Streamline and automate claims-handling processes to build digital capability and unlock the ‘power of proactive’


Most people would agree that, if you were to ask them how they preferred to work, the answer would be “smarter, not harder”. But sometimes just finding the way to smarter working can seem like a mammoth task in itself.

Meredith Barnes-Cook, Ushur’s global head of insurance, is participating in a panel on process automation called “Build your digital capability by leveraging technology to streamline and automate claims-handling processes” at this year’s Intelligent Insurer Claims Innovation USA virtual event on July 14. She will discuss how insurers can elevate customer and claimant experience, and improve employee engagement while unlocking efficiencies and productivity through intelligent automation.

Barnes-Cook will reveal the role artificial intelligence and machine learning can play as well as explore how carriers can improve outcomes without slowing down the claims process. With customer experience at the forefront of everyone’s mind in an increasingly crowded and competitive market, claims is, more than ever, the single most important moment of truth that influences retention.

She spoke to Intelligent Insurer ahead of the event.

Why is now the time to talk about automating the claim process?

There are two angles. On one hand, anyone participating in the claim journey—whether that’s the customer, claimant, agent, broker, or provider—is also a consumer in real life. Their expectations have been defined by what many call “the Amazon experience”: speed, efficiency, choice, and transparency.

Equally, consumers today want to pick how they engage—whether that’s by email or text, web, phone or chatbot. It’s not just what customers want, it’s what they expect. And this is not limited to younger generations—seniors are the fastest adopters of smartphones of any generation.

The other side to this, particularly for property and casualty, is that the insurance industry is under extreme cost pressure. The supply chain is affected at every stage, and everything is getting more expensive—vehicles with embedded technology or housing materials, for example—and medical costs continue to rise year over year. Automating the claim process takes out some of the overall cost to the carrier while providing customers, claimants, and other key stakeholders with the self-service options they expect.

What is meant by making claims ‘digitally native’?

We’re looking at giving the customer an end-to-end automated experience. Carriers tend to think about the claim process in its entirety, but we prefer to think of it as a series of “micro-engagements”.

No customer or claimant experiences the full claim journey all at once, from first notice of loss (FNOL) to payment. Instead, we need to be looking at those interactions where the customer reaches in or the carrier reaches out, for the opportunities to add value through automation, by satisfying customer expectations.

When needing to report a new loss or injury, the customer should have the option for a digital and automated experience. The same thing applies to providing status updates. It’s another opportunity to go digital, be proactive and answer questions before they are asked.

It’s about thinking about every moment across the claim journey, wondering “could this be digital?” and, if the answer is “yes”, asking—what’s stopping you?

In what ways can automation increase accuracy and decrease cost?

A lack of trust is the number one reason that an injured employee will retain an attorney for a worker’s compensation claim. Litigated claims take twice as long to resolve and cost four times more, with the claims adjuster barred from speaking directly with the injured employee. Any disconnect between the injured employee, the insured—in this case the employer—and the insurer can create a break in trust.

If you can leverage automation to reach out to the injured worker immediately and say, “We’ve got you, this is how the claim process works and here’s how we can help you,” trust is fostered, and costs are driven down. Similar proactive automated communication with the customer instils trust that their carrier is taking care of their employee.

When a new auto or homeowner loss is reported, never underestimate the customer value of an immediate, automated, and personalised acknowledgement to confirm receipt of their new claim and explain what happens next and when. Inviting the customer to share photos of their car or building damage along with any available estimates enables the claims adjuster to better understand the full magnitude of the loss immediately.

If it’s a smaller event, dispatching an appraiser may not even be needed before making the claim payment. If an inspection is in order, the adjuster can be more precise in the type of appraisal that is needed. The initial reserves will be more accurate, and the customer and carrier can avoid the duration and cost one or multiple appraisals that could have been avoided.

“The way forward is embracing an agile mindset and continuing to automate discrete customer interactions.” Meredith Barnes-Cook, Ushur

What are the latest trends we should be interested in?

When it comes to meeting your customer where they are, they’re always moving, and you need to be there, too. Whether it’s B2B or B2C, customers are using more and different communication channels. We’re now seeing business interactions happening in applications originally launched for personal conversations, such as Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp.

Customers expect ease of interaction, influenced by their daily experiences beyond insurance, from retail to social media and entertainment. They want a quick process to ask or answer a question, that is not limited to a single digital channel. They are evolving beyond one-size-fits-all portal and mobile application solutions as their only option for digital self-service.

How do we avoid deploying technology for technology’s sake?

Modern solutions are making it easier to automate, but just because you can, doesn’t mean you always should. That’s why we talk about automating micro-engagements, to test and learn from your customers which interactions they value as a digital self-service option.

And don’t assume that the traditional beginning of the claim journey, the FNOL or injury, is where you should start. It might be too much to expect your customer to change their new claim-reporting behaviour in a moment of high stress.

Consider looking for your high-volume drivers of customers or claimants reaching in while a claim is in progress. Invite them to opt in to regular, automated claim status updates. Your customer’s reaction will reduce your inbound call and email volume, as they choose the proactive option.

Or you will need to keep experimenting: for example, pivoting from SMS to email, to meet your customers where they are. The way forward is embracing an agile mindset and continuing to automate discrete customer interactions, while continuously measuring and learning where digital self-service is valued.

Where should attendees start?

Our customers are harnessing what we call the “power of proactive”. If you’re trying to figure out where you should start, look at all your inbound calls and emails, and consider that there may be a different approach that would better align with evolving customer expectations. But remember to make it easy.

A while back I was looking for ways to drive up worker’s compensation claimant adoption of direct deposit. We sent pamphlets and reminders, but enrolment wasn’t an easy process for the injured employee. It all changed when we sent them a link via email, removing the friction, with enrolment now only one click away.

All we had to do was find that one moment, that micro-engagement, to make the claim payment process faster for the injured employee, less expensive, and eliminating traditional check processes. 


Meredith Barnes-Cook, global head of insurance at Ushur, will be speaking at Intelligent Insurer’s Claims Innovation USA Virtual Event (July 13–15, 2021). The event is free to attend for insurers and brokers/agents, but you must register in advance. Sign up to access the content live and on demand here.

Ushur, Digital Capability, Claims-handling, Technology, Insurance, Reinsurance, Claims Innovation USA, Meredith Barnes-Cook, North America

Intelligent Insurer