AXA XL's Mark Breitenback on 'Closing the Claims Talent Gap'


Authored by AXA XL Practice Leader Aerospace Claims, Norther America Mark Breitenbach

I started flying planes at the age of seven and 15 years later graduated from Embry Riddle Aeronautical University with degrees in Aeronautical Science and Aviation Safety & Accident Investigation. My dad worked in commercial underwriting for 40 years, and while I never expected I would follow in his footsteps, little did I know my love for aviation would intersect with insurance decades later. Like many in this industry, I didn’t seek out a career in insurance, but rather was led here by a series of experiences.

I started my professional career in aviation safety engineering and aircraft accident investigation. After five years as an accident investigator, I was able to move into claims. Although I was an aviation guy with no insurance experience, I made the transition with a good deal of mentorship and training from more senior claims handlers. Within our aviation department at AXA XL, most claims professionals likewise started elsewhere – either in aviation or legal – before applying that domain expertise to the claims side.

As I look back at my 42 years in the insurance industry, it’s not hard to notice how aviation claims experience has dwindled over time. One of the greatest challenges facing the aviation claims sector now is a lack of significant experience. The fewer years you have in the business, the fewer challenges you’ve faced - and aviation presents some of the most unique and complex claims scenarios, requiring both experience and critical thinking outside the box. Consider that we have not had a major aircraft catastrophe in the US since 2009, and the vast majority of the existing US aviation claims staff has never experienced such a claim. Only the most experienced professionals will understand how to handle such a claim scenario. The implications of this experience gap will undoubtedly result in sub-par results for the insured and insurers.

Where does this 20-year gap come from?

Aviation insurance, like most insurance product lines, is typically subject to the ebb and flow of available capacity and demand, which, together with loss results, contributes to cyclic hard and soft markets. Aviation insurance is further impacted by these market fluctuations, as there are a limited number of aircraft and related risks to insure. As a result of the limited number of risks, aviation insurance differs significantly from many other product lines, with aggressive pricing and competition, particularly when capacity exceeds 100%. As a result, there have been periods within the aviation sector when hiring was de-prioritized, where these factors created impediments to justify new hires. One of those periods lasted from roughly 1990 to 2000, and a second period from around 2008 to 2015 – in which aviation insurers were not actively recruiting new claims talent.

Insurers have claims modeling technology that projects how many claims they can expect to handle in the coming years, which also informs hiring decisions. But that approach can leave aviation claims departments lagging and scrambling to find experienced claims professionals when there is need, rather than proactively investing in the recruitment and training of younger talent who are ready when the anticipated need arises.

In the last several years, we’ve also seen new markets enter the aviation sector, with new markets poaching experienced talent from existing aviation insurers. The existing insurers then have difficulty replacing the lost talent due in large part to the lack of experienced aviation claim handlers within the marketplace. Fortunately, our aviation claims team has been stable, with few personnel changes in the last 10 years. AXA XL is a global company which provides our aviation team with resources that are unparalleled in the industry. Very few aviation insurers have the resources, capabilities and reach that we do, making AXA XL an attractive employer which helps provide stability to our team. That said, because of the unique dynamics within the aviation insurance arena, insurers must have a plan to stop the revolving door in order to retain talent, so that there is not a constant need to find, train and mentor new employees.

Filling in the experience gap - a personal commitment to pass it on

There are not many external training options for aviation claims. Currently, one or two conferences offer continuing aviation insurance education, and an industry association provides a certificated program called the Certified Aviation Insurance Professional, but there is little focus on claims. We are finding success through our internal training programs that are designed to tap the expertise of our most experienced colleagues and touch on the practical and technical skills that matter most. We are heavily invested, for example, in topics such as coverage and contracts, investigation, negotiations, narrative/storytelling, mediations, and fair claims compliance. A claim is more than just a set of figures. It’s a story. The circumstances matter. Claims professionals need to be able to tell the story of the claim to negotiate the best result. The cumulative effect of training on these and other important topics will impart the functional wisdom that only decades in the business will otherwise teach you.

To further enhance the technical capabilities of our aviation team, we maintain a critical emphasis on learning and training as a vehicle to add to our claims professionals’ skills and knowledge base. One way we do this is through AXA XL’s Claims Academy, which provides training on a global basis. The mission of the Claims Academy aligns with our goal of delivering superior claims service. The only way to do that is by ensuring our talent is always learning, growing, and evolving, just as risks and the law within the aviation sector are always evolving. We want our claims professionals to feel equipped and empowered in even the most complex cases to act quickly in the best interest of the insured. We encourage our colleagues to take charge of their own learning and pursue the topics where they will find the most benefit. Empowering and developing our colleagues through the Claims Academy will help to drive consistency and technical excellence, as well as promote a customer first mindset.

We also utilize multiple channels to deliver this education, including both on-demand and live webinars, self-directed study, complex claim roundtables, and interactive sessions where participants can engage with the presenter. This in-person interaction is critical to truly pass along the insights that our more experienced team members have garnered over the years.
This kind of open and direct communication will be key to closing the experience gap we are seeing right now, not just in aviation claims but across the insurance industry as a whole. To that end, we will continue to build mentoring relationships with our interns and trainees where this informal education can take place on a daily basis.

Final thoughts

Those of us in current claims positions know that we have an attractive career path for many reasons. Certainly, at the forefront is the prospect of job stability and financial security. The insurance industry is an essential component of modern economic structure, meaning there is always a demand for claims professionals. Even during economic downturns, the necessity for insurance coverage persists, thus providing job stability.

Even more so, a career in insurance claims also offers ample opportunity for growth and professional development. As a claims professional, you start learning the nuances of the insurance industry from the ground up. You gain expertise across a variety of disciplines including law, negotiations, customer service and risk management. This broad knowledge base can be leveraged for career progression into senior roles or specialized areas such as fraud investigation, claims management, and even underwriting. Many companies are again providing more training and encouraging their employees to obtain professional certifications, further enhancing their skills and career progression.

Working in insurance claims can be very satisfying for those who value problem-solving and helping others. Each claim brings a unique set of challenges that requires critical thinking and negotiation skills. Whether it's determining the extent of coverage for a damaged business asset or negotiating settlements, claims professionals play a vital role in helping policyholders recover from their losses.

Mark Breitenbach is AXA XL’s Aerospace Claims Practice Leader in North America. Mark brings to his role more than 40 years of extensive domestic and international claims and litigation management experience in all facets of aviation and aerospace, products liability, rail, professional indemnity, construction, coverage and bad faith, environmental and toxic tort, and other P&C disciplines. He can be reached at


About AXA XL

AXA XL is the P&C and specialty risk division of AXA which provides property, casualty, professional and speciality products to industrial, commercial and professional firms, insurance companies and other enterprises, here in the UK and throughout the world. With underwriting teams based in the US, UK, EMEA and Asia Pacific regions, we can make decisions close to the markets you serve and work with you to tailor cover to your business needs.

We help businesses adapt and thrive amidst change. Rather than just paying covered claims when things go wrong, we go beyond protection into prevention so your business can go beyond the unexpected.

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