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“This time of year, with the BIBA conference around the corner, it is always especially busy for us and gives [the team] the opportunity to speak on a number of different topics. So, it’s an exciting time for us because, as a brand, we view the broker market with a lot of importance,” he said. “And I think the fact BIBA’s happening is [fantastic] because last year there was lots of disappointment. Our industry really looks forward to this event because it’s a reminder that we are a people business, and we’ve needed to be even more of a people business during COVID.”
There’s a lot that Ward likes about working with brokers, including their pragmatism, their friendliness and the human side that they bring to the insurance ecosystem. It goes back to that trust piece and the strength of the relationships formed between insurers and brokers, he said, and he believes that it is that personal touch that exemplifies and preserves the role of the broker in insurance.
Long may that continue, he said, because the market needs choice – choice of distribution and choice of relationship. From working closely with the broker market, the team at AXA Partners has seen first-hand the key challenge impacting brokers at this time, including the issue of changing customer behaviour. Many brokers have had to rapidly adapt from a face-to-face presence to remote working, and so the team has been monitoring the ongoing situation to see how its digital support offering can be accelerated and where relationships can be restructured in line with consumer requirements.
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“Our relationship is based on the idea that when a broker comes to us and says, ‘this is what I’m thinking, here’s a proposal for you that’s creative and makes financial sense’ then we actually listen,” he said. “It’s not the kind of relationship where we just take a contract out of a drawer and say, ‘does this work?’ because it’s about knowing the person, knowing the organisation and knowing what they’re trying to achieve. We’re asking, ‘can we do it?’ not ‘how can we not do it?’”
BIBA’s theme of resilience is particularly timely this year, Ward said, as resilience is a real challenge facing brokers at this time. Running a business isn’t easy at the simplest of times and he knows from his own market relationships that brokers are at the sharp end of the upheaval in the market and of changing customer behaviours and requirements. The good news, however, is that brokers generally seem keener than ever to seize new innovation opportunities and to reach out to their insurer partners for support in implementing them.
“I really feel for brokers,” he said, “but I do have a pretty big degree of optimism that, looking forward, the uncertainty created in the market has refocused customers’ minds. And we’ve seen this in terms of our service scores – if you give good service when customers are in a time of need, they really do appreciate it. So working in conjunction with brokers to provide the right service at the right time, is really what we’re about.”
The insurance industry only needs to look to other financial services sectors to know that they must continue to innovate and to analyse the requirements of customers in order to offer them the appropriate service levels. AXA Partners is working on this with a number of its partners, but while the sector has come a long way, it’s still got a long way to go to overcome its legacy concerns and to move to a more digitally agile mindset.
“But overall, this is about the future,” Ward said. “Let’s not look back, because [COVID has] been tough for all of us. Let’s look forward, let’s listen to what our customers want from us. Together, let’s create and have as successful a future as we’ve had a past. And this is a people business so let’s talk.”