Sally Blake, Zurich Insurance

Sally Blake, Zurich Insurance

University I Graduate Development Programme I Business Analyst

Who is your employer?

Zurich Insurance

What is your role?

I am a Business Analyst in our Claims Automation team. I look for opportunities to use robotics, cognitive computing or other digital solutions, along with LEAN and Change Management Methodologies to improve our claims service.

What were you doing before this role?

I was a member of the Graduate Development Programme, so I moved around the business on rotations. I have worked in Claims, Underwriting and Personal Lines Direct and Partnerships.

What degree did you study for, and from which university?

I studied Archaeology at the University of Southampton, and then completed a Masters in Forensic Archaeological Science at UCL.

How has your degree helped you in your career so far?

Archaeology doesn’t directly correlate with Insurance, but I have still found plenty of uses for the skills I developed in my degrees. Archaeology involves a lot of research and planning, as well as analytical and problem solving skills. These are fundamental skills for my current role. When I was working in Claims, I also found that the legal-mindset that I gained from Forensics was really helpful in constructing arguments and understanding case law.

What do you do in a typical working day?

My day normally starts with a virtual team meeting. As my team is based across the UK, we can’t have the same communication you would sitting next to someone. So we make a point of having a 10 minute call every morning to update each other on what we are working on, and any issues we might need help with.

I have a range of projects underway at the moment. Some of these I am leading, so I will need to check in on my project team and make sure that things are moving as they should be. I am also involved in other people’s projects and will normally have some specific activities to complete for these.

I will usually have a couple of meetings or calls throughout the day. The majority of these will be about projects I am working on, but others might be 1:1’s or development discussions, committee calls for our Disability Inclusion Network, or meetings with people from other areas of the business to discuss ideas or issues.

Because my role involves identifying opportunities to improve our business, I also spend a fair amount of time going to conferences or seminars (normally about one a fortnight) to see what new tech or strategies might be useful. I will also spend my commute in reading blog posts or news articles to keep myself up to date. On my way home, I will usually reflect on my day and research skills and techniques to help me with my development.

How does your role fit into the wider sector picture?

Insurance is going through a revolution at the moment. Robotics have been increasing in popularity since around 2013, and we are now starting to see things like machine learning and natural language processing being implemented. The objective for most insurers is now to get a return on investment for these technologies. This will be achieved when an insurer is able to automate their business on an industrial scale, freeing people up to focus on customer interactions. My job is to work out how we can achieve this in claims, however this objective is the same across other areas of insurance like underwriting.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

I enjoy being able to look at a problem and come up with a solution which either uses something new and is industry leading, or uses something old that is applied in an entirely new way. I know I have done a good job when we can simplify a process to make our customers and handlers happy.

What is the most challenging part of your role?

The most challenging part of my role is that I can’t fix everything. Because Insurance is so heavily regulated, there are some processes which we can simplify, but we can’t remove. It’s really hard to tell someone with a great idea that we can’t actually do what they want, but we can normally find a half-way point that makes their life a bit easier.

What do you need to be successful in your role?

You have to be able to think laterally, whilst being analytical to ensure that you fully understand the issue and its root cause. You also need to be organised as you can have a lot of different activities to complete, stakeholders to update and meetings to attend. It’s a bit like keeping lots of plates spinning whilst also shopping for new crockery to spin!

Have you taken any professional qualifications?

I have just been awarded Fellowship of the CII. This is the highest qualification awarded by the CII, and involves a significant amount of work beyond exams and coursework. Before completing this, I gained my ACII, which required 13 modules (assessed through exams and coursework).

What have been your career highlights so far?

I was shortlisted for the British Insurance Awards Young Achiever of the Year in 2016. This was an amazing achievement and I got to go to the awards night at the Royal Albert Hall with other nominees and Senior Leaders from Zurich.

I have also been selected to present at events attended by our UK Executive team, and at our Claims Leadership Events. These are a lot of work, but it is great to be able to stand up in front of Senior Leaders and talk about something you are an expert in.

What are the main benefits of working in the profession?

Insurance is a huge industry with a wide range of roles. Regardless of what you start off doing, you can always find something new to try. Talking to people from around the insurance industry, there are so many varied career paths that there is a space for anyone, regardless of your skills or interests.

Why did you choose a career in insurance?

Like many people in insurance, it wasn’t actually what I set out to do at all. I took on my first role on the advice of a recruitment agent who helped me to understand how my skills could be useful. This was a complete curveball, but I decided to give it a go and I haven’t looked back since. 

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