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Jul 2024

Reflections of a loss adjuster and claims manager

Source: Asia Insurance Review | Sep 2023

Simon KaySedgwick head of commercial property and major loss in the UK Simon Kay has more than 30 years’ experience in loss adjusting and claims management. When asked if he would serve as the interim chief operating officer for Sedgwick Australia, he jumped at the chance. Here, he reflects on that experience.
I’ve always been keen for a challenge or a new project. In late November 2022, I was given the opportunity to step into a temporary position as the interim COO for Sedgwick Australia. The timing was just right — my wife had recently retired, and our grown children are no longer living at home. The chance to live in a new country, develop new skills and to use my experience in a completely different environment was a real attraction.
We absolutely loved living in Australia — we were based in Sydney, with its perfect combination of city and beach life — and adapted easily, since there were no language barriers. It’s a very similar culture and everyone drives on the same side of the road.
Adapting to working in another country
Sedgwick is a global organisation, and moving to a different country made clear that there truly is a global culture of caring for our clients and colleagues. It almost felt like I was just walking into a different office (one with more sunshine and better weather!).
I found my Australian colleagues had the same aspirations and concerns, and the key to good people leadership was the same as well: Empowerment, delegation, listening and motivating. What I quickly realised is that the insurance industry faces the same challenges everywhere, in particular how to attract, recruit, develop and retain quality colleagues in a high-performance, competitive environment. I have focused on this challenge a great deal in the UK, so I was able quickly to understand the similar issues the Australia team was facing.
Reflecting on my time in Australia, I’m most appreciative of the collaborations with my colleagues, discussing and developing strategies to ensure Sedgwick remains an attractive place to work. We devised recruitment processes to be sure new colleagues not only have the professional skillset required to undertake a role, but more importantly that they exhibit the behaviours we value as an organisation. It was comforting to see the importance Sedgwick Australia place on developmental opportunities for colleagues to guide their growth and ensure they have rewarding and fulfilling careers.
A hybrid working model
For any organisation, one factor in attracting and retaining talent is the ability to create a work environment that brings out the best in employees. My first week in Sydney, I overheard a conversation between two people in a coffee shop; they were discussing how it was the busiest they had seen the city in nearly three years as it continues to recover and rebound from the pandemic. It is clear that many organisations — across all sectors — are still grappling with finding a post-pandemic working model that ensures employee wellbeing, promotes learning and development, and maintains productivity and efficiency.
The switch to remote working during the pandemic has certainly changed employees’ perceptions of what a work-life balance looks like. Although we face this in the UK as well, it’s amplified in Australia due to the sheer size of the country and the distances between locations.
I am a firm believer that some form of hybrid working is the best — and maybe the only — way to attract and retain talent. With the advent of better technology (e.g., Microsoft Teams, Zoom, etc.) there are ways to stay connected that don’t require a full-time office presence. Many colleagues I spoke with shared my view, though we all agreed being in the office can be especially beneficial to those who are newer in their careers and in need of training and mentoring, and that face-to-face interaction aids with learning and development requirements.
How to safeguard against the increasing severity of weather events
I arrived in Sydney just as the Auckland floods were beginning and many of my new Australian colleagues were about to travel to New Zealand to assist with the recovery. It was interesting to hear the debates on how to make Australia more resilient to future weather events, along with defining the roles of insurers, government and adjusters — now and in the future. We’re having similar discussions in the UK about the strategies Insurers are implementing to try and increase our weather resilience. The next few years will certainly be interesting for Australians as there seems to be no let up in major weather and natural disaster events.
Earlier in the year, I was grateful to have participated in the Asia Insurance Review CEO roundtable on the future of insurance in Australia. I heard about some of the work already underway with resilient homes funds, buy back schemes and build back better programmes; I think it’s a step in the right direction and will greatly benefit Australians impacted by natural disasters and severe weather events.
Artificial intelligence
AI is the flavour of the month — everyone’s talking about it, and the pace of conversation picked up noticeably in the six months I was in Australia. Despite its popularity, no one seems fully to understand what implications AI will have on the insurance industry, in particular claims handling. There’s no doubt, however, that it will be significant, especially for lower-volume, less-complex claims. While I’m excited to see how AI will impact and improve our work, I remain a firm believer in the quality and skills of my colleagues to respond in people’s hour of need. The combination of technical skills, empathy and critical thinking that people have is irreplaceable, and I don’t see the need for this diminishing.
The Australian team collaborate closely with our IT teams globally, and have already adopted and implemented so many of the advanced technologies we already have; the platform on which they are operating will be well placed to embrace new ways of working.
Industry similarities
After my six months in Australia, I found there to be many similarities between the UK and Australia, and how the industry behaves in general. One difference is some of the technicalities around claims management which, for the most part, is driven by the differences in regulation and legislation. I think many UK-based people would be surprised at just how regulated the Australian market — and Australia in general — is.
In summary
I’m currently back in the UK where it’s the middle of summer and hasn’t stopped raining for the last 10 days. Remembering the wonderful six months I spent in Australia definitely brings a little sunshine to my day and I feel incredibly lucky to have been given the opportunity to work in such a fantastic location. If you’re ever given the opportunity to contribute your knowledge in another country, embrace it — and enjoy the personal and professional moments you’ll get to share. A 
Mr Simon Kay is head of commercial property and major loss, Sedgwick UK and was interim COO of Sedgwick Australia.
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