Anita Anandarajah joined a GAB Robins loss adjuster on a day of dealing with flood claims
From the start Williams maintains a pleasant, chirpy but professional demeanour that extends to all three clients he sees during the course of his working day.
He is always welcomed warmly, whether it is a first-time appointment or a re-visit.
Maybe it had to do with his smart dark suit, his polished black shoes or perhaps it was the opportunity to get money back. But it was definitely the combination of a lack of airs and the familiarity of a local man that put them at ease.
In an attempt to record the typical diary of a loss adjuster, I came across the first stumbling block: there is no such thing as a typical day.
A loss adjuster can be called out to an emergency – like a fire – any time.
Williams has been in the business for 17 years, having previously come from a claims handling background.
As a field manager, his patch is Oxfordshire and Berkshire, which affords Williams some breathtaking drives through the countryside en-route to commercial and high net worth clients.
He spends an average of six hours a day on the road, making four visits a day. He spends at the most two days a week bound to his desk.
As I tag along on this journey to visit properties affected by flooding on 20 July, Williams points out various properties he has visited in the past, and doesn’t even require a map to navigate complicated countryside addresses with no house numbers.
A day in the life of Steven Williams, loss adjuster, 25 Sept 2007:
7.30am: Arrive at the office in Reading town. Complete paperwork.
9.30am: Depart for Oxford. This is a first-time visit to Shirtworks, a t-shirt printing company. The last time this area was flooded was 20 years ago.
We cross two streams and a river dissecting the town before we find the factory, a double story lot housing a warehouse-style printing factory on the ground floor and offices on the first floor. The River Thames runs behind the premises.
10.30am: Williams (‘W’ hereafter) begins by introducing himself and asks director Arron Hamden to run through the sequence of events upon returning to work after the weekend flooding.
Although the premises were not directly affected, the surrounding area was under 18 inches of water. This resulted in staff having to carry boxes of stock across a towpath to waiting vans for five days. In the process, two boxes fell into the swollen river. Shirtworks is making business interruption claims.
The questions W poses are straightforward: who owns the business, when it was established, type of business, number of staff, how long the premises had been occupied, history of flooding problems, turnover and gross profit.
W informs Hamden that Shirtworks will have to provide stock invoices for work that had to be commissioned to another printer during the downtime and for the stock that was damaged.
Throughout the conversation W fills in site notes with a thick, funky-looking digital pen, which transmits the data via a camera to the GAB Robins computer database.
All these requests are detailed in an official GAB Robins letter which W hands over to Hamden at the end of the meeting.
10.50am: We make our way to the river. We see the towpath, the bridge and the calm water below. It is a sunny day, the birds are singing and boats bobbing; it is difficult to imagine the river rising to the height required to flood the area.
11.15am-11.45am: Jump into the car, which is spick and span. W’s gear is neatly arranged in the boot – a GAB Robins protective gear bag houses wellies and a hard hat. A plastic box is home to two good-sized torch lights, case folders and 10 map books!
11.45am: We arrive at Flowprint, a greeting card printing company. W shows us an incredibly steep road which leads to the far side of the factory. This is the source of the storm damage – torrents of water rushing down.
Once inside, we are greeted by Alan Kitley, the sales and marketing director who looks happy to see W. This is the second time they are meeting.
Over coffee, W enquires after the progress of the repair work to a £400,000 printing press, one of two 10-tonne machines that the company owns. W is there on behalf of the insurers to assess the value of the claim on contents insurance and business interruption.
W enquires if Flowprint had received the interim payment from the insurance company, to which Kitley happily says they have.
W explains that the staff and management of Flowprint had saved the company from a potentially more damaging loss because they were quick to act.
Kitley was in the office when he noticed the water was coming in very quickly. He rang the fire brigade, which arrived promptly to pump the water out and over the weekend staff members rolled up their trousers to clean up the mess.
“They could have instructed the insurers to send cleaners in but that would have taken a while, during which further water damage could have occurred. Instead, they were almost fully operational after five working days,” says W.
“A lot of insurers advise their clients to wait until the loss adjuster arrives to assess the damage,” W points out. “But that would be wrong because the claim just piles up and the firm stands to lose more business by not seeing customers."
1.10pm: Lunch at a charming 14th century pub in the countryside. A very rare occasion for W who usually has a sandwich in the car.
2.30pm-3.30pm: Off to Bucklebury to re-visit a private dwelling that was submerged under 18 inches of water when the River Pang burst its banks. The next-door neighbour who has lived there for 60 years has never seen a flood there.
3.50pm-4.15pm: W gets an update from the homeowner about the progress of the drying out of the building. She is happy that things are moving along and makes a comment that surprises W: “While it was hard to see our house flooded, it was more upsetting the day our home was ripped apart (by the builders)”. W says emotions don’t usually come into play with commercial property damage.
We tread carefully as the builders had already been in to remove floorboards, fireplace and wall plaster. We can barely hear each other over the whir of the six dehumidifiers.
Meanwhile the homeowner is compiling a list of estimates for new furnishings for W. Some items were salvageable and are with a restoration company.
The homeowner is pleased with the regular contact she has had with W. This was echoed by Kitley.
We learn something interesting – the homeowner’s been hit with a £5,000 excess for flooding, which W says is indicative of problem of flooding. She has also seen a 25% premium hike.
4.45pm: W heads home. He usually catches up on paperwork but there is a Reading versus Liverpool football game on tonight and being a big Reading fan he has a ticket. But Reading are later beaten 4-2.
Day by day