In the C-Suite with Robert Bowers
Westfield Insurance’s National Claims Leader explains why change is so important.
By Eric Gilkey
How did a career in claims begin for you?
I grew up in western Pennsylvania in Beaver Falls. I had never considered claims as I entered college, but in my freshman year I was heading to a karate tournament with a couple of friends when I got a little lost and ended up going through a red light, causing me to T-bone another vehicle. Injuries were claimed, and it resulted in litigation and a trial that didn’t end until I was a senior in college. Throughout the process, I gave a deposition, testified in court, and interacted often with the claims professional. I thought it seemed like the type of job for me because I enjoyed the many aspects that the role involved: customer interactions, legal process, evaluations, and negotiations. I started with The Hartford soon after graduation as a telephone claims representative. Nine years later, I was recruited by Westfield, where I’ve been ever since.
You describe yourself as an advocate of change. How does that philosophy manifest itself at Westfield?
I’m a firm believer in that you either change or die as a company. Customer, competitive, and agency demands continue to change and escalate at an exponential rate, so to meet those demands claims departments must be innovative and consider how they want to service their customers and how they can be competitive.
It’s incumbent upon us to continue to find ways to meet or exceed policyholders’ needs in order to stay relevant in the marketplace. For instance, my premise has been that customers who suffer small losses often care less about a physical representative being at the loss and more about getting a problem resolved. Utilizing services—for example, preferred provider networks with national coverage or technological solutions that help people get their loss information to you more quickly—means claims professionals can solve problems as opposed to just simply cutting a check. Also, providing multiple communication channels that reflect the needs and wants of customers is becoming much more important, so we’re trying to incorporate those services into our claims handling.
Our vendor partners are a big part of this, and must share our values and commitment to customer service. If we can obtain those things through service level agreements and appropriately measure and follow up, they become a big part of the way we do business.
What advice would you give to those just starting out?
First and foremost, they should be very proud because they are in an honorable profession. The ability to meet customers’ needs at a time of crisis is really important. It’s a challenging role because claims professionals are dealing with issues and problems with people whose patience levels are dropping and expectations are rising. Therefore, it’s critical for young claims professionals to have a passion for taking care of people’s needs. If you do that, you’ll enjoy your job thoroughly because people will really appreciate your ability to help them with their problems.
Another piece of advice I would give is to “be the change,” instead of being a victim of the change. All industries change; if you can be the one who is developing ideas and creative solutions to help serve the customer, you are going to be a very valuable asset to the company and appreciated by your customers.
What challenges does the claims industry face?
Attracting and retaining talent in this industry is and will become an increasingly difficult challenge. It’s important for us as an industry to get the word out on what a great career this is. Supporting initiatives to help people get into this industry is going to be very important, too.
Another big challenge is keeping up with the change. We began a big investment in claims transformation four years ago, but continuing to invest at a certain level to be able to continue to meet challenges is critical. What we started four years ago will be obsolete sooner than we want. Continuing to invest in change and balance that investment with the service we provide will continue to be a big challenge for the industry.
Tell us a little about how you relax.
Even though I live in Cleveland, I grew up and maintain a passion for Pittsburgh Steelers football. I love motorcycles and driving, so one of the things I’m struggling with is the move to driverless cars. It will be a big adjustment for me in the future because I like cars and stick shifts. I’m passionate about everything I do, which includes having some fun. Being out on the road is my idea of relaxing.
Current position: National Claims Leader, Westfield Insurance
Size of Claims Organization: 600
Originally From: Beaver Falls, Penn.
First Claims Job: Phone Claims Rep, The Hartford