The first few months of 2023 were pretty challenging for Ben Marsh, the manager of the Christchurch branch of Sedgwick, a third-party claims administrator.
Beginning on Friday, 27 January 2023, regions across the upper North Island of New Zealand experienced widespread catastrophic floods caused by heavy rainfall, with Auckland the most affected.
Just two weeks later, Cyclone Gabrielle battered parts of the North Island and affected parts of Vanuatu and Australia, becoming the costliest tropical cyclone on record in the Southern Hemisphere, with total damages estimated to be at least NZ$13.5 billion (US$8.4 billion).
“There were just so many claims,” says Marsh. “We, as a company, couldn't possibly deal with them in the way that we had before.”
Thinking outside the box
Marsh rose to the challenge in a way that has won him ANZIIF’s 2023 Making a Difference Award in the Claims sector, a gong for people in insurance who have gone above and beyond to display exemplary professionalism in their workplace, and with their customers.
He set up a hub in his Christchurch office to help with all the claims coming in and changed the way claims are handled.
“The old-fashioned way is to get loss adjusters to do a site visit and then let them handle the claim to settlement back in their office,” he says.
“We set up a team here in Christchurch so the loss adjusters could go out and do the first visit. Then they'd sent that claim to my team, which desktop handled it to settlement,” he says.
This reallocation meant loss adjusters could see more sites and focus on their specialty, because they didn't have to deal with a backlog of paperwork.
“This isn't to suggest that we handled it perfectly because we didn't,” says Marsh.
“There were still mistakes made. But we handled claims a lot quicker than we would have in previous events and that led to better service and benefits for everybody. We had fewer complaints. Customers got their claims settled quickly and were able to make decisions about their lives faster.
Getting the job done properly
Marsh says his team saw customers going through a pretty difficult time. "Our job, as part of the insurance industry, was to ensure that we were not adding to their problems.
“Customers don't need us to be a shoulder to cry on. They need us to do our job properly, to get the claim settled so that they can then make decisions on how they're going to rebuild and move on with their lives in the best way.”
Marsh hired more staff and trained them all over a three to four-month period, while also ensuring they had proper mentoring and supervision to do an effective job.
“At one point, we had nearly 50 staff members working on the claims,” he says. “The biggest challenge was finding the right people to do the job.”
Making this time more challenging was that Marsh’s first son was born in January, just before the floods and cyclone. “Not getting any sleep and then having to do a full day's work was difficult,” he says.
Facilitating Christchurch to step in
Marsh notes that one of the benefits of being based in Christchurch is that it has got a big pool of earthquake insurance-savvy people with experience. That made it easier to bring on staff that the company could easily train up quickly.
Another benefit was that Christchurch was quite removed from the area that was affected, the North Island. It made it easier for the staff as they were not personally affected by the floods. They didn’t have to worry about travelling to work or protecting their homes and they could focus on the job at hand.
Marsh set up the southern property hub in Christchurch. It is now part of a group of three hubs which includes central and northern hubs. Sedgwick New Zealand has 22 dedicated branches dotted throughout the country.
“The idea is that when we have future large events, these hubs can quickly upscale to take on the workload to help get the job done quicker,” says Marsh.
“So, if something happens in Auckland, for example, Christchurch can step in in the background and help. Because we can work remotely, we don't have to be based in Auckland to do that work.
"Obviously, we still need people on the ground because that is the nature of loss adjusting. You still need somebody to be on-site, but that person doesn't then need to continue dealing with a claim if we have appropriately trained people available.”
Creating specialist hubs
Looking ahead, Marsh says Sedgwick hopes to create specialist areas in the hubs that focus on particular insurers or types of claims.
For example, it could have specialist machinery loss adjusters who can deal with any machinery claims. Or, it could have specialists in certain types of insurance and experts in certain insurance policy details and policy wordings.
Born in Manchester, Marsh first came to New Zealand on a six-month contract in 2012. He didn’t initially intend to stay long, but never left.
He’d always worked in insurance, starting from his days at university. After graduating, he joined Carr Greenwood Smith, a specialist commercial property claims adjuster in Manchester, as a claims handler.
After that, he signed up as a loss adjuster at Buckley Scott Associates in London. Looking to expand his horizons, he accepted a contract with Crawford & Company in Thailand, dealing with the aftermath of the floods that hit North Bangkok in 2011.
Not long afterwards, he saw an advert posted by Cunningham Lindsey which needed staff to help deal with the many commercial claims that followed the Christchurch earthquake in February 2011.
In 2018, the firm was acquired by Sedgwick. In the meanwhile, Marsh worked his way up the ranks to become acting branch manager in 2019 and then branch manager in 2020.
In his spare time, Marsh says he goes to woodwork classes once a week and enjoys family time with his wife and nine-month-old son.
Since 2021, ANZIIF has been honouring one individual across the broking, claims, general insurance, life insurance, reinsurance and underwriting sectors with its Making a Difference Recognition Awards. Entries are made via a video presentation of no longer than five minutes and should provide a brief career synopsis and an example of where the candidate contributed to improving the customer experience within the insurance industry.