Ignore loss adjusters at your peril, the president of their trade body tells Lauren MacGillivray. They’re experienced – if a bit long in the tooth – and they can save you money

Instead of groaning about Angus Tucker’s stories from the “good old days” of loss adjusting, you might be better off heeding his warning.

The 55-year-old president of the Chartered Institute of Loss Adjusters (Cila), who has been in the industry all his working life, says insurance panels are threatening his profession’s role. Adjusters, he says, are sometimes being overlooked for less qualified panellists.

“There are potential dangers of handling claims by not using qualified and experienced people ... For example, insurers might decide to send in a builder, thinking it’s a straightforward job.

“But a builder’s an expert in buildings, not insurance. You need to understand what the policy covers and interpret that against any damage and the potential of recovery from third parties,” he says. “That’s what you get from a loss adjuster, which you lose out on with other people who haven’t got that experience.”

Adjusters used to have a much stronger regional presence but have centralised as insurance panels – rosters of preferred claims handlers that insurers call on – have become more popular. Members can include adjusters and other suppliers such as damage reclamation companies, electricians and builders.

Tucker believes the floods of summer 2007 gave adjusters a much-needed boost, allowing their true worth to shine through as project managers. For example, an insurer may use six contract suppliers for a property claim with no communication between them – resulting in a bigger insurance bill.

Let’s say a reclamation company cleans a wall and then a builder knocks it down at a later date. The cleaning will have been done for nothing. Tucker says: “I went on a tour with [ABI director-general] Stephen Haddrill about 10 or 11 months after the floods so we could report back to a parliamentary group. Virtually everyone I talked with valued the role that adjusters played on the project management side... co-ordinating people, some of whom maybe weren’t as experienced as they should’ve been.”

Insurers are forever looking to save on claims costs and have tried – albeit unsuccessfully – to cut out credit hire operators and claimant solicitors. Conversely, they have had a good relationship with loss adjusters.

But they can still scale back on their services – and Tucker believes the economic crisis is making matters worse.

“It’s a hard climate for everyone. The work given out to adjusters has dropped but claims have increased.” He says Cila needs to be talking to people like the ABI to convince them of the expertise adjusters offer – the added value on the project management side.

The profession also needs to attract new blood. Two plaques on the wall of the institute’s City boardroom are filled with the names of past presidents. None is a woman, although crossover careers such as accounting and commerce have led to more entering the profession.

Loss adjusting tends to get many of its employees from other technical careers such as chartered surveying or accounting. Cila also tries to lure insurance professionals. But there’s still a lack of interest from school-leavers and graduates – something Cila is trying to change by ramping up its recruitment drive with career fairs and media exposure.

“We’ve got a demographic time bomb,” says Tucker. “Most of our qualified members are somewhat long in the tooth. We need to bring in younger people.”

Tucker has a clear passion for his work. One of his most memorable moments was in 2004 while working as director of business insurance consulting for Deloitte. After hurricane Ivan, he was sent to the Caribbean for five months to work on behalf of several Deloitte clients.

“The first two months, I slept under my office desk,” he says of his base in Grand Cayman. “Above my desk, I hung my socks and underwear that were washed that day.

“The whole place was devastated. The building I was in was one of only two Category 5-proof buildings so it had its own generator, kitchen and shower facilities. It was the best accommodation on the island. But the rest of the area had no power and everything had to be imported.”

The result, he says, was a sort of barter system that resembled the Wild West.

He also vividly remembers visiting homes ravaged by floods on England’s south coast in the early 1980s.

“I met this old couple whose collection of photographs had been destroyed. They couldn’t have cared less about the TV or furniture, you can replace them. It’s the irreplaceable items that touch individuals.”

Tucker graduated from a chartered surveying college course in 1975 and immediately joined Robins-Davies & Little (now GAB Robins) in Maidstone. He transferred to London in 1989 to run the group’s City adjusting practice and later became head of commercial claims and business development.

He was headhunted to join Deloitte and handed in his notice – on 9/11. “I’ll never forget it. I looked after global multinational accounts. Some had claims, which my successor took over.”

In 2005 he joined Grant Thornton, where he still works as director of insurance claims solutions on behalf of policyholders and London market underwriters.

Outside work, Tucker used to collect racing karts and classic cars – his favourite was an E-type Jaguar. But he sold the cars to support his 12-year-old son’s kart racing hobby.

These days, he gets his rush from loss adjusting. “You get a real adrenalin kick being out there. Then it’s a great feeling when you get it sorted and people are back in – whether it’s a private house or a factory.”

He’s also busy keeping an eye on the industry, and stresses again the danger of moving away from using adjusters to handle claims. “It’s a false economy,” he says, “You can end up with all sorts of problems if you haven’t got the experts doing it.”