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CASE STUDY

Managing the ultimate competitive weapon

Introduction

Steven J. Bowen, a leading American entrepreneur and logistics specialist once said “Every company’s supply chain should be its ultimate competitive weapon—not the gun with which you shoot yourself in the foot”. This is a quote that rings true in our industry – too many organisations in the property insurance claims industry, from the large insurers to their smaller suppliers, fail to understand the value of their supply chains and repeatedly shoot themselves in the foot. They fail to understand the true value of their supply chains and the need to invest time and resources in them to maximise positive outcomes for customers.

Supply chain management in construction involves properly managing building materials flow, labour (employed and subcontracted), information and resources all the way from the materials suppliers through to the construction site. What sounds simple in theory is enormously complex to execute and requires strong project management skills. Succeeding in construction involves having tight control over procurement, inventory management, logistics and distribution to ensure that necessary materials, labour and equipment are available at the right time and in the right place when needed. None of this takes place without timely communication among all stakeholders.

MA Group has worked in the property insurance sector for over 25 years and has managed thousands of claims with a value totalling more than £500 million across the UK on behalf of some of the largest global insurers. None of this could be achieved without our supply chains, our competitive weapons. Our many years of experience, and lots of trial and error, have helped us develop an industry-leading, comprehensive and sophisticated system for managing supply chains, capacity and lead times. This paper explains what we have learned, looks at some of the key capacity considerations for the insurance sector and challenges our insurer clients and the insurance sector generally to look at how they manage their supply chains and to consider how often they are shooting themselves in the foot.

The problem

Capacity is the biggest problem facing insurers and the wider property claims industry. Consolidation across the property claims management industry and significant geo-political events have squeezed capacity for insurers.

Capacity is a measure of the amount of work that can be accomplished by a business within a fixed amount of time. A company selling machinery or making cars can use many ways to monitor capacity to match demand, making sure it never runs out of a product. Material Requirements Planning (MRP) systems, Just in Time (JIT) and Kanban are just a few of the tried and tested methods to manage capacity. But measuring capacity in a service industry is difficult and in the property claims industry, heavily affected by unpredictable weather events, it is even more difficult to predict where claims will come from.

Deploying the right resources at the right time to deliver a high-quality customer journey in the event of a claim, whether it’s drying out a property after a flood, surveying a home after reported storm damage or reinstating a building that has suffered impact damage, requires motivation and engagement from the supply chains. That motivation and engagement only comes when suppliers are getting the right amount of work to sustain their businesses and when they are suitably rewarded for their efforts.

Demand and supply

To maximise efficiency and customer outcomes any business needs to match supply and demand as effectively as possible. In the property insurance industry the unpredictable nature of property claims (caused by weather events and client contracts that never guarantee minimum volumes and allow demand to be switched to other suppliers with little or no notice) makes predicting demand, and managing supply, very difficult. And when demand increases unpredictably the expectations of insurer clients and customers often do not adapt accordingly.

Push or pull?

When managing capacity and supply chains it is important to understand whether a push or pull strategy is needed for securing resources.

A push-model is one where projected demand determines supply. For example, Christmas decorations get pushed to retailers once Halloween is over (and sometimes even before!), knowing that the demand is, or will be, there. Under a push system, companies have predictability in their supply chains since they know when demand will come long before it arrives. This allows for a lot of forward planning by everyone involved.

A pull-model is related to the just-in-time school of inventory management that minimises stock on hand, focusing on last-second deliveries. Under these strategies products or services enter the supply chain when customer demand justifies it. The property claims industry is a good example of this strategy as the service is only supplied when the customer needs it, and in this industry the customer rarely knows in advance when the service is needed.

With a pull strategy, companies operating in the goods sector avoid the cost of carrying inventory that may not sell and this makes them very efficient. But in the service sector it is very different – labour cannot sit idly waiting for demand and will go where there is money to be made, so there is a risk that there may not be enough skilled capacity to meet demand when needed.

Supply – labour and materials

Brexit, the cost-of-living crisis, onerous tax rules and a lack of interest from young people in the industry are contributors to the severe labour shortage we see today. Our opinion piece “Spare a thought for builders” details the challenges facing the construction industry.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) reported in 2021 that the construction industry had lost more than a third of its EU-born workforce since 2017. Earlier this year an industry training board estimated an additional 225,000 workers would be needed to meet demand by 2027, meaning that there are challenges in getting the people in the first place never mind making sure they are properly trained.

So insurers and property claims management businesses are chasing a smaller and smaller pool of resource in construction, and need to look after the supply chains that they have.

Material shortages have also been an issue thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic which caused a delay in production, supply and manufacture, and this shortage has continued through 2023. In the UK and Europe Brexit also had an impact as businesses adjusted to the new rules and regulations. The Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 adversely affected energy prices and materials supplies. According to the National Association of Home Builders, 80% of residential builders reported difficulties finding framing lumber in 2021, up from 32% in 2019.

In summary, the UK construction industry has experienced a perfect storm of events that has significantly affected supply and demand. These factors combined have resulted in elongated start times over recent years – an increase of 237% from pre-Covid times to now.

We have analysed our data to see the impact of these major events on our supply chains’ abilities to fulfil claims. The graph below shows the impact of global events on the time taken to start works after approval was received.  These factors were beyond the control of anyone in the industry and impacted suppliers’ abilities to carry out work and created volatility for insurers and customers alike. It takes a long time for lead times to settle down after such seismic events.

Demand – claim volumes

The graph below shows how unpredictable claim volumes can be.

The graph above demonstrates how relying on historical claim data to predict future demand is futile.  It also shows how important it is to ensure that suppliers are fed regular work to ensure they don’t look for alternative sources of income. When not used for extended periods of time suppliers will find other sources of work, so when a surge event takes place, their services may not be available – the insurer clients that provide steady work over long periods are naturally prioritised over others. Insurers need to be aware of this and make efforts to invest in their supply chains to ensure they are available when needed, and to avoid shooting themselves in the foot.

Measuring capacity

Supply chain networks in the property claims industry use various techniques to measure capacity, and most of them are flawed:

Asking the supplier

Some networks manage capacity based on what their suppliers say they can do. This keeps suppliers happy but makes capacity management very difficult. Most suppliers will say they can do more, be faster or better to get a healthy pipeline of work, but their performance may not match their promises so it’s difficult to make this approach work. If a supplier has filled up its pipeline before a major weather event there is a good chance the supplier will struggle – businesses can go bust when they receive too much work as well as when they receive too little. We find that suppliers often need more support during a claims surge so robust systems and processes are needed to protect customers and insurer clients in the event they go bust.

Supplier turnover

Some networks manage capacity based on their suppliers’ turnover which seems logical – the bigger the turnover, the more volume or value they can deal with.  Unfortunately, that isn’t the case.  Most of the available insurance repair suppliers work on multiple networks for multiple insurers, so while their turnover may be £1 million they, quite sensibly, won’t make £1 million of turnover available to one client. So it is very difficult to predict how much of that £1 million of turnover is available and how much is being used by competitors.

This method also doesn’t work for businesses that have a short trading history, or where their trading history and performance is very different to their current trading and performance.

Performance

Another flawed method is to only give work to those suppliers who are performing well. A supplier will deliver a good performance when it has the right volume and value of work, enabling good management of its resources. But it’s a fine balance and it doesn’t take much to harm performance when work increases – if a client just keeps giving work to the best performers, they soon become over-loaded and become the worst performers.

Robustness

Capacity doesn’t just rely on a supplier’s availability of resources, it also relies on the robustness of the supplier’s business and its ability to deal with problems. Financial performance and strength are good indicators of an organisation’s ability to deal with adverse events and so continue to provide capacity when they occur, but robustness must also be measured through compliance. For example, a supplier must have adequate insurance to deal with claims against them that could be financially significant, and a supplier must also have the right health and safety training for staff and credentials as an organisation to minimise the risk of claims against them arising in the first place.

All supplier networks say they manage compliance, but how well do they do it and do they really understand the robustness of the businesses they are dealing with? And more importantly, how well do insurers understand the robustness of the organisations they contract with? We have seen many property claims businesses go bust in this industry, leaving insurers in very difficult situations.

Capacity in surge

There is no consistent industry-wide definition of a claims surge and every insurer has a different answer when we ask them for a definition. Every insurer client contract has a different measure of surge and a different way of measuring performance during surge. This creates further challenges when trying to predict and manage demand.

Having analysed our claims data over many years we believe a network should be able to stretch to a certain capacity and that anything above a 140% increase in volume, value and time constitutes a surge. However, it’s not as simple as that.

The time period is important – a 140% increase in volume over a couple of days is probably not a surge. Also, suppliers can still be experiencing surge conditions for weeks after the initial spike in volumes coming in. The same is true for value as an increase in claim values after a few quiet months could appear to be a surge but is actually just volumes returning to a normal level.  And defining a normal level is difficult too – claim volumes tend to be higher in winter than in summer, so normal also depends on the time of year.

It’s also important to recognise that a claims surge affects different parts of the supply chain at different times. For example in a flood event the disaster restoration businesses are impacted immediately but the reinstatement builders don’t feel the impact until many weeks, or months, later. During the burst pipe surge over Christmas 2022 we saw a spike in claim volumes in December and January. Our Revival branches were very busy straight away, but the MA Assist building contractors only really saw the impact from March/April when scopes were getting authorised.

It is not unusual for us to receive new claim instructions from insurers two months after the surge event and then have to wait another month for works to be authorised. In this scenario the insurer client and its customers don’t consider that the supply chain is still in surge because the event happened three months ago, and so they can have unrealistic expectations. So far in 2023, insurers have taken an average of 28 days to authorise claims that fall outside of our delegated authority.  This can be further broken down as follows:

Making sure there are enough suppliers available to deal with normal claim volumes, surge volumes and artificial surges created by the inherent delays caused by insurers and loss adjusters is challenging.

Lead times

Anyone who has ever had any building work done will know how frustrating it can be waiting for the works to get started. An important part of supply chain management is managing customer expectations over lead times. Customer complaints are often caused by delays in starting works because customer expectations haven’t been managed and communication has been poor. Below is a Gantt chart that demonstrates some of the activities our suppliers undertake following the approval to start works.

Scheduling a start date can be difficult when there are so many moving parts to co-ordinate before turning up on site, and managing customer expectations for start dates becomes even more difficult when the customer has already endured delays before we have been appointed. The graph below uses our data to demonstrate the typical timeline for a claim. On average it takes our insurer clients 74 days to appoint MA Assist for reinstatement works.

Insurers have a key role to play in working with supply chains to manage customer expectations by reducing delays in appointing suppliers in the first place and then communicating realistic time frames to customers. We have been working on our data collection and analysis to assist us and our insurer clients in this area. By using strong data analysis and performance measurement techniques we have an accurate picture of lead times by supplier and postcode. This helps us manage the expectations of insurer clients and customers.

We also use our TREVOR technology to accurately predict dry dates so that our building contractors can confidently book in reinstatement works well before a drying certificate is issued. This reduces downtime between suppliers saving our insurer clients an average of £600 per claim and reducing claim durations by an average of 21 days.

MA Group’s ultimate competitve weapon

At MA Group we do everything we can to ensure that we don’t shoot ourselves in the foot. After 25 years of managing property claims we have developed a sophisticated data driven method for measuring and managing capacity. We are industry leaders in this field and here is why.

MA Group has developed a capacity management system called Know Your Limits (KYL). This system cleverly combines data on volume, value and supplier performance to create a clear picture of the available capacity by supplier, postcode, region and nationally.

The capacity we assign to each of our suppliers is based on the value and volume of work they have closed and invoiced over a prescribed period as well as the work they are planning to start and complete in the coming months.  The idea is simple – the more a supplier can evidence that they are prioritising our work and moving it through to completion, the more work we will give them.

We’ve also designed a way of looking at what’s coming through the pipeline for our suppliers so we can ensure that they have a steady stream of work and therefore cashflow.  We specifically look at their start date lead times to understand how much resource they are putting onto our claims. This impacts the amount of work they can take from us.

All of this is overlaid with performance metrics in terms of time, cost, and quality to make sure that insurers and their customers remain satisfied with the service being provided.

Work is assigned to suppliers by our Pulse software, based on the results of KYL. So there is no favouritism or bias in the way we assign work – it always goes to the supplier in the best position to deliver a great service.

At any given time we know exactly how much work in progress we have in terms of volume and value and how much is due to complete over the coming months. But more importantly, we also know exactly how much more work we can deal with – by supplier, postcode, equipment availability and type of work – so we can easily communicate with insurer clients in times of surge to give them up to date and accurate information about remaining capacity and expected lead times.  This applies to all elements of our supply chains, whether it’s surveying, restoration or repairs. This helps us and our insurer clients manage customer expectations and reduce complaints caused by delays and communication.

All of this data is shared with our suppliers regularly so they can see how their daily activities impact their available capacity, how long they take to start work and what they’re planning to complete.  Our insurer clients have a view of this too so that they can help their claim handlers to manage customer expectations from FNOL.

Increasing capacity

There are two main ways of increasing capacity – finding new suppliers and getting more out of existing suppliers.

New suppliers

At MA Group we capture data at every level which allows us to have an in-depth insight into all parts of our supply chain and tells us in which geographic areas we need additional capacity.  By understanding any possible hotspots, the total number of suppliers and the WIP concentration in any given area, we know where to focus our efforts to recruit new suppliers.

Engagement with suppliers starts from the outset. In the last 12-months alone we have signed up 41 new suppliers across all of our networks and they all say the same thing – our onboarding process is different to anyone else’s; they feel like they know what they’re signing up for and our level of training is second to none.

Existing suppliers

Increasing capacity isn’t just about increasing the number of suppliers – it’s also about doing the right thing for those loyal suppliers already on our networks. Many of our suppliers have been with us for over 20 years which demonstrates the level of trust and the strength of the relationships we have with our suppliers.

We dedicate a lot of time to understanding what these suppliers mean to us and what we mean to them. Not all relationships end up being successful – no matter how much time and effort is put into the relationship, sometimes the ways of working are simply not compatible. But by understanding what is important to our suppliers, and delivering it, we stand the best chance of having an engaged supply chain.

We reward good performance and build relationships through our quarterly and annual awards, our annual awards lunch in London and the annual charity golf day and dinner. Our supplier performance managers also spend time visiting suppliers, explaining their performance and KYL reports and advising them on how they can get more work from MA Group.

Our suppliers have told us that the following are important to them:

Good communication which we deliver directly and through our extranet communication hub. Suppliers can access their performance information, training catalogues and training records, remittance information, all contractual documentation and interaction reports all in one place.

Know Your Skills | Grow Your Skills

On 2nd October 2023 MA Group formally launched its industry-leading programme of continuous professional development for suppliers and staff. Called Know Your Skills | Grow Your Skills (KYS | GYS) this programme is used to induct and continuously train our directly employed staff and all our growing supply chains.

Over the past two years MA Group has invested in a competency-based training and continual professional development programme (CPD).  Consisting of over 150 skills-based modules that include face to face training, online training and tutor led courses, we believe our KYS|GYS programme is the most comprehensive approach to CPD for staff and supply chains in the UK property claims management industry.

The programme is designed to enhance the career/partnership that our staff and suppliers have with MA Group by positively supporting the development of skills, knowledge, experience and attainment of qualifications specific to every role.

MA Group has an established partnership with BDMA to promote the achievement of technical qualifications across our 35 Revival licensees. Our recent accreditation as Chartered Building Consultancy from the CIOB (Chartered Institute of Building) gives us access to the CIOB’s Training Partnership, where we can develop bespoke training, learning and development plans for staff and suppliers. We are also working with the Chartered Insurance Institute (CII) and Dale Carnegie.

Technology

Technology plays a key role in managing capacity by making things as easy as possible for our suppliers so that they can spend more time where it matters, with customers.

One of our more recent initiatives was to change the way excesses are collected and move to a centralised collection service, thereby reducing the administrative burden on our suppliers and removing the chance of bad debt where customers are either unwilling or unable to pay their excesses.  Our opinion piece Moderating our Excesses gives more information on this.

MA Group has also invested heavily in our claims management system, Pulse, over the years.  We’ve seen huge improvements in scoping, milestone updates, integration and closing, all of which have led to enhanced efficiencies for suppliers. We also have our own, award-winning mobile scoping and validation app, Scoper, that is used extensively across all the networks. Integrated into Pulse, it enables field-based staff to collect information, images and video, complete risk assessments and completed works reports, and to build scopes that can be automatically sent to Pulse, reducing administration and reducing claim durations.

And we’re not done yet, we continue to look for better ways to deliver improvements to what we do already.

Conclusions

Managing capacity and lead times is a science. It requires a deep understanding of data and the factors that motivate supply chains. Our industry is unpredictable, prone to random decision-making and is amateur in its management of a dwindling chain of suppliers. In other words, it constantly shoots itself in the foot.

Capacity management is not just about the number of suppliers, it’s about getting the best out of suppliers.

The construction industry’s vulnerabilities have really come to the forefront in the last few years and the perfect storm of conditions that now exist is massively affecting the supply of construction expertise and services. It is only going to get worse – the Office for National Statistics says that construction accounted for 18.5% (2,733) of total insolvencies in 2021. This was an increase from 16.4% in 2020 (2,175 insolvencies) which in turn was a 25.7% increase on the year before.

Also, catastrophic weather events are becoming more regular and the subsequent demands on supply chains are becoming more and more unpredictable.

Suppliers need to be incentivised to deliver services when capacity is squeezed, and only organisations with a deep understanding of construction and the challenges facing suppliers, as well as an ability to spot the warning signs in supplier performance and to motivate suppliers to do well, can succeed in this challenging environment.

Insurers need to ask themselves how many suppliers in this industry can provide the detailed data, documented systems and management information that:

MA Group has industry-leading capacity and supply chain management systems which are well documented and supported by the data we hold on not just our WIP, but on our last 25 years’ worth of property insurance claims experience.  We have an excellent track record in proactively managing surge situations having even won a coveted “Surge Supplier of the Year” award from one of the UK’s leading domestic insurance providers.

Ours is an industry that never stands still. MA Group is growing and continuing to meet the challenges head on, supported by our wonderful competitive weapons – our supply chains.