Claims: A Leader’s Perspective – Waseem Malik, AXA Insurance (Part 1)

The Claims sector continues to evolve and adapt in the ever-changing Insurance landscape.

I have recently interviewed a number of Claims Directors from Leading Insurance Companies, together with the leaders of several Claims Management and Supply Chain organisations, to discuss their views on various topics impacting the claims market today and potentially in the future.



Today’s interview is with Waseem Malik – Executive Managing Director of Claims – AXA Insurance

  • Previous roles include CFO for AXA Insurance & Head of Mergers & Acquisitions for AXA UK.
  • He is also a Board Member of Thatcham Research and the Insurance Fraud Bureau.
  • Prior to AXA, he worked for Price Waterhouse Coopers as a chartered accountant for nine years.




Q1. You don’t have a conventional Claims background, how did you get into the world of Claims?

I started my career at PWC, I joined there straight from University and trained to become a chartered accountant. As soon as I qualified, I moved into transaction services at PWC, where I focused on supporting mergers and acquisitions in the financial services sector. I was at PWC for nine and a half years and got to the point where I wanted to move on from being client service side and actually go and own something end to end myself.
AXA were going through a period of acquisition so I joined AXA to head up the Mergers and Acquisitions team back in 2006. I did that for two years and we completed about 40 acquisitions in that period. We built the broker Bluefin (which was recently sold to Marsh) and we acquired SwiftCover which relaunched our Direct Motor proposition for AXA. After two years, our focus shifted to integrating and digesting what we had acquired and at that point, I moved into a business role to support the then CEO of AXA insurance. That gave me great exposure to everything that was going on in the business. I did that for two years and then became CFO of AXA Insurance. After doing the role for nearly eight years I was ready for a change and began to talk with the then CEO about what was next for me. I was really looking for a change and something different and in conversation, claims came up and here i am!


Q2. Had you had much involvement with claims?

As CFO of the business I had a good overview of Claims but nothing much beyond that! So, when Claims was mentioned as a next career move for me, my immediate reaction was; “Claims?! Why claims?!” After discussing further what appealed to me was the opportunity to bring a completely different mindset and more of a commercial lens to it. The big need for transformation and the opportunity to shape and change something so significant, something that had 1,800 people, I felt was almost too good an opportunity to turn down. It was almost as different as it could be from what I was doing and that sort of appealed to me.


Q3. Having now been in the role for a relatively short period of time were there any surprises?

Yes, so probably my main perception has been that actually, claims, not just in AXA but across the industry, has probably not been given the right prominence and it’s been almost seen as an extension of customer service and clearly, it is a very important part of that customer experience, ultimately, it’s the service that customers are buying. But, if you do it right, it’s the main tool that you can use to retain customers, it’s your main lever for profitability and it’s actually living up to your brand promise. I think it’s a lot more than maybe historically has been made of it, I think you look at most claims operations, they’ve been underinvested in and I think it’s right for change. I think as an industry, we’re considerably behind banking, in terms of use of technology, in terms of understanding the customer and actually, I think through claims you can achieve all of that. But I think to do that, we need investment and we need to be thought of differently.
And the difference is, people interact with their banks almost daily, people don’t interact with their insurers. A lot of people have never had a claim, so actually when they do have one, they don’t know what to do. And I think again as an industry, we don’t make it easy for them and the service can be hit or miss and that’s not good enough. In the day and age we live in, customer’s expectations have to be met and I think as a sector, we are letting ourselves down.


Q4. Are there any key AXA claims initiatives you’re happy to talk about?

I can certainly talk generically about a few themes; we’re doing a complete review of our processes, end to end, applying a customer journey lens to it. We are also looking to move away from Legacy platforms, and are moving to Guidewire alongside digital tools to help the customer experience but also just to make us more efficient in how we work.
We also know that we control almost two-thirds of the profitability of the business, so actually, how can we do things differently, how can we do things better, both for the customer but also for the business. I do firmly believe those things can be mutually exclusive and it’s not one or the other. So, the way I look at is, we have a triangle we are constantly trying to manage. The triangle is customer service, how efficient we are and what indemnity spend. I see a world where you can get better at all three and actually, I think technology is a real enabler behind all of that.


Q5. Do you think all insurers think the same way?

All insurers are on a journey with claims. I think different insurers are in different places, but ultimately, I think everyone is beginning to gravitate towards the same direction and I think people now realise that claims is a lot more than a back-office function.



Q6. Has the role and responsibilities of a Claims Director changed in recent years and is it likely change in the future?

I would say there is more to it now, my sense is claims leaders going forward will need to be more rounded individuals and I see that as a healthy thing. I think I am a great example of someone who is bringing a totally different schooling and a different mindset to it in terms of being a finance guy. But actually, I am probably looking at it in a slightly different way to someone who has grown up in claims. I don’t think there is a right or wrong but I see more variety in leaders coming to the floor in the coming years, because I think the things that are needed in claims to be successful are adapting and changing.


Q7. As Claims Director, what are your key performance metrics?

So customer satisfaction is clearly the largest one including complaints. We also actively use tools like Feefo to track satisfaction and you get a pretty much a real time view. We also use Net Promoter Score metrics. Other performance metrics in terms of service, loss ratio, efficiency metrics are also important as are market benchmarks. I don’t think you can view claims and its success through one lens anymore, I think it’s multi-dimensional.


Q8. What’s the greatest challenge you face?

I would probably say it’s how do we free ourselves up from Legacy to be able to meet customer needs today. And I think if you look at every insurer, we are all encumbered by Legacy. Legacy processes and legacy systems and it’s complex and I think that’s a challenge for all of us.


Q9. Presumably, the larger the organisation the more complex the legacy systems?

Absolutely, so that almost leads to the opportunity and I think the quicker you can untangle that and move away from that the better and I think technology and digital has a huge part to play, both in terms of the customer experience, but also in terms of how can we be more effective.


Q10. What Impact will new technologies have on claims?

I would say customer interfaces are really important so again, I draw parallel to the banking world. I think that’s the way ahead. I can’t remember the last time I went into a physical bank branch. Everything is done off my app and I am probably not that different to most of the population. Insurance isn’t like that! So, I think those digital interfaces are really important. And then somewhere down the line, I think automation will play a big role. So every claims operation has scale and volume and that brings with it a lot of manual processes and work-arounds because of the Legacy that I talked about. Automation can transform all of that. And for me, it’s not about robots replacing people, it’s about how can we use it in a clever way, to free up our people to do the value-add stuff.
We’ve got six robots live in claims. We’ve invested in an automation program and actually, we’ve freed up our teams by taking away administrative tasks from them allowing them to focus on areas they can add value. To give you an example, we’ve got one which basically takes customer correspondence and attaches it to our claims file automatically, so that sounds really simple but that was taking an individual up to 6 minutes to do for each correspondence, because all of the multiple systems we would have to log on to. That is now happening overnight and it takes 15 seconds. So what it means is, our claims handlers can spend more time on the phone, helping customers at their moment of need, rather than doing admin.


Q11. How do you identify which new technology can have the greatest impact today and in the future?

I think again it’s looking through a customer lens, because actually, if someone has had a car crash or they’ve been burgled, they want to speak to someone on the phone – they don’t want to log their claim on an app or whatever. Actually, if they’ve lost baggage on holiday, that’s different and they are happy to have an electronic notification on loss process. But for that moment of need, for that time the customers have the policy for, they want to speak to someone. So I think insure tech is great, but I think you can’t be detached from ‘what does a customer want?’.
And then I think it comes down to, what do you want to be as an insurer? So, there will be some brands that will be happy to have a fully digital experience, and that will appeal to a sub-sector of customers. But at the same time, for a brand like AXA, we want to be there for when the customer needs us most, so for us, it’s really important that there are people available to take that phone call. There will be a place for digital journeys but it certainly won’t be across the piece.


Q12. A number of recent reports have indicated that that there will be less claims, but probably larger claims in value in the future, is that is something you would agree with?

Yes I would probably concur with that and we may move away from insuring individual drivers to insuring vehicle manufacturers. I think that day is probably a relatively medium to long-term vision because the UK car park isn’t going to move as quickly as that and we’re still at a place where we’re not at driverless cars yet. We’re at driver assisted level and actually, that standard is quite different by manufacturer. So I think it will take some time, but ultimately I think it probably will move in that direction.



Q13. Are there any other AXA initiatives from a claims or technology perspective that that you’re happy to share?

The other thing I would probably mention is how we’re looking to recruit people. So clearly, we are a very large part of AXA in the UK, we have 1,800 people in claims roles, so as a result, we do have a constant need to recruit so we’ve been looking at; how can we make mass recruitment effective? And we have really embraced apprenticeships as a big initiative. So this year, we are looking to take up to 100 apprenticeships within claims so we’re really invested in that.
We are working with a couple of accredited colleges where we have developed bespoke training. The appreciates join in cohorts so they feel a sense of belonging with a group, there’s a bit of camaraderie and they learn together. It’s on-job training and a bit of classroom and we want to give them a two to three-year defined career path when they join. It has milestones that they need to achieve in terms of their studies etc., We feel claims in particular is a really good discipline to really push apprentices through. And so far, our experiences have been very positive and we’ve seen a lot of interest from school leavers.


Q14. What is the typical entry level?

It’s a real mix actually, so we’re seeing 16-year olds, 18-year olds, 21-year olds, but we’re also seeing people who are in their mid to late twenties, or even thirties, who actually have tried one or two other careers and want a bit of a change. So we’re open to all, we’re recruiting based on mindset and desire because the program that we’ve developed will teach them what they need to do and how to deliver great customer service.


Q15. How long has the program or project been up and running?

We’ve probably been running now for about nine months, so we’ve got all the infrastructure in place. We’re doing it by region, and have three hubs for recruitment, these being Birmingham, Bolton and Morecambe in the North West and then Haverhill and Ipswich in the East. We’re really excited about it!


Q16.  Is it a structured training program?

Yes it is structured because what we wanted to do was offer people a path, because too many people up until now, come into claims to do a specific role and it is not clear for them where that will lead to. People want to have a path, because some of these individuals are choosing to come down an apprentice route, rather than continuing further education.
What we’re also then doing with some of our more experienced staff is, if you want to specialise in something, you can get apprenticeships for specific parts and because we have critical mass, we can almost bespoke that training. So if we want some engineers to go on a specific apprenticeship scheme, we can develop that. So it’s really good, we’re really excited by the potential that gives us. This is something new in claims, so we’ve done it in underwriting previously and now we’ve extended it to claims and claims will have more apprentices than any other part of AXA in the UK, which is great.



Q17. I would imagine it’s also important to have the right sort of coaches and mentors?

Yes you do. You need to have the mindset and the organisation needs to welcome these people in because a lot of these people are very young, they’ve never worked before, so they do need a different type of nurturing and mentoring and coaching than your standard recruits and you’ve got to be ready for that.
We make sure that they are put with groups of people who will have the time to spend with them to coach them. So we tend to put two or three in a team of a dozen or fifteen so there’s a good level of experience around them, to make sure they get the support and development that they need.


Q18. How often do you meet with the apprentices?

I go to every site a couple of times a month, so I’m out and about one to two days a week and I make sure when I’m on site I am very visible. I am meeting some of our apprentices shortly, because I think it’s really important that they see the support from the very top.


Q19. What feedback do you get from various employees in the regions?

Our people want what is best for the customer, they deal with the customer every day so they know where our processes are clunky, where it’s cumbersome, they know where our systems don’t work so they’re our best source of what can we do differently. So we’re having a lot of focus groups, a lot of input from our teams, to say “what do you guys struggle with, what is the common thing that a customer contacts you about”, and that’s all really important intelligence for us to help shift what we do and how.


Q20. When you meet with peers within the industry, do you get the opportunity to discuss topical issues?

It’s more through industry forums and bodies. I am on the board of Thatcham Research and also the Insurance Fraud Bureau so I will interact with my colleagues and peers there.
We talk about industry level challenges and particularly how we can help improve customer perceptions and understanding.


Right International have a proven track record of identifying and sourcing the top talent across various niches of the insurance market. If you are looking to add to your team now or in the near future, I would welcome the opportunity to help – please contact me.


If you would like to be involved in future articles, please let me know and I would welcome any feedback.


Please click here for part 2.


All the best,

Gary Pike

Founder & MD

Right International Insurance Headhunters

At Right International our specialty is sourcing the top achievers for the Insurance Market.

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