to us transferring resources from across the country such that out of area surveyors would focus on MA Group claims, surveying and closing claims in one area for a specific block of time.

As the graphs above show, most claims get closed within eight weeks of the storm, and then there is a long tail as more complicated claims are finalised along with claims that were instructed to us by insurers weeks after the event. Desktop validations also take longer as we wait for customers to provide evidence and photos for us to validate.

Factors affecting performance of storm claims

Geographic spread

The focused nature of storm Arwen in the Northeast made it harder to manage capacity as there was only a limited number of surveyors available in those regions. Insurers and intermediaries were competing for resources, so those clients who were better prepared for the storm surge did better overall. For storm Eunice claims were much more widely spread across the country and not so heavily concentrated in a few postcodes. The difference in performance across these two storms is quite pronounced when we look at individual clients.

We were able to transfer resource from the rest of the country to the Northeast very quickly during Storm Arwen, but it was essential that we block booked appointments for these surveyors to ensure we could make the most of them being in the area for a limited time.  Those clients who gave us large volumes quickly benefited from dedicated resources carrying out surveys consistently and quickly.

Those clients who were slower to appoint MA Group had to wait longer for appointments as we tried to fit them into the local capacity that was available over a longer period of time.

Time taken to appoint MA Group

During Storm Arwen it took our clients an average of 6.3 days after the storm event to appoint MA Group. The quickest client managed to appoint us within 4.9 days on average, the slowest took 9.7 days. No claims were sent through to us on the first weekend, meaning that insurers missed a valuable two days for grabbing capacity.

For Storm Eunice the average time taken to appoint us increased significantly for all clients to 10.3 days on average even though we were being appointed over the first weekend for this storm. This is probably a reflection of the higher number of claims coming into insurers for Eunice when compared to Arwen.  The quickest client managed to appoint us within 9.0 days on average, the slowest took 23.7 days. Interestingly, the slowest client for each storm was the same, (Client B, see below) suggesting they need to look at their FNOL surge processes before the next storm season arrives.

When it comes to securing capacity for surveying and validation it really pays for insurers to appoint their suppliers quickly because surveying slots fill up on a first come first served basis. The slowest client for Storm Arwen had the longest claim durations – one week above the average – because the localised nature of this storm with a high concentration of claims across a few postcodes made capacity issues more of a challenge.

For Storm Eunice, claims durations were similar for all clients as clients were all much slower to appoint us and the claims were much more widely spread across the country.

Clients’ FNOL and triage processes

As we have already explained above, those clients who appointed us the quickest generally had shorter claim durations. Our quickest client also used innovative FNOL processes to ensure that small claims (under £500) could be settled very quickly at the desk as cash settlements, without even appointing a supplier.

We also found that those clients with good triaging processes faired better as they directed the claims to the right suppliers from the start. The better performers were able to determine whether a claim was going to have a high value, involved vulnerable customers or difficult circumstances, and appointed loss adjusters or building contractors immediately.

Clients who relied on getting two quotes from customer faired the worst when it came to claim durations and customer satisfaction.

Systems integration and technology

The time taken to assign a supplier, and claim durations, can be greatly reduced through technology and systems integration. We use OCR technology that automatically opens a claim on our Pulse operating system using the information provided in the original instruction from the client. There is no manual intervention or rekeying of information, allowing our staff to focus on assigning claims to surveyors and booking in surveys.

The client with the longest durations during the storms has not worked with us to use this technology on their claim instructions, and so had to wait for us to manually enter their claim details into Pulse before we could start progressing their claims. When capacity is limited, this capability can make all the difference.

Delegated authority

The larger the delegated authority we had, the more decisions we could make on site with the customers and get settlements agreed. Our client that has given us the largest delegated authority saw much quicker decisions being made for customers and much quicker claim durations (by over 20% compared to the client for which we have the lowest delegated authority).

The number of claims that went over our delegated authority remained steady overall, but Client B (lowest DA) showed a very different pattern. For Client B 11% of claims during storm Arwen went over our DA and for Storm Eunice this rose to 15%. This client was the slowest to appoint us (see above) and appointed us on claims that went over our DA at three times the rate of the other clients. All of these factors contributed to longer claim durations for Client B.

Cash settlement process

One of our clients managed to settle small claims at the desk very quickly as part of their FNOL process. Customers were generally very happy to get such a quick resolution to their claim following just one phone call to their insurer, and this process helped to reduce the demand placed on supplier capacity. However other cash settlement processes made the surge challenges worse.

During the storms an increasing number of customers were rejecting cash settlements, recognising the challenges within the construction industry and the high prices builders charge for private works. In these cases, many insurers usually ask the customer to get two quotes which takes time. The process takes even longer when insurers forward these quotes to suppliers such as MA Group to validate, even though surge conditions are still in place (and the supplier has already carried out a validation process and closed the claim file).

In times of surge it is much more sensible for insurers to negotiate an increase in cash settlements with a customer rather than ask for quotes. Our analysis suggests that where customers reject cash settlements and get two quotes the final claim cost increases by up to 46% on average. When we shared this with our clients one of them agreed to negotiate cash settlement increases with customers rather than requesting two quotes. As a result, they closed surge claims more quickly with negligible impact on their indemnity spend and reduced the inbound traffic to MA Group, freeing up more of our capacity to close claims.

Two quotes

The requirement for two quotes really creates a long tail in a surge event. Claims that could have been closed and settled within a few days run on for weeks, or even months, as customers try to get two quotes from local builders who have no incentive to prepare such quotes because they are already very busy and know they are unlikely to get the work. The quality of quotes is also very poor, giving very little detail about the scope of work required and the rates being applied. This makes it very difficult to validate the costs and the cash settlement ends up being a negotiation, which could have taken place much earlier. Customer satisfaction falls and complaints increase when the two quotes process is used – by using scarce capacity unnecessarily, creating delays and extra communication, the customer journey suffers considerably.

Policy terms

Interpretation of clients’ policy terms and ethos is key for accurate validations. Most of our clients have fairly similar policy terms for storms, but one client has much stricter policy terms which lead to very different outcomes.

Client A, our largest client with extensive experience with storm claims and slightly more generous policy terms and a pragmatic approach, saved 25% of the total claimed values during Storm Arwen, increasing to 37% for Eunice.  But Client B, our client with more rigorous policy terms which it strictly enforces, particularly around flat roofs and a requirement to prove regular maintenance, made savings of 59% of total claimed values for Arwen, rising to 71% for Eunice:

Such different outcomes in savings are not surprising, but we were surprised to see little difference in repudiation rates:

And when settled claim values were compared to the average claim value for all clients, results were as follows (expressed as a percentage of the average):

Despite having much tighter policy terms, Client B had much higher claim settlement values than Client A.

So client B’s customers made much larger claims and received much larger settlements, but savings against the original claims were very high, suggesting that initial claims were inflated and/or customers had little understanding of their policy details. Client B paid out more on average even though its policy terms were stricter, suggesting that stricter policy terms and application does not necessarily translate into lower indemnity spend.

Long tail

The long tail in storm surges often arises because customers delay notifying their insurer of their claim, either because they know insurers are busy and there is a backlog or because they didn’t notice the damage straightaway. As a result, WIP numbers don’t fall as quickly in the later stages of a surge as they do in the first few weeks which, when combined with insurers asking us to validate two quotes on claims we have already surveyed and validated, starts to create noise and too much focus on the few claims that seem to be taking longer than they should.

Insurers have a responsibility to manage the WIP as well – if they make sensible, pragmatic decisions the tail of the surge can be reduced significantly. To continue pushing more unnecessary demand onto suppliers doesn’t help anyone, especially the customer.

Capacity

There is a finite capacity within the UK for dealing with storm surges, so when a surge does happen insurers are competing against each other to secure capacity for their claims. At the same time, they get concerned about their supply chain’s ability to cope with the influx of claims and expect to have their claims prioritised without providing suppliers with any financial incentive to do so – in times of surge insurers would be wise to consider paying a bit extra for a critical surge service, accepting that capacity is finite and designed (and priced!) for BAU.

When a storm is concentrated in one area of the country, like storm Arwen, supply chains should be able to relocate resource from other parts of the country to deal with the surge. We were able to do that and covered the extra costs of sending surveyors to the Northeast without charging clients extra fees for doing so.

A good supply chain can adapt to changing volumes but will never be able to create enough capacity to keep service levels at BAU levels during a surge. So during a surge insurers should stop worrying about time-based SLAs and simply focus on customer satisfaction measures. Claim durations will increase, and as we discuss below, customers expect that to happen.

Throughout the recent storms MA Group was able to find extra capacity outside of its normal Virtus surveying network by using its BRN network. Our contractors employ a lot of experienced insurance surveyors and validators, and we were able to source significant extra capacity from our Builder Repair Network to deal with the storm surge. MA Group’s multiple supply chains and flexible approach gives it an advantage over other, single product competitors in this regard.

Surveyor motivation and incentive

In common with all the other supply chain, MA Group paid its surveyors more to work on surge claims to attract the most capacity possible and this cost was not passed onto clients.

Unlike our competitors, we have always paid surveyors extra for good performance. All our surveyors can earn an extra fee per claim if they meet certain performance criteria, including customer satisfaction, time taken to submit reports etc. This has been in place since we launched Virtus in 2016 and we have found it very effective in motivating suppliers to get things right first time.

Our surveyors also use our mobile surveying app, Scoper, which makes working with MA Group frictionless and easy for them (providing additional incentives for surveyors to work for us). It is used by surveyors to efficiently collect and transmit data and reports, capture video, audio and geo-tagged evidence and prepare accurate, priced schedules of works and cash settlements.

Scoper is fully integrated into Pulse and is used by all the group’s supply chains, creating significant efficiencies for staff and suppliers and helping to minimise claim life cycles and improve the customer experience.

It was developed with a clear understanding of customers and insurance clients’ needs, as well as the requirements of field-based suppliers.

It ensures that all scopes of works are comprehensive and complete so that variations are minimised. It also creates efficiencies by allowing the suppliers to create scopes and variations on site and securely transmit them back to the office

Outcomes

Outcomes were fairly consistent across the two storms:

Overall the percentage of claims cash settled and declined fell slightly across the two storms. Both rates were in line with BAU for the same reasons that savings were – more claims were genuine and in line with insurer policies and there were high levels of pragmatism by clients. Named storms usually result in lower declined rates, higher cash settlements and lower savings compared to normal storm claims.

Claims going to BRN increased significantly during Storm Eunice as more customers opted for help with repairing their homes after discovering that several named storms had made getting a builder and scaffolding company to carry out works more difficult to arrange privately.

Despite the challenges faced during a surge, NPS remained high for MA Group (Virtus) and the surveyors.

We found that most customers were very understanding during the surge, accepting there was going to be a backlog for arranging surveys. As long as we communicated with the customer and booked in a date, they were generally happy – even if they had to wait a couple of weeks for the survey. Our complaint ratio remained under 1% of claims received, and the vast majority were not justified.

NPS scores and complaint ratios were not affected by repudiation rates or savings made – we could find no patterns or trends between those data sets. This demonstrates that our surveyors were able to deliver bad news empathetically and explain why they have made the decisions to ensure that the customer understood. Where complaints did arise, they were down to communication issues – either MA Group or the surveyors had not kept them informed, especially around survey dates.

Even though clients get concerned about the long tail of storm surge claims, the vast majority of customers are happy with the service they receive and understand why claims take a bit longer in a surge.

Conclusions

During a storm surge all parties have a role to play in ensuring claims are progressed as quickly and fairly as possible, and this is summed up in the graphic below:

If customer expectations are managed well customers understand that claims will take longer during surge and are patient, especially if insurers and suppliers are flexible with capacity and pragmatic over the interpretation of policy terms and settle quickly.

When the whole industry is competing for limited resource time is of the essence, so those insurers who appoint suppliers quickly and make the most of systems integration will gain the most capacity quickly. Customers also have a role to play in ensuring the don’t cause delays themselves through missing appointments etc.

Insurers need to balance time and cost demands on claims. Negotiating quick settlements at the desk for small claims doesn’t impact indemnity spend much but does reduce claims durations significantly and reduces supplier demand. Offering financial incentives to supply chains would attract more capacity and speed up the process, and a willingness to negotiate settlements with customers rather than requesting two quotes can have minimal impact on cost but a significantly positive impact on durations.

And finally, customer satisfaction is maximised when claims are triaged effectively with reasonable levels of delegated authority and good customer communication. Customer satisfaction is not linked to the length of time it takes to get a survey done.