Loss assessors can be of help in complex commercial claims. But their value in personal claims is debatable

My customer experience team’s determination to put an incident unit on Cockermouth’s main street during last year’s floods was a tremendous idea and a great example of our industry (we were not alone) doing what it’s here for – providing customers with the support and advice they need in a time of great difficulty.

However, I was sad to see the high number of official-looking men in yellow jackets emblazoned “Loss Assessor” patrolling the flooded properties.

Just at the time when residents were facing the most brutal disturbance to their lives, they were being persuaded to sign contracts with these assessors entitling them to present claims to the insurers and to negotiate with companies, such as AXA, on their behalf.

While these firms can be of help in complex commercial claims, their value in personal lines claims is debatable, and their approach to “securing” clients in an incident such as Cockermouth is questionable.

My view was supported by conversations with individuals and shopkeepers in the town, many of whom had been approached by not one but several different loss assessors. All said they felt these individuals were trading on fear and exaggerated promises.

And let’s not forget after all that if a customer is persuaded to appoint a loss assessor, it’s not the insurer who pays. It is the innocent claimant.

As an industry, we have historically struggled to get consumers to trust us and be confident that we will handle their claims fairly and quickly – and then to provide them with the right outcome with as little disruption as possible. But we have made progress.

Improved systems, regulation and an overall focus on their needs means that customers do not have to look for outside help to manage the claims process for them and to ensure that they receive an appropriate settlement for their loss.

The robust complaint processes, and bodies such as the FSA and Financial Ombudsman Service, provide consumers with a free mechanism to challenge decisions if they are not satisfied.

Sometimes I feel that our industry is bedevilled by businesses that seem to be able to make money from the actual or perceived weaknesses in our claims fulfilment. Credit hire arrangements or claims management companies all act to inflate unnecessarily our claims costs. But much of this is the legacy of history – when insurers were not noted for their attitudes towards treating customers fairly.

As an industry, we can surely work much harder to raise our customers’ awareness of our approach to claims handling, as well as the role that brokers can play in helping them – and the other avenues, which don’t cost money, that they can go down if they are dissatisfied.

Maybe, in the longer term, loss assessors could have a role in claims if a customer feels uncomfortable with the interaction with his or her insurer or loss adjuster, or is not satisfied with the claim?

But, in the short term, the ‘sale’ and ‘pricing’ practices that so upset people in Cockermouth must be changed. IT

Paul Meehan is customer experience director for AXA