Recently appointed CEO of Crawford & Company, Harsha Agadi, tells The Journal why a background in food and hospitality gives him a fresh perspective on insurance.
Food and hospitality may not seem the obvious background for the head of a global claims management firm but, for Harsha Agadi, the president and chief executive officer of Crawford & Company, it is experience that translates well into insurance.
Having spent nearly 30 years in senior leadership positions in the sector, he says it taught him a number of things he can bring to the insurance market: "In both sectors you have to deliver a consistent and high level of service. The customer should be treated as if they were a God," he says. "In the hospitality sector, where it's all about serving the customer, you learn humility. This is something I think we sometimes lack in the insurance sector but it's a quality we should be careful to foster."
While he brings this fresh perspective to the role, which he took up last summer, Mr Agadi has already gained several years' experience in the insurance sector. A non-executive director at Crawford since 2010, he has served as interim CEO since August 2015. "I've watched the trials and triumphs of both the organisation and the insurance industry over this time," he says.
On the positive side, he has seen the company outperform expectations, with all four of its business segments reporting double-digit operating margins in the third quarter of 2016.
There have also been challenges. In particular, the findings of the Financial Conduct Authority's thematic review of claims handling for SMEs included examples of significant delays in the initial visit by the loss adjuster. Although the review represented a small sample of claims across all loss adjusting companies, it has concerned Mr Agadi. "Our focus must be on execution as well as resolution. The speed of response is critical, especially in a world where everything moves so quickly," he explains.
To ensure this happens, a number of key initiatives are being rolled out across Crawford in 2017. "We want to help carriers receive their first notification of loss (FNOL) and to help them process the claim," he says. "We want to be a cog in every wheel of a claim that happens anywhere on the planet."
While delivering this fast response could be instrumental in winning public trust, it also creates a recruitment challenge. "We're the voice of the industry so we need to recruit people who are empathetic, customer-centric and technically competent. It's an unusual combination so you need to make sure you're offering attractive opportunities to the right people," he says.
TALENT AND TECH
As well as incentivising current employees with the training and opportunities to ensure they stay with the firm, Mr Agadi is also keen to encourage more young people in to the industry. This, he says, will ensure there is sufficient talent in the future. "We need to make the insurance industry fun and challenging, to inspire more young people to consider a career in the sector," he adds. "They challenge the norm."
He has already taken a number of steps to achieve this. Several of Crawford's offices have had a makeover to make them more appealing to millennials, and the firm is also setting up closer links with universities to encourage more undergraduates to consider insurance as a career. "More and more millennials want a global experience," he says. "With a presence in 700 locations across 70 countries, this is something we're keen to offer them."
Finding and keeping the right people is essential, but Mr Agadi also acknowledges that technology will play a larger role in claims management in the future. "If we can use technology to add speed, certainty and precision to a claim, it will bring benefits to all parties," he says. "It's about matching the right technology to the process."
As an example, his firm -- through a new group Crawford Innovative Ventures -- recently acquired mobile inspection service WeGoLook. The service, which is currently in the US but is expected to roll out to Canada, the UK, Australia and parts of continental Europe, uses a network of 30,000 independent contractors, known as lookers.
Able to attend a loss within hours of notification, they can collect the information and photographs the insurer needs to process the claim. "This enables the fast resolution that is expected by both policyholders and insurers on high frequency, low value claims," says Mr Agadi. "It also provides a high level of personal service, with the policyholder really appreciating that someone is taking care of the claim at a time when they might not be in the right mental or physical state to do so."
He also sees another opportunity from this venture, with the lookers, who have an average age of 26, representing a potential talent pool. With Mr Agadi looking to bring new talent, technology and a keen eye for customer service to Crawford, the insurance industry will benefit from this fresh approach to claims management.
Profile: HARSHA AGADI
Education: Harsha gained a degree from the University of Mumbai before completing
his MBA at the Fuqua School of Business at Duke University in the US.
Work experience: Harsha has 30 years' experience in senior leadership positions for food service and franchise companies, is chairman of GHS Holdings and serves on several company boards.
Extra-curricular: A keen philanthropist, he has established an endowment at the Fuqua School of Business, awarding an annual scholarship to a promising female student from India.