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cowboy adjusters
Second in an ongoing series about how employers can succeed in an increasingly complex adjusting industry.

The Wild West Heads Indoors: Inside Adjusting

In our last article, The Changing Face of Independent Claims, we discussed how the claims industry is fundamentally changing the way it does business. The unpredictable and unregulated Wild West era of independent claims adjusting is becoming further streamlined, increasingly standardized and, to the chagrin of a few old cowboys, more civilized.

But what does this transformation mean practically, for adjusters and IA Firms? We will be discussing these changes in this and our next few articles.

The Wild West Gets Air-Conditioning

Perhaps one of the most noticeable shifts in the claims business is the increase in the role of “Inside Adjusting”.  Yes, it’s on the rise, and the carriers hope it will play an increasing role in future daily and – perhaps surprisingly to some – catastrophe response as well. In fact, it seems that the carriers’ vision is that once the infrastructure is in place, the kinks are worked out and public expectations readjusted, even major catastrophe response will be adjusted remotely, supported by field adjusting and technology.

For those new to the business, inside adjusting is when an adjuster handles the claim remotely, typically within a call center with other inside adjusters. Instead of visiting with a claimant to physically inspect the loss, communication takes place by telephone and other technology. Pictures and even videos are submitted, along with any other documents required for the claim. Of course, there are limitations to what can currently be handled remotely. Sometimes, for example, the claim is just too complex or the loss too extensive.

Of course there are limitations to what can currently be handled remotely.  Sometimes, for example, the claim is just too complex or the loss too extensive.  

Another challenge is that desk adjusters must view the claim through the often biased eyes of the claimant. So it is unlikely that field adjusting will ever fully disappear, but it is our belief that future field adjusting will be less often handled by general adjusters with full claim-closing authority. Rather, the parts of the claim that must be inspected physically will be assigned to in-field specialists whose job it is to transfer their findings to the inside adjusting team handling the claim as a whole. In other words, they become but one part of a process.

Why The Shift?

Technology – Advances in technology are revolutionizing the way the world does business, and claims adjusting is no different. With the advent of digital pictures, video, scanning, drones and new programs and apps, it is increasingly possible for adjusters to obtain almost every piece of the puzzle they need to assess coverage, accurately estimate damage, and maintain customer satisfaction, without ever having to meet the policyholder or inspect the loss physically. Any reduction in accuracy will, they expect, be more than offset by the increase in efficiency by the new system.

Centralized Workforce – Adjusters who only handle claims remotely can work together in the same location. In the new generation call centers, hundreds of independent adjusters from several different IA firms can all be placed together in one large office, all under the supervision of the carrier itself. This helps both adjusting firms and carriers eliminate the need to have a massive presence in every location where a claim is filed.

This helps both adjusting firms and carriers eliminate the need to have a massive presence in every location where a claim is filed.

Training, regulation, and monitoring are all easier when the workforce is together. This, however, is a tough change for those who love the personal connection, freedom, and autonomy the industry previously offered.

Team Strategy – With adjusters all working in a call center together, they can operate as a unified team to handle a claim instead of one person handling the entire process start to finish. Multiple adjusters often touch a single claim, or a specific part of the claim, before it is paid out. Essentially, the claim now moves through an almost assembly-line like process. It has a less personal feel but the idea is that it creates a more streamlined, efficient, and scalable system.

Money Money Money – Of course industries rarely make huge transformations without financial gain being at the heart of the matter. Ultimately, the rise in inside adjusting is designed to save carriers money while also giving them greater control over the entire process as it is increasingly outsourced to independents. They can use more narrowly qualified adjusters, pay them hourly, and reduce the messiness and liability of having so many adjusters in the field.

Aces & Deuces

For adjusters in the business or looking to get in, these changes bring both advantages and disadvantages. For experienced adjusters, especially those who made a lot of money in the previous CAT system, it seems like only bad news. The independence and financial potential of the Wild West era is changing, but – believe it or not – the new system does offer employees new positive opportunities.

Master of One – Up until recently, an adjuster had to be a jack of all trades. They’ve needed to know all aspects of the process: communication skills, damage assessment, estimatics, policy, negotiation contract law, local statutes, carrier protocol, etc.  And they needed to know it all from day one, making it risky for IA firms to hire new folks. The process is now increasingly broken down, so that an adjuster doesn’t need to know everything to make a very successful start to her career. She is part of a team that, together, will get it done. This means that it is a great time to enter an industry that was notoriously hard to break into.

This means that it is a great time to enter an industry that was notoriously hard to break into.

Larger Viable Workforce – To handle a claim, field adjusters have always needed at least two things: to be there in person and to be physically capable of inspection. Climbing ladders? Scaling Roofs? Wading through debris? These are things that a field adjuster may have to do for any given situation. Combine that with a claim 100 miles from the nearest airport in a frozen state and things can get very challenging for a large number of people to handle. Inside adjusting allows the insurance industry to pull employees from a larger group, one not constrained by physical challenges or location. Adjusters need no longer be deployed for one particular event, so deployments are much longer. The call centers handle catastrophe and daily claims throughout the entire country, events coming and going. Older adjusters will also be able to stay in the workforce longer.

Staying Close to Home – While it sounds simple, those adjusters who’ve been in the industry a long time have likely spent many a night away from home and family. Handling a claim from the office allows adjusters to stay closer to home regularly. And ultimately, it is safer.

Cultivating Company Relationships – Staying in an office, working with firms and carriers, learning aspects of the business from all around you…these are invaluable in creating a long-term relationship with an employer. Adjusters will be able to directly interact with superiors and knowledgeable veterans to help bolster their abilities and ultimately, their career.

Adjusters will be able to directly interact with superiors and knowledgeable veterans to help bolster their abilities and ultimately, their career. 

It’s all part of the big-picture strategy; get promising adjusters in the door handling simple things, then cross-train them to expand their value. This is a great equation for folks serious about the career. Based on merit, strong candidates receive on the job training and promotion to more complex positions with more responsibility. Sometimes this means promotion to management, sometimes it means a transition to fieldwork.

To Every Season

Yes, today’s claims industry paints a very different picture than what we saw 20 years ago. Some changes will be considered good, some bad, but all are likely to stick around. Veteran adjusters will struggle the most with the transition but there are still field adjusting opportunities for those inclined towards the traditional model. (More on that in future articles). Field adjusting will not disappear, it will just become a more specialized aspect of the entire career. To reiterate a point we have been trying to drive home, the one constant in life is change. The claims business is no different. Change is inevitable. The big question is what to do with change. I know for a fact that IA firms recognize that this change to inside adjusting spells opportunity. 

They are working overtime to differentiate themselves and win the favor of the carriers as the firm that can deliver results in the new dispensation.  This is no easy task, and – as the old slogan goes – “they need a few good men (and women)”.  

Saying “YES” has always been an essential part of success in claims. 

Saying “YES” has always been an essential part of success in claims. When offered a deployment, successful adjusters say YES.   This shift to inside adjusting is no different.  Just jump in and become part of the solution. The need is huge, and it’s harder to find good adjusters than you think. 

As Augustus McCrae said in Lonesome Dove, “Ain’t nothin better than ridin’ a fine horse in new country.” If you’re a good adjuster or dedicated to becoming one, there’s a lot of new country to explore and the future looks very bright.

 Up Next: The Right Stuff: The Peter Principle and How it Effects our Industry

 

 

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