When a customer phoned Suncorp New Zealand to make a claim for a broken windscreen, it all seemed straightforward enough. However, as the team representative began to gently probe the caller as to the circumstances around the claim, it became evident that a lot more was going on.
‘He had gone through a breakup with his partner with whom he had children, and lost touch with other members of his family. He was also suffering an injury, which meant that he was off work. It was through really leaning in and listening that our team member found out that he was in a vulnerable situation,’ says Gail Saipani, Suncorp New Zealand’s executive manager, customer advocacy and performance.
In addition to paying the claim, Suncorp provided the customer with supermarket vouchers and a Lifeline Connect referral, should he be interested in taking up specialist services.
The customer subsequently wrote to Suncorp to say, ‘I was blown away by the kindness. It gave me hope that life was going to get better.’
Complexities of identifying vulnerable customersMathew Hessian, general manager of customer solutions at McLarens New Zealand, says the main challenge is identifying and defining vulnerability, and it is no longer acceptable to simply take the claim event being presented at face value.
‘Vulnerability incorporates a wide range of factors which often overlap or accumulate,’ explains Hessian. This could include age, cultural diversity, family or living situation, as well as factors that are directly related to the event, such as impaired living situations. An event may also exacerbate existing vulnerabilities.
‘The matrix of factors is complex and in order for a claims response to be effective and empathetic to the circumstances, the claims team must be able to firstly identify the circumstance and the various factors that may become relevant to the claim process,’ he adds.
Hessian says that the challenge in identifying vulnerability is balancing the need for sufficient information to manage the claim and circumstance without being seen to be prying into unrelated areas of a customer’s personal life.Saipani agrees. ‘Most people wouldn’t think to tell their insurance company what they are going through,’ she says. ‘From a customer point of view, insurance can be viewed as quite transactional. It’s also not human nature to ask for help. We therefore need to listen out for cues.’
Family violence: how insurers are respondingIn 2021, Allianz adopted a proactive approach to helping vulnerable customers after research revealed that its practices were largely reactive when it came to assisting customers who were possibly experiencing family violence — that is to say, it provided assistance only once it became aware of the issue.
Sadly, insurance products are sometimes used by perpetrators of family and domestic violence to cause further harm, says Sema Musson, Allianz Australia’s general manager of governance, conduct, customer advocacy and social impact.
‘When there’s a joint insurance policy in place in a family violence situation, one party may contact the insurer and change the amount an asset is insured for, or access or change the details of the policyholders,’ says Musson.
‘If a situation of family violence is made known to us, we can help to put safe words on accounts or manage conversations between the victim and the perpetrator. We can also set up a new policy in the victim’s name and can escalate a policy for special consideration or fast-track a claim.’
Along with the Understanding Family Violence and Risks of Insurance research paper, Allianz created the Insurance and Family Violence toolkit, which contains practical advice about insurance for Australians who are going through a separation or experiencing family violence.
A case-by-case approach to assessing insurance claimsVulnerability can take many forms and requires a case-by-case response. When a customer with several health issues contacted AA Insurance NZ to report a claim for a damaged tablet that helped them stay connected while they were in hospital, the claims team responded with compassion.
‘Usually, we would have the item assessed to see if it could be repaired but because of their situation, we arranged a replacement for them straight away,’ explains Tom Bartlett, the company’s head of home claims. ‘In another example, a customer advised us they had a stroke and preferred communication in writing as they wanted time to absorb information. We made a note on their customer profile so we could offer to do this for all future interactions.’
AA Insurance NZ also set up a financial hardship team to help its customers struggling financially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Over the past 18 months, it has waived more than NZ$200,000 in premium payments for 1,800 customers who would otherwise have become uninsured.
Heightened focus to build trustWhile providing a customer-centric focus has always been important in the insurance industry, there is greater awareness of insurers’ responsibility to vulnerable customers. This has come partly in response to codes of conduct being developed in Australia and New Zealand and partly because of the unprecedented disruption and uncertainty caused by COVID-19.
It’s now been more than 18 months since the implementation of the Fair Insurance Code in New Zealand, and there have been many benefits, says Saipani.
‘The Fair Insurance Code has helped with the journey of building trust,’ she says.
‘The definitions and best practices have helped expand the horizon in terms of how, as insurers, we view customers and provide a customer-centric service. What has been really interesting is the number of vulnerabilities beyond the claim itself that become visible through applying best practices.’
Concludes Bartlett: ‘It’s about doing the right thing in each situation and going the extra mile when it’s needed.’
Signs a claims consultant is struggling with trauma
- Invasive thoughts of a customer situation
- Overstepping the boundaries of their role
- Trying to take on too much responsibility
- Unable to leave work at work
- Needing to control work
- Spending more time alone
- A lost sense of joy in everyday activities
- Lower self-esteem
Managing staff trauma
Eighteen months ago, Allianz established specialist high-care teams so that customers only have to tell their story once, rather than becoming distressed from repeating it.
In October 2021, it released a High Care Self Care package: a mental health program for its frontline employees working in high-care teams. It provides additional training undertaken by a specialist provider on second-hand trauma. It also includes a regular roundtable with a psychologist, where people can sit together and talk about their experiences and how they’re feeling. Staff also have unlimited access to the company’s employee assistance program.
‘We know that high-care teams require additional emotional mental health support, and we know that by supporting our people better, they’re able to support our customers better,’ says Sema Musson, Allianz Australia’s general manager of governance, conduct, customer advocacy and social impact.
In New Zealand, AA Insurance has its own in-house network of volunteers, who are trained to provide guidance to colleagues to ensure there is help and support within reach. There’s also free and unlimited access to trained professionals, who provide wellbeing support.