“It’s not about hours, but about output”

AXA UK Insurance Retail’s Chief Operating Officer Anna Fleming tells us why she’s inspired by the talented women around her, what makes AXA UK different to other insurers and why it is important to be curious and seek new opportunities

Anna Fleming in Women in Transformation

22 February 2022

Anna Fleming originally trained as a solicitor in Bristol. Called into her senior partner’s office one day, she could not have predicted what happened next – an offer to join Zurich and run their professional indemnity claims team. After moving through the ranks and learning a lot about project management and IT, she was headhunted for a role at the Motor Insurers’ Bureau. Three years later, after playing an integral part in several large transformations for the organisation, she was ready for something new. She was offered a job at AXA UK and knew she couldn’t refuse such a great opportunity. We spoke to Anna to find out about her plans for the retail business.

Tell us about your role as Chief Operating Officer?

I'm responsible for the operations of our retail business, which includes home and car insurance. I look after the people that sell you the insurance, as well as the claims and complaints teams. There’s no such thing as a typical day but we talk to our customers to understand what they need and how we can help. I work with our teams and bring the whole of the retail business together, to ensure we’re the best we can be operationally.

What do you enjoy most about your role?

The opportunity to make change for the better. We have some brilliant foundations – it's a great brand and a big business with some really good people. We also have a very clear vision about where we want to go. We want to make sure our customers have a great experience when they buy a product and when they make a claim. To do that, I need to make sure I’m connecting with our people. It was difficult during the pandemic when everything was virtual because we’re such a huge business, but it just meant I had to be more creative about how I reached out to the teams! And now we’re finding our way with Smart Working.

Can you tell us more about what you’re currently working on?

It’s very exciting! We’re looking at our existing channels and how we interact with our customers, as well as how we can do things better. We’re reviewing the end-to-end customer journey, making sure we’ve got the right operational capability to deliver it and the right claims experience at the back end. We’re improving our digital interface too. What's important for me is culture – while we have a strong brand awareness, we need to reinvigorate our culture and invest in our people and this brilliant business. While the insurance industry is in an arms race in terms of technology, our differentiator in the market is our people and culture.

How are you making AXA UK more innovative?

Like all large insurers, we've got a legacy IT architecture and that’s something that can hold you back. My role is about challenging what's possible and, for me, innovation is about staying close to the market and customer expectations, making sure we’re aware of new technology in the insurance world. We need to keep our ears to the ground to look for new opportunities whilst also developing in-house capability. There's so much opportunity to be curious about what’s out there. While price is critical, our people must be interacting with our customers in an empathetic way because that’s just as vital to what we do and a key part of the innovation puzzle. Sometimes a chatbot is perfect for answering customer queries, but on another day, you might want to interact with someone and get a human response. Balancing all these things is how we’re bringing innovation into the business.

How do you make sure that you’re looking after vulnerable customers?

It starts with making sure we can identify vulnerability because all of us can be vulnerable at certain times, with particular circumstances. We have procedures in place to identify customer vulnerability and make the necessary adjustments when people need us to, but there's always more we can do. It’s about being there for our customers, to help them rather than force them down a particular route. It comes back to empathy for me and treating people the same way you’d like to be treated. It's such a critical skill, and one that we're developing in our people right now.

We aim to build a culture of trust, respect and kindness – how would you describe what it feels like to work here?

It’s a very warm and friendly place and that comes from the top. Claudio Gienal is a very approachable CEO, and he has real integrity. We’re empowered and have clear roles and responsibilities, which allows us to get our jobs done in the best way we can. It’s not about hours but about the output. I’ve always worked compressed hours so that I have Fridays with my son and my team are very mindful about protecting this.

How else are you encouraged to work flexibly?

We talk about annualised hours rather than weekly hours here and recognise that there’s a natural ebb and flow to your week, month and year – some periods are busier than others, but when we look at the hours over the year, it all averages out. Our team has an anchor day where we all head to the office to see each other, which is really useful and is Smart Working in action. As a working mum, my work-life balance relies on me knowing my own boundaries and understanding that I need some downtime occasionally!

How are you supported in your role?

For me, visibility is vital. It’s nice having other senior women around and not being the only woman in the room, particularly because historically, operations, even insurance, has been a male dominated industry. That said, you need to be there for the right reasons and it shouldn’t be about tokenism. I genuinely feel lucky to be in in this position and having a lot of other senior women around is hugely inspiring, perhaps because it’s still relatively unusual. The industry is still male dominated, but our CEO is all about making sure the right person has the job and that’s paying off.