Absolutely shocking and still letting it sink in! I turned the big 55 earlier this month and still reeling from the realization that I have spent my entire adult life in the insurance industry. The days when I would look at my annual benefits statements which showed I could retire in 2010 are now long ago but I would always laugh it off that March 2010 would never arrive…and here it is!
I entered the insurance business in 1973, newly married and a grand 17 years old! I had no clue that I was embarking on a life in insurance and claims…but I did know it was employment with the only major employer back in Murfreesboro, TN where we moved as my husband was being released after completion of his four years as a navy corpsman and he wanted to attend college in his home town.
What a change life was leaving home in FL, a military brat, a daughter of a Navy Commander and one of eight children to a working adult with no massive family constantly around! The thought of attending college never entered my mind at the time! Work life in the insurance industry was always changing so I never found it boring as I changed positions through promotional opportunities regularly and moved about 7 times to various cities as mobility used to be a fixed requirement to move into management positions.
I spent my first few months as a mail and file clerk at the lowest possible level and quickly got promoted to a Fire company accounts receivable clerk when the carrier got tired of watching me drag a stool around to reach in the top file drawers! They actually began requiring new file clerks be atleast 5 ft tall to avoid their worry I would hit my head on the corner of the top file drawer!
I spent eight years in accounts receivable working my way up the ranks to a team lead. I can’t begin to say what a valuable experience it was coming up through the ranks as I learned to handle complaints from policyholders if premium payments were misapplied (yes we really did open each envelop individually and stamp the back of each check and balance deposits- how ancient is that compared to today’s machinery and PO Boxes!). During the last of my stint in accounting, I handled agency correspondence on premium payment issues, endorsements, and the greatest part was learning to respect agency and the power they held with the executive office! You quickly learn “if the agent ain’t happy” ain’t no one happy which served me well in my later career in claims.
I never thought “gee I want to be a claims rep when I grow up”. I went into claims kicking and screaming due to my fear of roof climbing but thankful to still have a stable job when they merged the homeowners accounting group with the auto accounting department. I had no idea I would absolutely fall in love with claims where I spent the next 20 years as first an inside adjuster for 2 years, a field adjuster, a reinspector, an in office supervisor, then finally promoted to my first field claim operation managing adjusters and estimators with adjusters scattered throughout 3 cities. I was proud to later be selected to relocate to FL for the first “claim central” operation then later selected as a national catastrophe team manager where I ended my staff career after 4 years traveling nationally following storms. 28 years was amazing and always interesting having climbed through 16 job classes to reach my final position as a Team Manager. Burn out after 4 years on the road over 80% of each year is putting it mildly but it didn’t take me but 2 years to realize I truly missed the excitement of working the next storm and the comraderie that goes along with working with people who enjoyed it too.
Was it easy to stay with one employer? Was it easy to move from the lowest clerical job classification through to a Claims Team Manager? You bet it wasn’t! Did I ever consider leaving? No….sure didn’t. It actually never crossed my mind! I came from a family where my dad joined the Navy as the lowest seaman and worked his way up the ranks to retire 35 or 36 years later as a Commander in the Navy with 8 kids to boot! How he ever did that I’ll never know with 8 children, constant deployments, and attending college for his BS and Masters Degree at night. That is what we knew and I applied the same theory as my dad to my career. I went to college over 15 years at night school, did my IIA and AIC designations through www.aicpcu.org and have completed 9 parts of what was the 10 part course in the CPCU program. Why I can’t force myself to take and finish that last part of CPCU on accounting and statistics to secure the full designation is beyond me but something that escapes my interest at 55!
Would I do it all over again? You bet I would. Claims has kept me gainfully employed over the years as staff and later in the independent industry. The last 5 years I’ve been caught up in the ClaimSmentor mentoring program I founded where we train independents. It came about due to the struggles I constantly saw with new independent adjusters having no clue what was needed once they were licensed and really no place to turn for some guidance while they were waiting to get their foot in the door with a reputable adjusting firm. We are now approaching 1,200 members which includes 74 adjusting firm owners and head managers so I am very proud of the accomplishment that the synergy of our group has achieved when so many others told us we were wasting our time even trying!
In today’s world, I am just fascinated with the claims industry and the constant changes but the more I learn, the more I do wonder….why we do what we do, the way we do it, and how I can contribute to make the claims industry a better place for those of us who have dedicated our life to the industry and a better place for the policyholders who suffer when we don’t complete our jobs properly.
Here is just of few of my random thoughts as I contemplate the claims industry at 55 after gosh over 37 years now in this industry:
1) Does the fact we tend to call an insurance contract a “policy” lead to some of the confusion for a policyholder that “all” things are covered? I know from a layman’s terms ,for example, if my parents set a policy that I had to be in by 10pm as a teenager that I could easily pry them into letting me stay out later if it was for something special. Had I signed a contract however, I would understand that can’t be changed as I agreed to the written terms. Just a thought….
2) Why don’t carrier employees get discounts on insurance premiums? I always found that strange!
3) The purpose of insurance is indemnity or to restore a person to whole after suffering a loss. I think of that as stability for policyholders. Thus, I have always found it strange that especially since about 1995 a claims career feels anything but stable for employees as carriers reorganize, downsize, move from field to in office claim handling…etc. I rarely have a conversation with any experienced adjusters anymore who are not considering leaving the industry as the pay is reduced, the requirements more stringent, the legal environment overwhelming, and for independent adjusters- ever more licensing and certification requirements but that is another issue all together!
4) I ponder how insurance companies can collect premiums but in some cases be 100% dependent on independent adjusters to handle their catastrophe claims. It is not because they cannot handle it that I wonder but because carrier employees tend to treat independents as the red headed step child of the industry but that is a step above their stereo type for public adjusters. It just does not seem responsible to me. In fact, in any other business, if you took money for a service and did not provide it…well you can figure out the results of that easily enough! So why is this allowed to go on with insurance carriers? It doesn’t matter how many rosters the carrier maintains or how many adjusting firms they have contracts with. The fact is, they have made no committment to independent adjusters all year long so they have no idea which assignment if any that independents will take. They need to improve the relationship for all concerned.
5) I still constantly ponder what the independent adjusters can do to overcome the non payment and delay issues getting paid for claims they handle. I receive calls daily from adjusters individually and in groups who still have fee bills outstanding from Ike. I do not know of any other group of employees who would receive a deployment call and head out to live on the road in catastrophe conditions with no consideration whatsoever for their living provisions when no hotels are to be found (staff adjusters have housing provided/ independent adjusters who serve carriers do not) and asked to go months before they see the first dime in payment for their work. This applies to inside adjusters working on a fixed daily rate as well. A major FL carrier tells even them to expect 6 weeks for their first paycheck even if on a daily rate which makes no sense. Not only should a carrier staff up for storm adjusters but they need to staff appropriately during storms for support help such as payments like expense checks and for independent fee bills so they can survive. Today, independents tell the new folks to plan to have a minimum of $10,000 for living expense quarters, gas, transportation, and office supplies before they will ever see their first storm payment check. Regarding the non payment by unscrupulous adjusting firms ( the few that are that give them all a black eye), how can the state insurance departments not control this issue? We have folks that are turned down regularly by insurance departments and attorney general offices who tell them they can’t help them (especially if they worked for an out of state adjusting firm). We need to help these folks by having the appropriate authorities regulate the industry much better.
6) Why did carriers begin making pretty files much more important than prompt service to policyholders? It drives me nuts every time I hear the word “Sketch”. Just check the classifieds on claim adjuster forums and see the hundreds firms are charging for them to learn “sketch”. Listen folks, in my opinion, I just haven’t been able to accept the fact that a computer sketch of a house floor plan and diagram does one thing to help settle a claim. We used hand drawn diagrams with measurements for years. It would actually shock you what these new computer programs are doing to reduce the number of file closures adjusters can close today versus what they were able to before all of the “pretty” file standards were created. I do more than understand alot of it was generated due to the increase in claims litigation and the discovery of file material but I do not see that many of these things are doing anything to resolve customer service issues. During Katrina, many extremely experienced contractors who could easily complete an estimate walked out due to the difficulty to adapt to all of the electronic claim systems….and that was beside the fact they couldn’t get power or rooms with high speed internet to even upload the photos to the files. I just wish we would keep the emphasis on the customer not the technical systems. In many claim environments and training sessions, you don’t even hear the customer mentioned anymore because there is just not enough time in the day to cover all the technical system issues.
7) It seems an unusual number of staff and independent adjusters are flipping their license for a public adjuster license. It sure seems strange to me from the standpoint that regulation of public adjusters gets tougher by the day but each time I’ve asked former co-workers who flipped they did because they could no longer tolerate what they were seeing by inexperienced people not only adjusting claims but managing claims at the carriers whether they were independent or staff. People I never thought I’d hear considering it are. I can’t say I didn’t at one point too because I understand what they see, I understand their frustrations with our industry. I just took a different route and formed ClaimSmentor to help but I can assure you there are many times it is overwhelming when there is so much need for improvement for the independent training and regulations on how they are treated and paid. Just when I get overwhelmed with trying to make a difference, an email pops up from a trainee thanking me for helping them learn about the industry or thanking us for helping them find a reputable adjusting firm they matched up with. ClaimSmentor wasn’t opened because I thought I was smarter than the average bear but because I did think by gathering good folks together who were very proficient in the independent claims industry we could all learn from each other. I learn new things from our members with every post they make whether it be a need for training in an area I didn’t know existed or learn from some great members with construction backgrounds about better estimating techniques. I hope there will be interest one day in the next few years for someone to carry on the mentoring project as my husband and I are looking forward to retiring when we can.
8 ) Something that has always seemed strange to me is that contractor licensing is so very well regulated yet we as adjusters with no contractors licensing are the be all end all of estimate creation and decision making when it comes to what it takes to repair a home following a disaster. Sure we can handle the routine estimating on most losses but I know I sure couldn’t get in there and rebuild some of the homes I’ve estimated in my career. Fortunately, my employer did pay for us to attend a 3 week contractors school at Vale Technical where I learned alot as well as continuing education at all levels of my career. I was much more confident in estimating when I did it regularly but looking back I always wonder. The younger adjusters today seem so very confident and have much more access to online training but we all know- there is nothing like working a trade. Fortunately, viewing hundreds of resumes annually, we have so many contractors obtaining adjusters licensing. It is pretty standard thinking these days that it is easier to train them on policy than to train someone with no construction estimating who is good at policy. I’ll be the first to admit when I was in my early twenties I fell through a ceiling or two while climbing in an attic, fell though a mobile home floor when it was soaked by the fire department, and many other war stories due to my lack of knowledge in construction and what effects fire/water do to building components. I think that is why I understand trainee adjusters so well and have so much empathy for their training needs because I was there at one time. I just can’t help but wonder why there is not atleast a minimum training regulation by insurance departments on construction training before one can be deemed a “property” adjuster! The current trend is for experienced adjusters to scope and estimate the damages and work with an inside less experienced adjuster who does the contents and additional living expense and settle the building estimate with the insured. A very funny conversation overhead a few months ago by one of our members was an inside adjuster calling the field adjuster and telling them to take the crown molding out of their estimate as “mold” isn’t covered under the policy. This is just one example of the frustrations experienced adjusters are feeling today with the current claim environments. Imagine how policyholders who might hear such a ridiculous statement must feel with their carrier’s claim service. No wonder PA’s are so successful today in obtaining more recovery dollars if this is widespread in our industry!
I could go on an on but it’s 2 am. I have a moderator on ClaimSmentor who started a discussion this week on why so many folks over 50 are changing careers and becoming newly licensed adjusters. I think much of the reason is the down turn in the construction industry and I am sure they are thankful to make a career transition. The problem is as I show in the 125 question self assessment test on this blog is that there is so much more to handling claims than just knowing construction. Claims is a world of it’s own with it’s own procedures and many coverages beyond the building loss itself. Hopefully, I can get our moderator to do a guest blog for us addressing his concerns which he says go far beyond just the physical demands of entering this field at 50 or above.
Thanks for letting me ponder out loud and looking back at quite a lengthy career in claims. If I could change anything at all it might be taking the route of SIU- Special Investigations unit as I thoroughly enjoyed detailed investigations much more than jumping ladders doing roof inspections ( or crawling under off grade houses looking for signs of long term water damage!) but it’s been quite a ride!
If you missed our prior blog with the 125 question self assessment test, here is the link:
If you missed our prior blog with our published article ” Luck- where preparation meets opportunity”, here is the link:
http://www.claimseducationmagazine.com/pdfs/CEM_Winter_08_v1.pdf found on page 8