The specifics may have changed — accident benefits regulations are changing, carriers’ investment yields are dropping and carriers are competing with one another for talent in their claims departments — but the fundamental issues in claims have not changed in 30 years, Jo-Ann Eccleston suggests.
Education has been and will continue to be a key objective, notes Eccleston, who became president of the Ontario chapter of the Canadian Insurance Claims Managers Association (CICMA) last fall.
During her term, Eccleston is focusing on organizing educational and networking opportunities for her industry colleagues. That goal is aided each year by the chapter’s four scheduled meetings, where a guest speaker is always invited, she says.
Still in the education vein, she is also part of a group organizing the 46th annual joint conference of the Ontario chapters of the CICMA and the Canadian Independent Adjusters’ Association (CIAA).
Set for February 5 in downtown Toronto, the focus of the joint conference will be customer service and customer satisfaction, Eccleston reports, two ongoing and current issues in the claims arena. “You’re hearing about anti-fraud; you’re hearing about customer service. And we thought it was timely that we do something like that,” she says.
The conference will have as its keynote speaker Carl Van, president and CEO of the International Insurance Institute Inc. “He makes it very simple to understand what we can do to help a customer,” she says of Van.
Other scheduled speakers are Stephen Scullion, director of professional development for Crawford & Company (Canada) Inc., and Brian Maltman, executive director of General Insurance OmbudService (GIO), which was founded 10 years ago to help clients resolve disputes or concerns with their insurers. GIO’s service is free to home, auto and business policyholders, although it does not handle disputes over rates, availability or matters before the courts.
ON THE RADAR
Fraud, one of the main focuses of the joint conference, is seen as an area that can benefit from increased awareness. (The next CICMA Ontario meeting, scheduled for early March, will include a speaker who will talk about fraud.)
Eccleston, vice-president of national auto claims for Aviva Canada in Toronto, says
large carriers, including her employer, have resources in place to deal with fraud.
“But a lot of (CICMA Ontario) members come from small companies, so they can gain a lot of knowledge” by attending the association’s events, she suggests.
In addition to dealing with auto fraud, she reports that many insurance companies are not making as much money on their investments and suggests they are needing to compensate by earning more on premiums, reducing costs or both.
“There has been a real change and a real focus on being profitable, to be able to control costs,” Eccleston says. “A lot of direct writers are adding competition for us.”
Despite these developments, she suggests the fundamental issues in claims have not changed. “I think what’s changed is legislation,” Eccleston says, alluding to updates to Ontario’s Statutory Accident Benefits Schedule.
Born in Winnipeg, Eccleston has been with Aviva since 1985 and has served on the CICMA Ontario chapter executive for four years.
Before moving from Ottawa to Toronto, she was at the CICMA Ottawa chapter, where she held every position, including president.
Before joining Aviva, Eccleston worked for United States Fidelity and Guaranty Company and was educated in the 1970s at Canadore College in North Bay, where her father was posted with the Royal Canadian Air Force.
“I have lived right across Canada,” she says.
Eccleston had no family or friends in the insurance industry before she started her career. “Back in the day, when I finished college, I didn’t even know what insurance was,” she quips.
Those in college today likely have a much better chance of learning what insurance is all about. The education system in Ontario has changed over the past 30-plus years, Eccleston says, with more colleges providing insurance programs.
She cites as examples Mohawk College, which offers a two-year program both at its Fennell campus in Hamilton and at Sheridan College’s Mississauga campus, and London-based Fanshawe College, which has a two-year business insurance program that includes underwriting, claims investigation, risk analysis and contracts.
That type of education, as well as specialized knowledge and experience, is valued in today’s market. “Those folks never have problems finding jobs,” Eccleston says of graduates of the colleges.
In fact, she adds, carriers are competing to attract and retain knowledgeable, experienced claims managers.
“Accident benefits is such a specialized line of work, there is a lot of competition” among employers, she says. “People who are very highly knowledgeable in casualty and liability, there’s a big demand for those types of people out there.”
Employees are changing jobs more often than before, and retiring baby boomers will need to be replaced, Eccleston says. “We have to make sure that we have the right people in place to manage our business and handle our claims,” she adds.
The foundation is there, but it takes time to build in experience. “We’re finding that in the workforce, there is a gap. There are a lot of junior entry people, but they are not ready yet for that next level,” she says.
To get the budding claims managers ready, the CICMA is helping educate the next generation by funding scholarships. For example, in 2007, the CICMA Ontario chapter gave $25,000 to Waterloo-based Wilfrid Laurier University. In its October newsletter, the Ontario chapter notes the money is meant for students who intend to pursue a career in insurance, and does not necessarily go to the student with the best academic achievement.
In 2009, an award of $1,000 was paid to Anthony Kapsimalis, while in 2011 an award of $698 was paid to Laura Fyfe. “They don’t give it out all at once,” Eccleston says of Wilfred Laurier University, noting that the school earns interest on the initial investment and will award portions of the grant.
CICMA Ontario is also involved in charitable activities. For example, last June, the chapter held a golf tournament, with proceeds going towards Camp Oochigeas. The Toronto-based organization offers year-round programs for children with cancer and their siblings, and operates camps in Muskoka, Toronto and at the Hospital for Sick Children. At last year’s event, CICMA Ontario raised $26,000 for the camp.
Other proceeds from last year’s CICMA golf tournament included a $750 contribution for the Doug Hurlbut Award, sponsored by CICMA Ontario and presented once a year by the Insurance Institute. Hurlbut, past-president of CICMA and a former claims manager for Aviva, died two years ago.
In addition to its awards, scholarships and educational programs, the CICMA Ontario chapter provides networking opportunities for claims managers from different firms to exchange ideas. “We can reach out to another company,” she says.
“We get to know one another.”Eccleston adds CICMA Ontario is “heavily involved” in helping independent adjusters attain the qualifications they require to be licensed in Ontario, by holding monthly education sessions.