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It’s time to wake up and smell the digital coffee

Minster Law CEO, Shirley Woolham, talks about the impact of Covid-19 on the community and how technology can provide new solutions.

President John F Kennedy was pretty good with words. In response to a crisis in his presidency he said: “The Chinese use two brush strokes to write the word ‘crisis. One brush stroke stands for danger; the other for opportunity. In a crisis, be aware of the danger – but recognise the opportunity.”

In the middle of the most serious crisis for decades, JFK’s quote offers a beacon of hope for hard pressed businesses (and their leaders) suffering from the COVID-19 lockdown. Right now, survival is front of mind. And it’s horrifying that, in Yorkshire and more widely across the UK, hundreds of shops, restaurants and other small businesses have closed, possibly never to return.

That’s the danger that JFK spoke about, but what about the opportunity? I am the CEO of Minster Law, one of the leading claimant law firms in the UK. At any one time, we look after around 25,000 people who have been injured in road traffic accidents that were not their fault. The nature of injuries can be anything from minor to life-changing and our role is to make sure our clients receive an appropriate level of compensation for the effect those injuries have on their well-being.

We’ve already noticed the Covid-19 effect. The huge drop in people driving has meant a dramatic reduction in the number of accidents and injuries taking place on UK roads, but injured people are still making claims. These customers need our help and support, but how do they get it when Minster Law has been in lockdown, like everyone else?

The answer, in short, is technology. Technology has become a vital tool in keeping businesses, including mine, going during the crisis, and also points to a big opportunity in the future.  Our entire business has moved to remote working, and we are using a raft of technology, from cloud applications and video conferencing to collaboration tools and soft phones for our virtual call centre, to make sure we can operate normally.

If we can run the business effectively using this technology, it can help our customers too.  For example, many of our injured clients often need physiotherapy and psychotherapy to mend their bodies and minds after an accident. They can’t physically meet their therapist in a lockdown, so instead we are talking to insurance companies and medical experts and asking for sessions to be done remotely, using video links. We’re also asking for medical reports for injured people to be carried out by doctors remotely. It’s a sensible move to ensure our customers’ claims continue to progress as well as taking the pressure off already stretched GP surgeries.

The more we can use digital technology, alongside our legal experts, to process a claim, the faster and cheaper it will be, and the better the outcome for our customers, who tell us they’re keen to get back on their feet, and on with their lives, as quickly as they can.

As with many other sectors, to make the most of the digital opportunity, we need the whole industry, insurers and claims companies (and even the government) to collaborate and work together to ensure consumer interests are front and centre.

The adversarial nature of our justice system has historically created conflict between claims companies and insurers, but COVID-19 has changed all that. Compromise and partnership are necessary, because if all sides fail to agree to change working practices, the whole system will grind to a halt and it will the consumer that suffers the most.

If claims companies and insurers can cooperate to make things easier for customers during COVID-19, why can’t we do the same after this is over? Old habits die hard, of course, but the truth is that insurers and claims firms all share the same customers, and we can transform the way we as an industry treat our customers if we can build on the short term appetite for lowering the barriers to settling claims quickly and integrate the whole claims journey into the digital world.

At Minster Law, we have already invested in digital claims. 12,000 of our customers are actively using our digital portal, and they like what they see and use. I am keen to see the UK’s civil justice system wake up and smell the digital coffee, learning from our response to COVID-19 and embracing technology that makes claiming so much better for injured people.

– Shirley