This article was produced in partnership with AXA XL
Mia Wallace, of Insurance Business, sat down with Paul Howard (pictured), head of coverholder and alternative distribution, UK & Lloyd’s at AXA XL, to discuss what constitutes a great DA partnership
It was only recently that Paul Howard, head of coverholder and alternative distribution, UK & Lloyd’s at AXA XL, sat down with Insurance Business to dig into the ins and outs of AXA XL’s coverholder offering and appetite. Emphasizing that DA is a long-term play for the insurer, he highlighted that AXA XL has been in the coverholder market for over three decades now – a testament to the relationships it has fostered and its measured, considered and long-term oriented approach to this crucial market.
His time spent serving the market has imparted Howard with a keen sense of exactly what it takes to build and maintain a healthy DA partnership – and underpinning each of the factors he addressed is the need to recognize DA as a mutual relationship.
“It’s a bit of a hackneyed phrase,” he said, “but the key to a healthy DA partnership is ‘no surprises’ – either way. It’s all about really good, timely communication as well as the ability to take advantage of all the opportunities in a particular area so you can both grow together… And if we look at some of our partners, it’s not just about the way they’ve grown with us, it’s also about how we’ve grown with them.
“This is very much a mutual relationship. Because looking at this from a reputation perspective, although they’re separate, [our coverholders] are our representatives as they’re transacting business on our behalf. So it’s really important they share similar values to us and they aren’t treated as something ‘other’.”
That partnership approach is the foundation on which a healthy DA relationship can grow and Howard identified several of the key building blocks that make up that growth. He noted that coverholders looking to explore the right opportunity should bear in mind the breadth and longevity of a prospective insurer’s offering as well as its financial strength and track record of success.
These factors are critical to consider as they speak to experience, he said, and this experience lends great value to these relationships. By having such a broad product suite, the insurer is able to tailor solutions that allow its partners to differentiate themselves in the market and find new and ever-evolving ways both to stand out and to work alongside their clients.
AXA XL’s 30-plus years of successfully serving the market, combined with its financial standing, are what earmarks its offering as a particularly attractive proposition, Howard said, and underpinning this is the strength and commitment of the team that makes it all happen.
“As with most of the insurance market, a lot of it’s about the people,” he said. “We’ve got to form good relationships, we’ve got to be available. And while we’ve got to be responsive, we’ve also got to be proactive with the things that we’re doing. Because we’ve got a reasonably large book… we can talk about best practice and we can make sure that we have regular communication with our coverholder partners.
“And that’s not just the interactions between the underwriter and the broker or coverholder, it’s also about sharing some of the thought leadership work we’re doing through our Fast Fast Forward resources. There, we’re sharing thought leadership on the key topics [impacting this space] and on how we’re seeing things evolving, so our partners can better anticipate future developments.”
Prospective coverholders should be on the lookout for such resources, he said, as they don’t just share best practice tips but also offer insights into external shifts in the wider business environment including any regulatory changes or sanctions that may be coming into play. By engaging with its partners in this way, AXA XL can help guide them through any market transitions and deploy its partnership-first approach to DA to proactively mitigate any challenges on the horizon.
Prospective coverholders should also pay close attention not just to the immediate offering of an underwriter but also to the consistent outreach and communication that is required to make a DA partnership thrive. Across the wider market, Howard said, there are examples where some carriers have felt that, once the stamp is down, that’s the end of things for another year – when in reality this is only the beginning.
“Delegation isn’t abdication,” he said, “it’s important to continue to have frequent, regular interactions. It comes back to that exchange of views and making sure that, rather than this being a monologue from one side or the other, it’s a true dialogue. That’s one of the areas that’s so important to us and why we try to have as much interaction with our partners as possible.
“Some of our partners will have more, but we try to have at least quarterly meetings with our coverholders and their brokers so we can review how things are going. We discuss whether we need to change anything, for example, and share that market knowledge about product enhancements we might need to look at or innovations that are available.”
Another critical consideration for coverholders is to recognize the value of access to additional services in creating a holistic proposition. As part of the AXA family, Howard said, AXA XL’s coverholder business is able to access resources from across the wider group to add benefit to its partners. A great example of this is AXA Health, which has a significant trove of freely available resources, many of which AXA XL is making available to their DA partners who in turn pass these on to their clients.
Also absolutely critical when considering the DA route to market is establishing a prospective partner’s track record with claims. That promise to pay is the proof of purchase of the insurance promise, he said, and as such must be done in a fair, consistent and timely manner. When that promise to pay is fulfilled, where applicable, insurance is providing a critical role in supporting the economy and enabling it to face the challenges of tomorrow.
Howard’s advice for coverholders looking for the right partner is clear – find somebody with a similar ethos, aligned ambitions and a shared commitment to the value that a long-term and mutually beneficial DA partnership has for every stakeholder across the chain.
“Find that unique combination of financial strength, that ethos of leading with purpose and that [approach] of looking at solutions for longer-term partnerships,” he said. “And for us, being able to bundle all that together, alongside the resources of the group and ours [thought leadership] on the innovations and product development happening in the market, I think that’s a fairly unique offering which makes us a particularly attractive proposition.”
Paul Howard has served the insurance profession for over 35 years. He joined AXA XL in September 2018 where he has served in several senior leadership roles, before taking on his current role as head of coverholder and alternative distribution, UK & Lloyd’s at AXA XL in April 2022.