Insurance claims handlers ensure that claims are dealt with efficiently and that payment for valid claims is made to policyholders

As an insurance claims handler, you'll be involved in managing a claim from the start through to settlement, making decisions on the extent and validity of a claim, and checking for any potential fraudulent activity.

You'll coordinate services that may be required by policyholders following an accident or incident. This can include organising approved tradespeople to make homes safe again or ordering replacement goods if a policyholder has been burgled.

Policyholders can range from businesses to individuals. You may be involved in large-scale accidents and incidents, for example a bridge collapse. As well as communicating with policyholders, you'll also liaise with external experts such as loss adjusters and lawyers.

Work on complex cases requires experience and expert knowledge. At this stage, you may become involved in loss adjusting activities (investigating the loss) or in legal discussions about the recovery of money from the party responsible for the loss.

Responsibilities

As an insurance claims handler, you'll typically need to:

  • provide advice on making a claim and the processes involved
  • process new insurance claims notifications
  • collect accurate information and documents to proceed with a claim
  • analyse a claim made by a policymaker to establish whether it satisfies the policy conditions
  • guide policyholders on how to proceed with the claim
  • identify reasons why full payment may not be made
  • explain to policyholders when their claim is not covered
  • contact tradespeople from a network of approved professionals and arrange for them to make repairs on the policyholder's property
  • monitor the progress of a claim
  • investigate potentially fraudulent claims
  • liaise with solicitors, as well as other legal and claims professionals, and negotiate the terms of a claim
  • prepare an initial estimate of costs and then closely monitor and keep a record of costs
  • get advice from external specialists, such as loss adjusters and forensic accountants, on complex cases
  • ensure fair settlement of a valid claim
  • ensure the customer is treated fairly and that the customer receives excellent service in accordance with industry and company guidelines
  • handle any complaints associated with a claim
  • adhere to legal requirements, industry regulations and customer quality standards set by the company.

Senior claims handlers may also need to:

  • manage a team of claims handlers
  • seek legal recovery of monies paid out
  • take responsibility for productivity and profit
  • get involved in loss adjusting activities and in legal discussions relating to settlement.

Salary

  • Entry-level salaries, as a trainee claims handler for example, range from around £14,000 to £18,000. Starting salaries for those on graduate trainee schemes typically range from £18,000 to £25,000.
  • Experienced insurance claims handlers can earn from around £20,000 to £30,000.
  • Salaries for claims managers can rise to around £50,000. Claims directors may earn in excess of this amount.

Salaries vary depending on a range of factors including your experience, skills and qualifications, the type of insurance you're working in, the size of your employer and location.

You may receive additional benefits, which can include a company car, medical insurance, life insurance and discounted insurance premiums, as well as profit share, pension scheme and bonuses.

Income figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

The working week is typically 35 to 40 hours. Office hours can be Monday to Friday, although shift work, including evenings and weekends, may be required.

What to expect

  • Work can be based in an insurance office or contact centre.
  • Although office-based, you may need to travel to visit clients, brokers and solicitors.
  • Jobs are available in most areas of the UK. Offices are usually based in large towns and cities.
  • The job involves working to tight deadlines, working under pressure and using technology.
  • Absence from home overnight and overseas travel is uncommon.

Qualifications

Although this area of work is open to all graduates, the following degree or HND subjects may increase your chances:

  • accounting and/or finance
  • business or management/business with languages
  • economics and accountancy
  • law
  • mathematics.

Graduate trainee schemes specifically covering claims are available with the larger insurance companies or loss adjusting firms. There are also opportunities via general graduate-management training schemes that include claims work.

You can also go directly into claims work after initial training. Opportunities are available for both graduates and those without a degree. An alternative route into the job is through more junior or clerical positions, moving up through the company by training and promotion.

Insurance apprenticeships are available at different levels and are another useful way of getting into insurance.

You don't need a pre-entry postgraduate qualification.

If you don't have any experience of the insurance industry, you could consider taking the Chartered Institute of Insurance (CII) Award for the Foundation Insurance Test (FIT). This introductory-level qualification provides an understanding of how the insurance market operates.

There is strong competition for positions both from graduates and non-graduates with general insurance claims experience. Apply early in your final year.

Skills

You'll need to have:

  • excellent interpersonal and customer service skills
  • negotiation, questioning and decision-making skills
  • communication skills and confidence when dealing with people, often in difficult circumstances
  • active listening skills
  • organisational and time management skills
  • the ability to work well under pressure
  • commercial acumen
  • the ability to think strategically
  • initiative and the ability to adapt quickly to different situations
  • good numeracy and literacy
  • discernment and the ability to assess a situation objectively
  • attention to detail and sound report-writing skills.

Knowledge of foreign languages may be useful if you're working at a global firm or with foreign insurance claims.

Work experience

Many of the major insurance companies have work placement or summer internship programmes. Placements usually last six to ten weeks and provide the opportunity to gain insurance-related experience while getting paid. Competition for places is strong and employers often ask for a predicted 2:1 or above.

Smaller firms sometimes offer work experience, but you may need to approach them directly to find out about opportunities.

Work experience in a customer service or administration role in the financial services sector may be useful, and sales experience is also relevant.

Employers

Insurance claims handlers work at insurance companies, insurance brokers or for claims management or loss adjusting firms.

Opportunities are available throughout the country.

Key areas within insurance that require assessment include domestic property, for example in incidents of fire, burglary and motor vehicle accidents.

The UK's insurance market is the largest in Europe and fourth largest in the world, employing around 324,000 people (Association of British Insurers).

Look for job vacancies at:

Specialist recruitment agencies handle vacancies. See advertisements in the national press and specialist journals.

Large insurance companies advertise vacancies on their websites.

Professional development

Graduates on a trainee scheme usually undergo two years of intense on-the-job training. Training is typically in-house and supported by formal training courses. Support is provided by your line manager and a mentor. This initial training may be followed by a further two or three years of training in negotiating claims and underwriting risk.

You need to keep up to date with legislation and developments in the industry, and membership of a relevant professional body is important for continuing professional development (CPD). For more information, see:

Both of these organisations offer qualifications ranging from entry through to advanced level.

The CII Advanced Diploma in Insurance, for example, provides an enhanced and comprehensive understanding of insurance practice. Members who hold the CII Advanced Diploma in Insurance are eligible to apply for chartered status (subject to having five years of experience, not necessarily post-qualification) with the CII.

To become an associate member of CILA and gain charted loss adjuster status, you have to successfully acquire the CILA Advanced Diploma qualification before passing an assessment process called Accreditation for Chartered Status (ACS).

You must also have five years (three years in certain cases) of experience working as an independent loss adjuster. If you gain this experience working for a loss adjuster, you'll be eligible to become an Associate member of CILA (ACILA). However, if you gain this experience while working for non-loss adjusting firm, you'll be eligible for Certified Membership (MCILA).

Individual insurance companies may also provide their own ongoing training courses, in areas such as personal safety and communication skills.

Career prospects

There are opportunities to move up the management structure, either in claims or other departments. In larger company structures, for example, claims handlers can progress to team leader, claims manager and then claims director.

As you progress and gain more experience, you'll have increased responsibility for more complex cases. Depending on the nature of the company, you may also become more involved in project work, such as quality control or training.

Other possibilities include a move into loss adjusting, risk management or health and safety consultancy.

There are some opportunities to work with more specialist teams, such as fraud investigators, disease and environmental claims handlers, or with large case technicians. Gaining more specialised qualifications can help you move into a different insurance area, such as employer or public liability.

In order to gain further responsibility and experience, it may be necessary to move to a larger company or an organisation with a focus on a specialised area of insurance.