Royal & SunAlliance's new head of loss adjusting Bob Fitzsimmons has a new claims philosophy. Elliot Lane finds out more
Loss adjusters are men of action. Well, according to Royal & SunAlliance's (R&SA) new UK head of adjusting services Bob Fitzsimmons, that is. After 17 years with the company, or "R&SA man and boy" in his own words, he still loves getting his hands dirty.
"I'm not going to be office-bound with this new position. I'm still interested in getting stuck in on the frontline. Particularly now. After 11 September - you have to start believing the unbelievable," he said.
Earthquakes in Scotland, hurricanes in Wales and biblical floods - he and his team are ready for anything. Insurance Times met him on one of his fleeting visits to the insurer's Morley office in the northeast of England. He is worried about his desk in Horsham, which he hopes is still there: "I haven't seen it for a while," he admits.
Since July, when he got his last company car, he has clocked up between 17,000 and 18,000 miles and the whirlwind drives across the country have been getting worse. The main reason is that Fitzsimmons is now responsible for the integration of former Indie-owned loss adjuster Property and Casualty Services (PCS) with the in-house operation.
The £3m acquisition last July led R&SA to instigate an overall review of its loss adjusting services. The acquisition meant staff numbers swelled to 800 loss adjusters, but last month the firm announced it would close 12 regional offices and make 60 support staff redundant. And Barry Woodward, who was PCS's managing director, is now on "gardening leave". Fitzsimmons explains how the deal was done. "PCS had a good name in the marketplace and what was key for us was to buy a company that worked and fitted in our own culture. We had been watching it for a while and it just happened to become available.
"We keep an eye on just about everything that goes on in the industry and so within a week of the company going on the market we put in an offer," he says.
Although R&SA was competing with three other companies, it fought tenaciously.
"There were other players involved. But, as Independent sank into more trouble, the emphasis was that we must make an offer quickly otherwise someone else would grab it.
"We wanted an operation which fitted into R&SA's aspirations and PCS was the right one."
Fitzsimmons could not shed any light on the failed MBO attempt by Woodward and other senior executives. He said he was aware of the talks, but not of how successful they had been.
"From the other side of the fence, however, I would have to say, who wouldn't try it in a similar situation. I know I would."
He wants the whole integration "done and dusted" by the summer months.
"We will be moving towards the winter period again and we may be facing floods, hurricanes, who knows what, so we need a well-prepared team by then. The first two quarters of this year are going to be push, push, push to make sure the integration is completed."
At present, the 300 PCS loss adjusters are now working at home and R&SA is re-structuring the whole operation on a 'hot desking' philosophy for a new mobile adjuster market.
"If you look at the amount of commuter time spent by your staff, it's hours of dead time. It is better having your resources living in the area where the customer is. The branch structure costs us and we have to ask ourselves, does it give us the benefits we need?
"We want adjusters in the field and close to the action. The laptop and mobile phone functions we have set up means they can move and work efficiently."
Rocky road ahead?
To say the loss adjusting community has had a rocky time in recent months is an understatement. Miller Fisher's fortunes have been well documented and Fitzsimmons is keeping a constant eye on developments.
"Miller's future seems to change by the week. Since HBOS took its stake in the business we have been watching and waiting to see what changes take place on that landscape."
Miller could be a possible partner in the Irish market, which he says is still under review.
"What we are looking for is the best adjusting company to supply the best service.
"As we bring the businesses together [in-house and PCS] and amalgamate them, we have to really review the role of the adjuster. It is time to take a fresh look at what this industry needs to deliver in the future.
"We don't see real rivals. It could be argued that the loss adjusting community is a rival, but we see it as a partner because we are not out there to challenge or to take away the entire external adjusting market," he said.
At the end of November, R&SA said it would be bringing in 85% of all its commercial claims in-house. It won't go to 100%, Fitzsimmons says.
So after all the floods, should we be preparing for a major drought? "That's happened in the past few months alone. I'm not ruling anything out," he said. And with that he was back on the road.
How life has adjusted for PCS
March 2000 - Property & Casualty Services' (PCS) future looks bright after opening new Dublin office and talk was of signing a sole adjuster agreement with another insurer.
October 2000 - The company wins special deal with high-street giant Marks & Spencer to handle all its specialist claims for the retailer's newly established household insurance scheme, Pref-Con.
April 2001 - More new branches are opened in Sidcup, Kent and Galway, Ireland. Total number of offices reaches 16 and expansion strategy looks like improving fortunes of beleaguered owner Independent Insurance, which has just issued a profits warning.
May 2001 - Independent Insurance goes into liquidation and doubts immediately arise as to the future of the company's loss adjusting arm.
June 2001 - After a month of speculation, including a possible MBO led by PCS managing director Barry Woodward and senior executives, an advertisment is placed in the Financial Times from Independent's liquidator, PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC), seeking potential buyers. The loss adjuster is described as successful, with turnover of £16.5m in 2000 and employing 358 staff.
July 2001 - UK insurer Royal & SunAlliance (R&SA) announces its acquisition of PCS for £3m. The deal enables R&SA to take control of PCS's 300 claims adjusters from 9 July 2001, increasing the insurer's total in-house adjusting team to around 800 specialists across its commercial and personal business. R&SA, however, says it will review overall structure of the business and does not rule out redundancies.
September 2001 - R&SA warns its panel of adjusters, which includes Crawford & Co, GAB Robins, McLarens Toplis and Cunningham Lindsey, that it cannot guarantee how long it can give them business now that PCS is taking on more work.
November 2001 - Groupama drops PCS from its loss adjusting panel, along with Miller Fisher and Crawford & Co. R&SA says it will keep 85% of all commercial claims in-house.
December 2001 - R&SA announces it
will close 12 regional offices of PCS and make up to 60 staff redundant. PCS's network of 300 loss adjusters will now work from home and the support system will be centralised in its Cheadle office.
Bob Fitzsimmons - personal factfile
Career: Joined SunAlliance in 1984 as loss adjuster. Appointed UK head of adjusting arm on 7 January.
Favourite football team: Crystal Palace
Hobbies: Fishing, walking and a self-confessed "petrol-head".
Passions: After his wife and two children, his TVR.