Here is an interesting article by Dow Jones on how rising gasoline prices are going to increase the cost of claim settlements should a big one hit this coming hurricane season:
Basically, the cost of material goods from building material suppliers will rise due to transportation costs of materials,etc thus increasing the cost to settle not only building but contents claims.
What I wish they would have included in the article is the effect rising gasoline prices will have on independent adjusters decisions regarding deployment this hurricane season. For those not familiar with independent adjusters, they must pay their own expenses unlike staff adjusters who are employees for an insurance carrier who have their expenses covered by their employer- the insurance company.
Independent adjusters basically have four options:
1)Deploy and absorb the extra expense greatly cutting into their profits (which are now often greatly reduced to begin with due to partial assignments while the carrier staff works part of the coverage on contents and ale losses). Current hot topics on this subject include adjusters discussing different vehicle options moving from the SUV’s and trucks to smaller vehicles with better gas mileage. This presents a real issue for independent adjusters who live on the road following storms needing larger vehicles for one and two story ladders, estimatic and computer equipment, and living supplies needed for survival in often very unpleasant living circumstances at the beginning of any severe storm. Here’s a link to just two of many ongoing discussions on this topic: click here and here. The first link you may have to login to CADO to read as it’s in the adjuster den forums which require login. There is also a 3rd ongoing discussion about adjusters changing vehicles but I couldnt get my hands on the topic and will update this when I do so.
2) Deploy but only accept in office assignments in insurance companies claim central operations as many carriers have catastrophe claim central operations and use independents in this capacity for the great demand when necessary. I’ve seen many experienced independents accepting these assignments who in the past would never want to be tied to an in office cubicle environment on a daily rate instead of working off fee schedules on field inspections because of several issues to include the unfortunate increase in non paying adjusting firms on fee schedule handled files (they’ll know within 2 weeks or so if the firm is paying or not working in office) and because of the guarantee of atleast biweekly if not weekly pay versus the unreasonable delay in some carriers offices in settling field catastrophe files so adjusters get paid (as well as insureds of course).
3) Many independent adjusters who prefer the independent adjuster lifestyle are moving to carrier staff adjuster positions. If you missed our blog on the pros and cons of each position- here is a link.
4) The last option is to leave the field altogether which many are doing due to the lack of work the past two seasons. They need a dependable stable income which the independent adjusting business has not been able to provide the last two years.
Here’s a link to an interesting AP article out this week indicating we are getting ready to break US records this tornado season on claims so hopefully independents are finding much more work these past few weeks. We’ve gotten some great news from long term ClaimSmentor trainees who picked up storm assignments in the past few weeks as assistants on rope and harness teams with some of the major independent adjusting firms which I feel sure is due to their committment to continuing adjuster education knowing these individuals who have definitely prepared for this career with licensing, estimatic courses, carrier certification exams successfully passed, and field mentor training they’ve gone through. This is an outstanding opportunity for them to work with an experienced adjuster on the rope and harness teams to learn the practical application of all of their training in a real claims environment while being coached by this other half of their team. Hats off to the adjusting firms using this approach to develop new adjusters!
So what are some of the things adjusting firms and insurance companies can do to ensure more independents do not leave the field due to rising fuel costs?
1) Carriers and/or adjusting firms (depending on who is making the assignments to the independents)should ensure that their catastrophe claim automation folks on large cats or local field operations on smaller cats are using automated zoning systems utilizing the 9 digit zip codes to ensure that claims are assigned in tighter zones for independent assignments getting their group of claim assignments as close together as possible to lower their gas expenses.
2) Hopefully, carriers and adjusting firms are all using current technology using CMS (Claim Management Systems) so adjusters can download assignments and upload inspection/claim documents without the need to waste precious fuel to come into pick up and drop off assignments. CMS systems not only reduce fuel expenses but provide much more prompt settlement of claims for policyholders as carriers have immediate access to claim file documents. My top recommendation on CMS systems if you do not have one is Click Claims which won the AM Best’s Efusion Award for CMS systems- here’s a link if you want to take a free demo. I personally managed adjusters throughout FL during the 4 in 04 hurricanes in FL and cannot image accepting an assignment working without this particular program again. By the way, vendors using email only processes for catastrophe claim documents should be history as it leads to nothing but confusion and loss of claim file documents and unnecessary delays in processing file closures for prompt payments to insureds when no one can find the emailed documents. I am also aware of numerous new adjusters who were burned on adjuster fees when files were not uploaded in their name after emailing them in and a supervisor uploaded them into a different adjuster’s name. I was totally surprised but heard it enough to believe it was true for some inexperienced adjusters.
3) Keep unit meetings during a storm to a limited number reserved for critical information sharing otherwise minor details can be shared by email and teleconferences where managers conference call unit members versus requiring travel to cat offices. This would apply to meetings required by adjusting firms and for insurance carriers.
4) Many adjusting firms share in any gas allowance fees which may be incorporated into a carrier’s fee schedule. For instance, if the fee split in the independent contract with the adjuster is 60% to the adjuster and 40% to the adjusting firm, the firm will take their 40% of the mileage allowance as well as the gross billing on the amount of loss fee. One of the forum links above had adjusters discussing this issue. I’d like some light shed on this practice by SOME adjusting firms as I do not see any reason whatsoever that an adjusting firm should be taking a percentage of the travel fees when they incurred ZERO percent of the cost. If there are reasons they do so, please reply and let us know!
For those that aren’t famililar with insurance company independent fee schedules, many require the adjuster go a given number of miles with no allowance such as 50 miles before they then consider an allowance for mileage traveled. Typical schedules say the first 50 miles is included in the regular fee on the claim.
Adjusting firms that are doing this should consider offering 100% of the travel allowance to the independent adjuster incurring the cost. Adjusting firms should also consider negotiating a gas allowance per claim particularly if the independent adjuster is assigned a rural territory incurring unreasonable mileage. During the 4 in 04, I had no trouble negotiating a gas allowance for our independent adjusters with many regional carriers at all. I know some carriers such as the recent Citizens RFP says there will be no negotiating on their fee schedule. This could work to their detriment if other insurance carriers are allowing this gas mileage allowance.
5) Carriers can host carrier certification classes online through podcasts and webinars versus requirements adjusters travel to their pre-qualified independent firms offices for testing. Today many offer IDL (Interactive Distance Learning) webinars the adjusters can take in field locations throughout the nation at agents or carrier regional offices yet they then require the independent adjuster actually travel to the independent adjusting firms assigned their claims to take the actual certification test which follows the IDL. For example, an adjuster residing in FL may be able to watch the preliminary IDL in FL at a regional office for the carrier yet the closest adjusting firm office to take the test is in LA. This makes no sense when the carriers can provide monitored testing at the same locations at their offices where the IDL sessions are held or use an examination center like the AICPCU program does for the CPCU or AIC exams where they are proctored at local colleges.
6) Carriers should seriously consider helping with this problem by assigning rural territories to their staff adjusters as their gas expenses are covered if they wish to keep independents working claims. This may not be possible during the clean up phase where territory assignments are more difficult but this should be no problem whatsoever at the onset of a large storm.
Carriers need to consider that independent adjusters when not deployed on cat are working other positions at home and also do not have unlimited time to take off of daily work they are doing at home to travel during the week to take all of the various carrier certification exams required for them to work claims and should also consider offering these exams and IDL programs on Saturdays.
7) Adjusters- have you considered two story rope and harness team assignments where you split the fuel costs? Most of these assignments are paid on daily rates so you will also be paid regularly and on a stable schedule.
8 ) Carriers need to consider claim managers dedicated to reviewing and approving independent claim files as they are often set aside by cat managers to review later due to the extra work involved reviewing and approving the fee bill. During the storms in 04, it wasn’t uncommon to have delays of 60-90 days AND MORE on adjusting firms being paid due to back logs in carrier claim operations reviewing and approving files. Thankfully, that year the FL Dept of Insurance imposed many deadlines on claim closures which helped atleast get them processed a bit more timely. The intent was to get the settlement money in the hands of insureds which is most important but it didn’t hurt getting the payments to independent adjusting firms either.
9) Adjusting firms definitely need to increase their office personnel during a major storm. I’ve had the unfortunate experience of managing independent adjusters and trying to keep them happy and funded when the adjusting firm had far below the number of office personnel to timely invoice the carrier on claims and just as important to timely follow up on unpaid invoices. Adjusters will not be able to sustain themselves this year for 60-90 day time frames with fuel expenses this high and ever going higher should a hurricane hit. Office staff also needs to be mentored on the importance of processing these payments when payments do come into the adjusting firm for timely payment to the adjusters. I have witnessed too often some pretty rude comments coming from office staff such as “if they want a regular paycheck go get a staff job” which does nothing for adjuster/adjusting firm relationships. In another case, at 4pm sharp each day the office staff walked out the door at 4pm as the adjusting firm wouldn’t authorize overtime at a time it was sorely needed to set up new catastrophe assignments and process invoices. Listen folks, if you don’t keep adjusters funded for work they have professionally completed, we will all see the fall of the independent industry. Due to partial assignments from the carrier and poor payment practices on the carrier thus the adjusting firm part, many independent adjusters are finding it most difficult to continue on this career path. This is not to say all adjusting firm office staff are negative, there are many adjusting firms who are proactive on invoicing and their staff runs an excellent operation. Adjusters just need to determine quickly what type of operation they are dealing with and depart the assignment at the first sign of payment issues.
A recent example is the Citizens policy posted in recent RFP documents where they indicate they have 30 days to pay the adjusting firm from the time a claim is submitted yet they require the adjusting firm pay the adjuster within 14 days of assignment. So………..should all go like clock work an independent adjuster would be looking at a minimum of six weeks before they get paid on a claim from the day it is submitted for closure. How many Americans would work for six weeks without pay …not many I’d venture to guess and they are in a stable home environment not incurring hotel and these excessive fuel charges to service claims.
Here are some other ideas not just adjusting firm and carrier specific but some great ideas:
Offering incentives and rewards in the form of gas gift cards to employees is mentioned in this article which says in part:
A small but growing number of employers are offering gas and commuting incentives to help workers get to work. A May 6, 2008, survey of 553 human resource managers found the percentage of companies offering gas cards as employee rewards more than doubled between 2007 and 2008 — from 6 percent to 14 percent. The study, conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management, also noted that companies are organizing car pools, offering telecommuting options and public transportation discounts and giving cash incentives for employees to buy hybrid cars.
How about gas card incentives offered by various hotel chains- you’ll be amazed at the results if you just enter “gas card incentives” in a google search to find results like the following article with numerous offers by hotel chains:
Here’s another cool tool adjuster’s would find useful to calculate your fuel costs to deploy to another city for catastrophe duty based on your vehicle and your route from AAA:
Here is another great site for determining gas prices nationwide, mapping your trip and finding the best deals on gas along the way:
This is just another challenging opportunity for us to work together with carriers, adjusting firms, and adjusters to find ways to solve this problem to properly service claims for our policyholders. We need to meet this challenge BEFORE the first hurricane hits by establishing plans for dealing with these gas price issues facing independent adjusters. June 1, 2008 is just days away….what a GREAT time to establish and announce your independent adjuster friendly policy for meeting the needs to cover this fuel cost crisis for independents this season!
If you know of other fuel cost savings for adjusters or some innovative way firms and carriers are dealing with this issue…feel free to reply and share your ideas with our readers.