1/4/2012
From the C-Suite, January 2012

From the C-Suite, January 2012

ACE Group's Chief Claims Officer Frank Lattal opens up about his career path, offers advice to his peers, and envisions a future claims organization.

By Taylor Smith

ACE Group’s Chief Claims Officer Frank Lattal opens up about his career path, offers advice to his peers, and envisions a future claims organization.


Where did you work before you joined ACE?

I was an attorney in private practice in New Jersey for about 14 years. I was very happy in that role. Then I received a call from a former client who was the general counsel at ACE, who asked me to come to Bermuda to run the company’s high-severity claims operation. I wasn’t originally very interested. However, after spending some time learning about the job and about ACE, I became very interested and decided to make the move.


Your career path from private practice to claims for a large insurer isn’t typical. Is that a career path you are seeing more often?

A large percentage of our claims professionals have been in the claims world and have come up through the traditional ranks. However, in the U.S., we have a lot of law school graduates who have practiced law or who entered directly into claims after law school. In my mind, law school is a good place to find entry-level claims professionals for the specialty P&C business because of their training and education. Skills such as interpreting contracts and negotiation are areas where law students can excel.


Are there benefits to coming into the claims industry with an outside perspective?

Much of what the specialty P&C companies deal with are complex issues of law, so having that legal background provides a good vision that someone who hasn’t been on the outside may not have. Also, having a practical understanding of how the law impacts claims gives a good alternative vision to someone who has been on the inside for their whole career.

When I came to ACE I thought I knew a lot about insurance, but what I quickly realized was that I knew a lot about a small area of insurance. There was a tremendous amount about the business of insurance that, as an outside legal practitioner, I didn’t know and needed to learn.


Is the knowledge of the business of insurance important for young claims professionals?

Absolutely. Young claims professionals need to understand how insurance companies operate, principles of underwriting, distribution, and insurance accounting, and how the money flows in and out of the company. In my mind, they need to have a clear understanding of how what we do falls within the overall operations of the company. It is surprising to me that there are lots of insurance claims people who don’t always understand the bigger picture. We make sure all of our new claims professionals understand the business of insurance.

We also focus on and make sure they understand the softer skills of claims management, such as bedside manner and customer service skills. It is important that younger claims professionals operate from the beginning of their careers with a focus on the client.


Is that education part of formalized training programs?

It’s both formal and informal. We’ve started a formalized claims professionals training program for our new claim employees—both for those with experience in the industry and those new to the profession. We want them to understand the ACE approach to claims management. Although we conduct business in more than 150 countries, we want our clients to experience the same high level of customer service no matter whom they deal with in our claims organization.


Is there any advice you would give to newer claims professionals?

In addition to understanding the business of insurance, they need to have good written and oral communication skills. They also need to be able to take a complex set of facts and articulate them easily and simply in a way the audience understands. Also, work ethic goes a long way. You want to get noticed for the right reasons; you want the reputation of being a hard worker who gets the job done.


What about mid- to senior-level leaders? What advice would you give them so they can be most effective?

They need to be strong leaders and managers, making sure that their part of the organization understands the overall goals of the company and making sure that the actions necessary to reach those goals are accomplished. They need to make sure that their organization understands how to communicate with clients and have an overall service-related mentality.

It’s absolutely crucial for them to spend time with their staff. One of the challenges I had coming out of private practice was that law firms don’t teach you how to manage larger groups of people. I’ve read that executive leaders should spend 50 percent of their time with their staff. Whether it’s 50 percent or some other percentage, the point resonates with me. You need to spend time with your people to succeed with all your business goals. It’s an important part of success.

Also, mid- and senior-level leaders must focus their attention on the appropriate level of detail. That doesn’t mean micromanaging, but it does mean you need more than a cursory knowledge of some things. Also, really make sure that you take the time to understand the idiosyncrasies of your client base. Look for opportunities to understand them before a significant claim arises so when it does occur you can work better as a team.

I also believe that a robust focus on data is going to continue to become more important. There is so much data available to us now; we have to learn how to use it to our advantage. When properly analyzed, collated, and understood, data can help improve the customer’s experience, individual claim outcomes, and the company’s bottom line. Focusing on these things is going to give up-and-coming executives a leg up.


What do you think the claims organization of the future will look like?

The claims organization of the future will rely heavily on a new view of people, process, and technology. A claims professional will be at the center of a claims service offering that is channeled through the customer’s preferred means of interaction and powered by real-time access to relevant data and information. In this future, a truly motivated claims professional, equipped with the most effective set of tools and supported closely by strong back-office capabilities, will bring claims to a more rapid and satisfactory resolution for both the policyholder and the insurer.

The claims organization of the future will rely heavily on a new view of people, process, and technology. A claims professional will be at the center of a claims service offering that is channeled through the customer’s preferred means of interaction and powered by real-time access to relevant data and information. In this future, a truly motivated claims professional, equipped with the most effective set of tools and supported closely by strong back-office capabilities, will bring claims to a more rapid and satisfactory resolution for both the policyholder and the insurer.

Right now, we are focused on removing inefficiencies in our processes. We want our staff spending more time on core functions, not operational inefficiencies. By identifying and correcting inefficiencies, we can focus on customer service, reducing the claim cycle, getting to the right outcome, and contributing to the overall financial health of the company. That’s where we are today, and that will be a main focus going forward.


How has technology changed communication in companies?

There’s no doubt that the claims organization of the future will be heavily shaped by our customers’ preferred methods of communication. I see it now in my own children. They text and communicate in short spurts of information and are always connected. Certain of our customers are going to expect that level of engagement and in order to provide them with the claims information and service they desire, we’re going to have to understand their communication needs. We’re going to have to explore new ways to send and receive communications.


How has technology changed communication in companies?

There’s no doubt that the claims organization of the future will be heavily shaped by our customers’ preferred methods of communication. I see it now in my own children. They text and communicate in short spurts of information and are always connected. Certain of our customers are going to expect that level of engagement and in order to provide them with the claims information and service they desire, we’re going to have to understand their communication needs. We’re going to have to explore new ways to send and receive communications.


Do you have any professional pet peeves?

I can think of three. First, accurate but misleading answers. That means information that is provided without true context. Also, a lack of preparation and a lack of decisiveness.


Are you a Windows or Mac guy?

Windows only because that’s what I grew up with and that’s the platform we use at ACE.


iPhone, Blackberry, or Android?

I’m an iPad and Blackberry user, although I just had a demo of the voice-recognition software on the new iPhone and that seems to be the way to go. It was pretty sharp.


Do you find your iPad is sufficient for business travel?

On short trips, yes, I’ll leave my laptop at home. It’s great to quickly check e-mail. It also allows you to keep in touch with news. It’s a really good tool. If I know I’m going to be gone for a while, though, I’ll bring my laptop.


Do you have any hobbies?

I really enjoy golf and I’ve worked hard to get better. I’m also an avid New York Yankees and Notre Dame football fan. I grew up in a house where there were only two teams—the Yankees and Notre Dame—so I guess I’m keeping that alive.


Any pets?

We have two dogs: Lacey and Tessa. They are bichons frises, which is a breed with hair instead of fur, so they are good for those in my family with allergies. Lacey is 14 years old and one of my true friends. I did not have a dog growing up, but as soon as we brought Lacey home, I understood the whole “man’s best friend” thing.  


Taylor Smith is a contributing editor and president of CLM Advisors, which provides consulting and talent acquisition services to the claims and litigation management industry. He may be reached at taylor.smith@theclm.org, 224-212-0134, clmadvisors.org.

 

 



Taylor Smith is a contributing editor to CLM Magazine and president of CLM Advisors, which provides consulting and talent acquisition services to the claims and litigation management industry. He may be reached at taylor.smith@clmadvisors.org, (224) 212-0134, www.clmadvisors.org.

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